What is self-care? The most straightforward answer is to put yourself first and do an activity that restores your mind, body, and soul so you can live a life of inner peace.
Why is it important? Self-care makes you strong, better able to cope with life and perform at your best. As a result, you get things done and are better able to look after others.
How are you?
Let’s start with a question.
“How are you?”
Such a simple question and one you’ve probably heard a million times this year already. The problem is because we hear it so often, it doesn’t really mean anything.
So, we answer “fine” without thinking. Just like we automatically say “hello” when someone says “hello” to us – hear an echo, anyone?
But are you fine really?
All too often, we’re busy or stressed to the eyeballs. There’s too much going on in the day, and we’re already short on time. So, we fib. We’re not as “fine” as we like to pretend we are.
When you focus so much on the needs of others and keeping everybody else happy, we tend to forget about doing things for ourselves. And as a result, neglect our self-care.
So, let’s start by looking at what is self-care and then move on to why it’s important. And believe me, it is important.
What Is Self-Care?
Self-care is a term that’s thrown around a lot these days because it’s such a broad term – it can mean anything.
So, I decided to settle on my own definition. I define self-care as the art of looking after our mind, body, and soul so we can perform at our best. It’s knowing what you need to do to restore inner peace. Or, to put it bluntly, it’s about taking care of yourself the same way you take care of others.
The trouble is, sometimes it’s not obvious what those needs are.
Okay, do you: -
- Find fault in all the little things – ugh, little niggles that get under your skin that really piss you off and get blown out of proportion?
- Pick fights with your nearest and dearest even when they’re not the cause of your bad mood, and have a go at something so small it’s embarrassing? Like, why do you always leave your stuff lying around for me to trip over?
- Lose your rag, huff, and puff just because the corner shop has run out of your favourite chocolate
Yep, that’s the time to step back, take a chill pill, show yourself a bit of self-compassion, and look at some self-care, which means doing something good for yourself.
If you have a short-fuse, constantly grumpy or moody, you’re not going to be the first person people think of when they want to have fun.
Hold Your Horses – What do you mean by “something good for yourself?”
I know, you're already saying – I’ve got more important things to do, like look after others. Please hear me out.
When we want to look after others, wouldn’t it be better to do it from a place of love rather than resentment?
If you’re not putting your needs first, you can end up running on empty. When you’re tired and fractious, that comes through. Wouldn’t it be better to find joy in what you’re doing, even if it’s something that can be taxing?
A Common Misconception Of What Is Good
A common misconception is that self-care relates to anything that makes you feel good. While many self-care activities make you happier, not all self-care feels good or is good for you.
Back to the chocolate. Whilst it might make you feel good at that moment, constantly eating it isn’t a healthy choice. Especially if you’re looking to lose weight or prevent spots from breaking out all over your face.
So, self-care is more about doing things that are good for the mind and body. Uh oh, this just makes me think of exercise! But, bear with me; it’s more than that.
An Interesting Example
I came across a brilliant example from the psychologist Marni Amsellem (taken from an article in Everyday Health which you can read here
Amsellem cited that making your bed in the morning is an act of self-care if it helps you claim your day and gives you a sense of accomplishment.
For some people, it might just be a chore and a bore.
Self-Care Means Different Things To Different People
So, when we ask what is self-care? The reality is that self-care is very individual. What may help one person may be hell for another.
Think massage – some people love it; others hate the idea of someone else touching them.
When you think of self-care, it’s not as simple as following a list. Your best option is to choose what works for you.
Self-Care Is Important Because …
If you want to live a long and happy life, it’s kind of important to look after your health and well-being.
Here are a few benefits to ponder:
- Improved physical and mental health
- More energy
- Improved self-esteem
- Ability to fight off illness
- Better able to help others
Improved Physical And Mental Health
Basically, give your body everything it needs, and you’ll see a drastic improvement in your physical and mental health.
Exercise is a great way to improve both your physical and mental health. But you don’t need to run a marathon unless you want to. Brisk walks can also work.
You Have More Energy
Self-care helps you sleep better. After a good night’s sleep, you’re going to feel a lot more energized throughout the day. Additionally, it’s a great way to reduce stress which has the benefits of:
- Better health – stress can lead to depression and anxiety, which, if left untreated, can become a chronic illness
- Improved relationships – you’re going to be much nicer to be around. Who wants to be around a stress-head all day?
Those who don’t take care of themselves struggle with lower self-esteem. So, if you’re looking to feel more confident, taking care of your needs is a great place to start. And grasping what self-care is helps you to identify what is right for you.
Ability to Fight Off Illness
Self-care activities boost the immune system, fights off illness and disease because they stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system. Or in laywoman terms, it means your body goes into rest mode, helping you recharge, relax, and reboot.
Better Able To Help Others
We can’t take care of anyone else unless we’re sorted out first.
Okay, bear with me because I’m now going to give you a scare list of all the horrid things that happen when you’re knackered.
When self-care suffers, you might struggle with:
- Thinking straight
- Quality of work
- Tiredness, even if you had a full night’s sleep
- Remembering things
- Social situations
- Simple tasks – more effort required
- Decision making
And if that’s not bad enough, you ignore the things you used to enjoy, either through lack of interest or energy. So, therefore, when we ask the question - What is self-care? We are looking at how we can reduce stress and anxiety.
And When You Can’t Take Care Of Yourself…
Think about what this means when it comes to taking care of others. How can you take care of any outside responsibilities, even ones you love, such as caring for elderly parents or children, when you’re feeling like that?
But worse of all, you’re not doing what’s right by the one person who’s supposed to matter more than anything.
Right, now you know it’s important; let’s look at the different areas of self-care.
Different Areas Of Self-Care
Okay, now you know the problems you can experience if you ignore your self-care; where do you start?
When we look at what self-care is, there are different areas of self-care to look at. You don’t need to address all of these at once, although it’s helpful to have a healthy balance. So, identify which area is most pressing for you.
I’ve even got some helpful tips to help you.
I only offer these as suggestions; remember, self-care is something that works for you and cannot be a tick-box exercise.
1. Emotional self-care
If you have difficulty controlling your emotions, think anger or crying at the drop of a hat, then this is for you.
When you lose control, you can quickly find that your emotions take over, affecting your relationships.
Emotional self-care focuses on activities that help you to connect, reflect and process your emotions.
Here are some tips for emotional self-care:
Raise Your Self-Awareness
The more aware of your emotions, the easier it is to control them.
Start a journal and write down the emotions you experience throughout the day. Discuss what you felt, what time it was and what triggered the feeling. Over time you’ll be able to identify any patterns in your emotions and the triggers to avoid.
Mindfulness is a popular form of self-care. It helps you focus on the present, and in doing so, it calms the mind and body whilst also regulating your emotions.
If you start to feel overly anxious, try and calm your mind by taking deep, mindful breaths.
Listen to your favourite tunes
Music has a powerful, almost instant effect on our emotions. You can feel happier, energized, relaxed or sad depending upon the type of music you listen to.
- If you want to feel happier, go for something upbeat. Or, to relax the mind, listen to instrumental music.
2. Physical self-care
Physical self-care relates to activities that help to improve your physical health and includes:
- Losing weight
- Making healthier lifestyle choices
When your body is healthier, you’re able to fight off illness so much easier. When we’re stressed, we’re more vulnerable to every cold, sniffle and worse that’s going around.
Here are some tips for physical self-care:
Drink more water
It’s essential to stay hydrated throughout the day. When you don’t drink enough water, the organs of the body can’t function correctly. So, start by increasing the amount of water you drink each day.
Go for a walk
Staying active is crucial for peak physical health. However, you don’t have to spend hours in the gym. Instead, go out for a 10-minute walk around the block; seriously, it does wonders for your physical and mental health.
Crank up some of your favourite tunes and dance in your living room. Not only is this a cost-effective way to lose weight, but it also improves your fitness. You can even close the curtains if you think the neighbours might see.
Eat more homecooked meals
Skip the takeout’s and prepare your own meals packed full of vegetables. Create a meal plan for the week. If, like me, you don’t enjoy cooking – pick simple, easy to prepare recipes.
Add more fruit
Swap unhealthy snacks with fruit and fill your body with plenty of nutrients. You know what they say “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.”
3. Practical self-care
Practical self-care is all about those tasks that look after the core aspects of your life and help you avoid potentially stressful situations.
- Home organization
Here are some tips for practical self-care:
Create and follow a budget
when you know how much money you have, it takes a weight off your mind especially if you worry about being overdrawn or in debt.
Open a savings account
Saving towards the future is a great self-care goal. So, if you don’t already have one, open a new savings account and commit to pop in a few pounds a week – whatever you can afford, but do it regularly.
Take a professional development course
Progressing in your career can open more opportunities and make you happier.
Organize your wardrobe
Sell or donate any clothes you no longer wear. You might be surprised by how beneficial this can be for the mind. For example, a couple of years I reduced my wardrobe by 2/3rds – fewer creases, easier to put outfits together, and a big headache was gone!
4. Mental self-care
A topic close to my heart and one of the most common areas of self-care that most people want to improve is mental self-care. The focus here is to clear the mind and boost your mood. Mental health issues are a real concern in today’s society. Life moves at a fast pace, and it can be hard to keep up. Throw in a global pandemic and the anxiety that caused it has shown us how our mental health can be impacted. So, finding ways to improve your mental state is crucial.
Here are some mental self-care tips you can use as an example:
Read a book
Reading a book can help distract the mind. It’s a relaxing activity that can help you to briefly escape into another world. Or how about a self-help book to boost your self-care efforts. Alternatively, read a magazine that focuses on a favourite hobby.
Have a day out
Sometimes, you just need to get away from everything for a few hours. Take a day trip somewhere new and see how much better you feel when you get back home.
Another great distraction self-care tip is to solve puzzles. And it helps to boost mental focus too. So grab a crossword, Sudoku, Wordsearch or a jigsaw – whatever floats your boat.
Start a gratitude journal
A gratitude journal is known to have wonderful effects on your mental health. It trains the brain to become more positive. I found this technique very helpful when I struggle with mental health issues. You don’t have to do anything complicated to get started. You can begin by writing down three things you’re grateful for each day in a spare notebook. Or how about a one-liner on how you felt that day?
5. Social self-care
We thrive when we have good relationships, we are, after all, social animals. Therefore, healthy friendships are crucial to our well-being. So, what type of self-care tasks can you do to improve your social connections?
Here are some social self-care activities you can try:
Make time to call family
Set a regular time to call family to catch up. For example, it could be calling your mum/dad/sister/brother once a week. Maintaining family connections is very important.
Set up a lunch date with friends
A great way to get together without the expense of a big night out – or, my favourite, go for brunch. So tell me, what could possibly be better than a cooked breakfast and a catch up with the girls?
Join a class
If you want to make new friends, try joining a class at your local community centre or college. Further your education, learn something for fun or enjoy a hobby. A quick google search will give you loads of great ideas.
6. Spiritual self-care
Finally, spiritual self-care can help you identify and connect to your inner self. Again, it doesn’t have to be religious, I’m certainly not, but that is the main focus of spiritual self-care for some people.
Here are some tips for spiritual self-care activities you can follow:
Take just 10 minutes each day to meditate; it can help connect to your inner self. There are loads of apps that can help, or have a look on YouTube if you’re not sure how to get started. If I sit for 10 minutes and just focus on my breathing, I feel so much better. You can find more details about how meditation impacted me by reading my article 5 Amazing Benefits of Meditating: A Personal Perspective
Go to church
If you are religious, going to church (or your place of worship) can help you feel more aligned with who you are. It can also help to strengthen your relationship with God.
Practice self-reflection with journaling. Through your writing, you can understand who you are and what matters to you. You’ll also be able to identify any areas you need to improve on.
To Sum Up
Self-care means you put yourself first and do an activity that restores your mind, body, and soul so you can live a life of inner peace.
Why is it important? You’re able to perform at your best and get things done and are better able to look after others. Plus, you’re much nicer to be around.
For a holistic approach, consider the six areas of self-care but start with the most pressing for you now. Remember, you can’t wave a magic wand and make it all happen at once.
Be kind to yourself and take small steps that feel comfortable to you. Oh, and pick something that you enjoy doing because you’re more likely to stick with it if you do.
Before you know it, you’ll be:
- More relaxed
- Less cranky
And if that’s not enough, you’ll also:
- Boost your self-esteem
- Become more self-aware
- Be more confident
Want To Feel Better?
If you want to feel better about yourself. Get more done, help support others, and be the best human you can be, please look at a way to incorporate self-care into your daily routine.
Your mind, body, and soul will thank you for it. (and so will everybody else around you!)
So, what will you do today to take better care of yourself?