What is Self-care and Why is it Important?
Does the concept of operating off of endless to-do lists, prioritizing the needs of others before your own, and feelings of burnout, sound familiar to you? If any of these ring true, this may be a common case of neglect for your own personal self-care.
What is self-care?
The concept of self-care tends to be met with mixed feelings. It may be easier to start off by addressing what self-care is not. It is not an excuse for ongoing neglect for important aspects of our lives and daily functioning. It is not a justification to consistently make decisions that can be viewed as selfish and only benefitting yourself. Self-care is also not something that should feel draining, overly time-consuming, or that contributes to additional strain on our health and well-being.
In reality, self-care is an essential component required to maintain optimal physical and mental health. It is something that we do as a way to nurture all aspects of our well-being and can serve the purpose of preventing distress, burnout, and impairment. Self-care incorporates different activities, strategies, rituals, and techniques as a means of looking after ourselves. This can include activities with the purpose of relaxation or improving physical, mental, and emotional well-being, such as meditating, journaling, or talking with a therapist. It often requires active effort, attention, and the dedication of time to ensure we have the capacity to tend to our own needs to care for ourselves, in order to sustainably reinvest that energy into caring for others as well.
Why is self-care important?
It is not uncommon for individuals to attempt to meet the needs of other individuals in their life before first taking care of their own needs. To often, we work to please others and live up to their expectations, ultimately leading to serious personal neglect for our own self-care routine. Additionally, individuals who experience comorbidity with other concerns such as depression, anxiety, or co-dependency, may endure additional difficulties meeting their self-care needs. Life transitions can also be a source of challenge for healthy self-care practices as there can be changing emotional impacts associated. For instance, this could include an individual moving away from home for the first time, changing career paths, or even the end of a relationship. Regardless of the situation, if the individual is able to continue to engage in activities and behaviours that promote health such as eating nutritious meals, getting adequate sleep, and exercising, this can help reduce symptoms of distress experienced during their transition.
Self-care begins by creating the space to effectively recharge and care for ourselves and should be observed as an important aspect of resiliency. If we are able to implement healthy self-care habits into our routines then we may be better equipped to meet our internal needs and manage difficult emotions and stressors as they arise without depleting our individual energy, motivation, and fulfilment levels. The implementation of a healthy and consistent self-care routine can enable an individual to experience some of the following benefits:
- Achieve a state of good mental and physical health
- Reduce stress and develop coping skills to manage stressors as they arise
- Decrease in symptoms of anxiety or depression
- Satisfy emotional needs
- Increase motivation and energy levels
- Physically, emotionally, and mentally present with others and maintain existing and future relationships
- Able to achieve a work-life balance
- Foster self-compassion and positive self-talk
Examples of self-care activities
Self-care is such a unique experience for each individual as it is based on personal preferences, that it is difficult to capture all possibilities within this article. It does not always have to be about something that makes you happy, but rather can be based on internal reflection of what you need in the moment. Are you in need of a good laugh, or cry? Perhaps you are just looking for a space to feel calm and grounded. Self-care should be aimed around what you need as the activities you implement are always welcome to adapt alongside you. Some common self-care activities have been provided that may be helpful to consider when first exploring what may work best for you, can include the following:
- Going for a massage
- Planning and taking a vacation
- Enjoying a meal out at a restaurant
- Attending to one’s basic daily needs (showering, brushing teeth, grooming, etc.)
- Drinking enough water
- Practice positive self-talk and compassion
- Taking a break from electronics
- Reading your favourite book or listening to an audio book or podcast
- Prepping and eating well-balanced and nutritious meals
- Getting adequate sleep
- Going outdoors daily
- Exercising and getting active
- Practicing yoga, pilates, or meditation/relaxation exercises
- Taking a hot bath or cold shower
- Spending quality, personal time with family or friends
- Journaling your thoughts
- Tapping into your creative side spending time with music or art
- Setting boundaries on unhealthy habits, behaviours, situations, or relationships
- Opening your circle of care to include other forms of support (psychotherapy, physiotherapy, massage therapy, etc.)
- Finding opportunities to laugh
When it comes to testing out which activities may work best for you, it can be helpful to remember to stick to the basics and not overthink things. It is important to incorporate things that will fit into your own unique lifestyle including the time constraints that are available for self-care. It may take some time for it to feel like a natural part of your routine, but actively planning these activities and scheduling time for them can be a helpful way to develop the habit of good self-care practices. The commotion of everyday life and its distractions will always be there to give you an “out” to not prioritize yourself, so acting with intention and gratitude for having the choice to engage in self-care is so important.
If you are struggling to prioritize your own needs or feeling the effects of overwhelm and burnout, then I invite you to reach out and set up a free 30-minute consultation to learn more about the services I provide and how I may be able to work with you.
Barnett, J. E., & Cooper, N. (2009). Creating a culture of self‐care. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 16(1), 16-20.