In our fast-paced, technology-obsessed world, it's easy to lose sight of how important it is to take care of ourselves.
Yet by neglecting self-care, we risk our energies becoming depleted, so we operate at a sub-par level and generally lose our vitality and love of life.Failing to take proper care of ourselves over the long term can seriously impact our physical health as well as our emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being.
So in this article, we’re going to look in a little more depth at the concept of self-care – what it is, the benefits, and some of the steps we can take to care for ourselves. We hope it will inspire you to incorporate more self-care into your daily routines – and experience the positive effect it has on your life!
What do we mean by self-care?
A definition we like and use in this article is proposed in a 2021 study. Self-care is “the ability to care for oneself through awareness, self-control, and self-reliance to achieve, maintain, or promote optimal health and well-being.”
Self-care activities will be different for everyone. There’s no single right way to practice self-care – it depends on what we enjoy and what satisfies us. However, not everything that makes us feel good in the moment is self-care. Shopping sprees we can’t afford, binging on comfort foods, or downing bottles of wine – these destructive habits are the opposite of self-care.
Aspects of self-care
As human beings, we're an integrated system comprising physical, emotional, social, mental, and spiritual aspects. So when we’re considering how to practice self-care, it makes sense to nurture each one of these.
Let’s start with the basics. We need our bodies to work efficiently. They need attention to maintain optimum health.
Physical self-care includes giving our body the proper nutrition, getting enough rest and sleep, and making time for the physical activity we enjoy.
It also implies attending medical and dental appointments and regular check-ups. It also means that, should we have any concerns about any aspect of our health, we make time to discuss these with professionals.
An early indicator of stress is that we become disconnected from our emotional state. We say yes to others when inside we feel we can't or don't want to do what they're asking.
Our self-talk becomes critical and negative – we judge ourselves far more harshly than we’d ever judge those around us.
And it becomes even harder to pause, ask ourselves what we truly want right now, and honour that. But to care for our emotional selves, we need to take time to listen and feel.
Our social interactions are an essential and often neglected aspect of self-care. With our busy lives and the relentless demands on our energy and attention, it can be hard to allocate time for friends and relationships that nourish us. But we’re fundamentally social beings, and we thrive when we feel close connections with others.
Whether staying in contact with our extended family or building friendships with others who share an interest or hobby, building and maintaining relationships takes time and energy. Yet it’s an essential aspect of self-care – the feeling that we’re valued by and connected to others is fundamental to our sense of self-worth.
Consider whether you’re spending enough time with your friends and family. Are you doing enough to nurture those relationships, or is it time to be proactive in keeping them alive? What could you cut out from your life that would free up more time for the people who are important to you?
Mental self-care involves activities that keep us interested and stimulated– perhaps reading or watching movies. In addition, it can mean freeing up time for creative and artistic practices – painting, writing, and so on.
Work takes up a good part of our lives, so it's a good idea to consider how our working environment supports our mental well-being. For example, if we’re overwhelmed, constantly struggling, or even totally bored – these will eventually take their toll on our overall health.
We might also want to consider our self-talk. If we find that we’re overly critical of ourselves, this could harm our morale and self-esteem. Consider integrating some self-compassion practices such as kindness meditations into your daily routine.
Spirituality means different things to different people. However, we can say that it typically contributes to an overall sense of purpose and meaning in life. It helps guide our relationship with ourselves, those around us, and the natural world.
Because of this, spirituality can support our mental and emotional well-being in times of stress, loss, or illness. In addition, our spiritual beliefs can give us a sense of our place in the larger scheme of things and help keep our challenges in perspective.
And if we surround ourselves with a community of people who share similar beliefs, they can be a valuable support system in times of difficulty.
How to decide which self-care strategies to practice
When choosing to incorporate some self-care strategies into our life, it’s important to distinguish between short-term 'interventions' and practices that will support us over the long-term, as we integrate them and they become part of who we are.
Temporary self-care practices can help us to ‘re-set’ if we’re starting to feel frazzled or depleted. A few examples:
- A long, calming soak in a fragrant bubble bath to help wind down before bedtime
- A fun dinner with a beloved friend we haven’t seen for a while
- A mini-break to a nearby city or beauty spot to give us a change of scenery
- A mani-pedi or other beauty treatment, when we’ve been too busy to care for our appearance
These and many other short-term activities can help us take a step back from our stressful situations, unwind, and reassess.
Even a short break from the daily routine can give our nervous system a much-needed rest.
However, integrating self-care practices into our daily routines tends to be more effective than a temporary fix. The benefits accumulate, protecting us from stress and building our resilience over the long term.
Prioritising our nutrition, scheduling regular exercise, getting enough sleep, and taking time away from our daily stressors are all fundamental to genuine self-care.
How to integrate self-care into your life – for good
There’s no one way to do ‘self-care’ – we’re all different. We’re listing some ideas to get you started, so feel free to choose whichever ones appeal to you and that you think are achievable. Start with those.
As you feel the benefits, integrate more of the ideas. Just try and include a variety of practices that will help you care for all your needs – physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual.
If you're unsure whether a self-care practice is helping, pause and ask yourself: Does this bring me a feeling of satisfaction? And you’ll have your answer.
- Set a bedtime and stick to it. Switch off your devices 30 minutes before sleeping. Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep each night
- Start every day by setting a positive intention. We become what we think. As Dr Wayne Dyer use to say "Happiness is just a thought away". Start each day with something positive, it can be as simple as an affirmation, a random quote or choosing a card from an oracle deck.
- Buy and eat nutrient-rich food. Focus on ensuring that what you eat nourishes your body, rather than restricting ‘bad’ foods.
- Schedule exercise each day. A 15-minute walk in your lunch break, a mega-gym session, a run before work. Just make it something you enjoy. If you like yoga, great. But if we prefer a game of tennis with a friend – go for it!
- Schedule time out. The importance of taking time out to retreat and restore can’t be overstated. From time to time, schedule a full self-care day and a free DIY spa. Plan, and let people know you’ll be ‘off-line’ for a while. Fill your DIY wellness retreat with the self-care activities you enjoy the most. An occasional day of ‘me-time’ is an affordable luxury that can reset your nervous system and replenish your batteries. You’ll return to the world feeling confident, calm, and full of vitality.
- Scheduling a daily tech-break. 30 minutes with the phone on silent and the screens out of view can help break the compulsive cycle of checking and scrolling. Integrate some mindfulness practices into this pause, and your nervous system will feel the benefit.
- Spend time in nature. There's a wealth of research into the physical, emotional, and spiritual benefits of spending time in green spaces. So whether you can access areas of wilderness or even a city park, try a spot of shinrin–yoku, or forest bathing. This fantastic, easy-to-learn mindfulness practice helps us slow down and restore our emotional balance – and all we need to reconnect with nature is a nearby tree.
- Take time for meditation. Many simple meditation techniques can deliver profound wellness benefits with only a few minutes of regular daily practice. Practice alone, with an app, or join a group, and find a style you love.
- Gratitude. Taking a few moments before you head for bed to note down what you feel grateful for has been shown to have beneficial effects on mental health. Research by the Greater Good Science Center reveals four major benefits of keeping a gratitude journal. Gratitude frees us from toxic emotions. It helps even when we don't share our thoughts of gratitude with others. The benefits develop over time – so making the practice a part of our daily routine will pay off. After only three months, changes were noted in study participants' brains that imply long-term benefits for mental health.
10 Great Reasons to Focus on Your Self-Care
So what are the benefits we can expect when we practice self-care? While they vary from person to person, here are some of the most frequently reported.
#1 You’ll Become More Resilient
With everything that's going on in the world, it's no surprise we feel overwhelmed. However, making time for self-care can help us become less reactive to the many stressors we encounter.
Consciously slowing down sometimes helps prevent us from being caught up in adverse situations. In addition, it makes us better able to stand back to consider how we can achieve the most favourable outcome.
#2 You’ll Feel Greater Self-Worth
With so many demands on our time and emotions, it's easy to lose sight of our own importance in life. Work demands, family demands, financial needs – we can prioritise any or all of them over our own needs.
If you’ve ever reached the end of a working day saying ’I was too busy to take a break’, or ever agreed to nights out with friends when you just wanted to stay home and unwind - it’s time to prioritise your self-care.
#3 You’ll Create a Deep Sense of Well-Being
Taking time for self-care affects our whole sense of well-being. Our body, mind, and spirit create one inseparable system. So when we do something to care for one aspect, our entire system benefits. Offering ourselves simple moments of self-care results in feelings of satisfaction and well-being.
#4 Those Around You Will Feel The Benefit As Well
When you’re exhausted, when you’ve been neglecting to care for yourself, how do you respond to those around you? If you find yourself acting cranky, or being impatient, or over-critical with those around you – give them and yourself a break. Take some time out for some self-care to recharge your batteries and restore your emotional balance.
#5 You’ll Boost Your Self-Confidence
No surprise here. When we’re treating ourselves as someone worthy of care and respect, those around us sense it and respond in kind. This creates a virtuous spiral as our confidence increases.
#6 You’ll Handle Stress and Anxiety More Easily
Practicing self-care helps our system deal with the harmful physical and emotional changes brought about by our stress-filled modern lives. Stepping back to care for ourselves by taking a short walk in the fresh air, or creating a DIY day retreat, can positively impact our sympathetic nervous system (the fight/flight or freeze response), and help it to calm down.
#7 You’ll Sleep Better
When anxious and stressed, it's no surprise that we find it hard to get a good night's rest. Shockingly, chronic insomnia affects an estimated one in three of us.
Caring for ourselves by adopting good sleep hygiene practices pays immense dividends in boosting our energy and elevating our mood.
#8 Your Digestion Will Improve
When we practice self-care to reduce anxiety levels, our parasympathetic response – telling the body it's time to 'rest and digest' - can kick in. So we not only sleep better, our digestive system will work better, and we’ll get all those vital nutrients from our food.
#9 You’ll Find It Easier To Focus
Another early indicator of stress is brain fog. Our ability to focus diminishes. We forget things and scatter our energy without ever feeling we're making any progress. Simple self-care strategies such as mindfulness help calm our overactive minds, so we can think more clearly and concentrate more easily.
#10 You’ll Strengthen Your Natural Immunity
According to the American Psychological Association, studies have shown that stress can reduce the number of natural killer cells or lymphocytes in the body. These play a vital role in our immune system – to help defend the body from viruses. Likewise, self-care practices, which reduce stress, can play a role in helping our immune system protect us from viruses.
Finding simple self-care strategies and integrating them into our routines can profoundly impact our well-being in so many important ways. Small investments of your time in the practices we suggest (and others) can assist us all in managing the stresses of modern life and maintaining optimal health in all aspects of our life. So experiment, and enjoy!