Self-care has become a buzzword in the past decade, synonymous with the idea of indulging in lavish treats and experiences in the name of increased mental health. But this couldn’t be further from the true intention and action of self-care.
Put simply, self-care is the act of looking after yourself. That’s it. No fuss, no wild spending sprees. Just making sure that you are well enough to face each day as it comes.
And with so many of us rushing from one commitment to the next without taking a moment to stop and breathe, self-care is exactly the thing we all need to be doing more of in our life.
So if you are one of those people that thinks self-care is inaccessible to you, or you just want to know more about this essential life-saving tool, read on.
What is self-care?
The definition of self-care is ‘the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one’s own health’.
Self-care is a practice that must be repeated regularly to ensure your overall wellbeing. There are hundreds of different activities you can do that can be defined as self-care, but ultimately self-care is an act in which you take care of yourself. Self-care is for everyone, and it can help us all in different ways.
We can split self-care into five types, all of which make up your overall health.
The first part of your life that needs self-care is your physical health. After all, how can you enjoy the wild adventure that is life without looking after your body?
The World Health Organisation, WHO, defines self-care as “the ability of individuals, families, and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and to cope with disability with or without the support of a healthcare provider.”
Everybody’s physical health is different, and there is no one defining model of how a physically healthy person looks or behaves. For example, some people may have hidden illnesses or are differently-abled. But we can all take the time to look after our bodies and get them in their unique window of health.
Overlooked by many, your mental health is another pillar of overall wellbeing that needs regular TLC to stay in good shape.
According to leading mental health charity, MIND, at least 25% of people will experience mental illness in their lifetime.
However, we have seen a rise in mental illness since the COVID-19 pandemic struck. For example, those suffering from depression in the UK rose from 10% of the population pre-pandemic to a staggering 17%.
So with busy lives in uncertain times, it’s vital that we pay attention to our mental health and implement self-care strategies that support it.
Closely linked to your mental health is your emotional health. Unlike Ron Weasley, who has the emotional range of a teaspoon, humans tend to experience many complex emotions on a day-to-day basis. In fact, experts suggest there are 34000 different emotions that we are capable of experiencing!
So it’s essential to support your emotional health through self-care. And no, that doesn’t mean avoiding negative emotions – these are normal and have their place in your life – but instead finding a balance that doesn’t jump from one extreme to the next, leaving you in a constant state of anxiety.
Whether you are religious or not, everyone has a sense of spirituality. It’s the backbone that drives our worldview and helps us make sense of life around us.
Spirituality also helps you understand the people around you, allowing you to become a more compassionate and empathetic person.
As such, it’s healthy for everyone to develop a connection with nature beyond themselves and explore the deeper meaning of life and how we all connect to each other. In doing so, you will find perspective that can help propel you into living a more focused, determined lifestyle.
Whether you are an introvert, extrovert, or ambivert, you need interpersonal connections to maintain positive wellbeing. You see, loneliness and lack of social interaction can cause, or worsen, mental illnesses such as depression.
This doesn’t mean that if you are an introvert, you need to force yourself to become a social butterfly, but you should aim to make regular time to connect with loved ones.
Eleven life-changing benefits of self-care
Now that we know the types of self-care involved in looking after your wellbeing, what are the great benefits of taking care of them?
When you practice self-care, you look after the different components of life that make you…well you. So it comes as no surprise that when you take the time to look after yourself, you gain the energy you need to face life!
Reduces mental illnesses, including anxiety and depression
One of the key components of self-care is mental self-care. When you prioritise your mental wellbeing, you’ll find you suffer fewer symptoms from mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression.
But even when the self-care activity is not mental health orientated, the act of self-love that is taking care of yourself allows you to decompress and take a step back from the factors in your life contributing to your anxiety or depression.
Reduces stress levels
Sometimes, we get so busy that we forget to focus on the moment and just breathe when life takes over. The beauty of self-care is that it comprises of activities that break the busy streak, so we can just be. No obligations, no rushing, just you and your wellbeing.
When repeated regularly, this pause in your day inevitably leads to reduced stress levels. And the reduced stress levels lead to being able to deal with busy moments better. Talk about a positive cycle!
Provides you with a sense of autonomy
Hands up if you’ve ever felt like you’re drowning under the weight of responsibility and pressure. You too, huh? The great thing about self-care is that taking care of yourself provides you with a feeling of control over your life where daily pressures may make you feel like a passenger.
Improves your self-confidence
There are two main ways that self-care can improve your confidence.
Firstly, taking time for yourself reminds you that you are worth the effort and care, which will improve your self-esteem.
Secondly, when you feel the physical and mental health effects that your acts of self-care have started to provide for you, you’ll feel a great sense of pride in yourself for finding that time to look after yourself, which leads to an increased sense of self-confidence.
Improves physical health and fitness
Looking after your basic needs, including nutrition and movement, are at the forefront of self-care. And when you start looking after the basics, it has a ripple effect across your health.
Some physical health and fitness improvements include:
- Lower blood pressure
- Less tension headaches
- Less achy muscles
- Better digestion
- Improved cardio capacity
When you feel out of balance and are not taking care of yourself, you’re likely to have a “short fuse.” That is, stress makes us snappy and easily irritable. And when we get into that state of mind, it can lead us to accidentally take it out on the people we love the most.
Because self-care reduces your stress and helps you cope better with your emotions, it will also help you maintain positive, healthy relationships with the people that matter most to you.
Improves sleep quality
That sneaky stress pest causes absolute havoc in our lives. It takes no prisoners. Even your sleep isn’t safe from it. And so, the de-stress value of self-care will help you get a better night’s sleep.
Not to mention a reduction in anxiety will stop those worry-inducing thoughts popping into your head just as you’re falling asleep!
Improves work-life balance
Balance is challenging to master. Move too much one way and the see-saw tips. And while there is nothing wrong with prioritising one aspect of your life over another temporarily every once in a while, when it becomes the norm, it becomes an issue.
Typically, when we find ourselves unbalanced, it tends to be work at fault. And as the nature of self-care involves concentrating on yourself and your needs, self-care is the perfect antidote to an overwhelming work imbalance.
Before we look at this benefit, it’s important to remember that motivation is not a constant and shouldn’t be too heavily relied on when trying to accomplish your goals. That said, feeling motivated sure does help!
One major reason people feel demotivated is that they don’t think they are good enough to do the task at hand. And so, with the confidence boost that self-care offers, your motivation to seek the new adventures in your heart will also increase.
Burnout is one of productivity’s biggest enemies. And burnout occurs during times of extreme stress, anxiety, imbalance in your life, and poor physical health.
Luckily, as we’ve seen throughout this list, self-care helps us improve all of these things. So, logically, if we tackle the cause of a lack of productivity, we’ll be able to improve it.
Why do so many of us fail at self-care?
At the beginning of this article, I touched on the widely held belief that self-care means indulging in expensive and decadent objects or experiences. And many people have been led to believe self-care is inaccessible to them as a result.
The truth is, there are so many self-care options for all budgets, time constraints, abilities, and lifestyles that there really is no excuse not to make it a part of your life.
And if you still aren’t convinced self-care is right for you, let me debunk some of the ridiculous myths surrounding the topic.
Debunking the self-care myths
Self-care is expensive
A common misconception of self-care is that you have to spend a lot of money to access it. This comes from the idea that self-care is exclusively spa days, posh chocolates, and bottles of the finest wine. And while you can absolutely implement these things into your self-care regime, it’s not any better for you than cheaper alternatives.
Self-care comes in all shapes and sizes, and the truth is, there is a huge list of ideas you can implement that are either free or use items you already have around the house. So there’s really no need to invest your hard-earned money on self-care if you can’t or don’t want to.
Self-care requires a big time commitment
Many people skip taking time for themselves because they believe they have to set aside a good chunk of time to get the “best results.”
But self-care isn’t about getting the best possible results. It’s about making the best of the time and resources you have to look after yourself. And if you have a lot of responsibilities (work, kids, social obligations, etc.), taking just a couple of minutes to perform an act of self-care regularly is still going to be beneficial for you.
Self-care is all about vanity
When you see self-care portrayed on TV and in magazines, you tend to see the same thing. A woman taking a long, luxurious bath while treating her face with a lovely face mask. Or a woman getting dressed up to feel “sexy” and “beautiful” again.
And so you would be forgiven for thinking that self-care is the act of looking after yourself by making yourself look better to feel better. And sure, it has its place, but as we have already seen, self-care is much more holistic than that. The majority of self-help practices are about healing from the inside out rather than the outside in.
Self-care is for women only
Let’s be completely honest here. The self-care trend has left men behind. Almost all media depictions of self-care are of women.
We know that society has historically discouraged men from speaking openly about their emotions, as it is seen as a “feminine” trait. To the point that some men suffer from Normative Male Alexithymia – a psychological disorder that leaves sufferers unable to express their emotion from being traumatised by the societal norms of “traditional masculinity.”
But men have as much need to look after themselves as any other gender, in whatever way feels good to them, regardless of perceived societal norms on the topic.
So, if you are a man reading this, or a woman that knows a man in dire need of self-care, know this. Self-care is for people of ALL genders.
Tips for self-care
As with most things in life, you need to build a habit if you want something to stick. But that is much easier said than done, so here are a few tips for self-care to get you started in making it part of your daily ritual.
See where you have free time in your schedule
Look at your weekly schedule and find potential pockets of time you are free, whether that’s for five minutes or 30 minutes, and take note.
If you don’t have a definitive schedule, think about your normal daily routine and the times you tend to be less busy. (And yes, even if you don’t think you have a daily routine, you definitely have a rough one – we humans are creatures of habit after all!).
Choose how often you want to practice self-care
If you are doing longer activities, you may want to have two focused times a week, whereas if you are focusing on short bursts, it will be much more effective if you can do it daily or every other day.
Choose the activity/activities ahead of time
Plan ahead and decide on the activities you are going to do for the week ahead. That way, you will be prepared and know what and when you are doing your self-care.
Keep a self-care journal
By journaling your self-care practice, you can track your progress and keep yourself accountable. Not to mention you can start to curate a list of self-care ideas for yourself to use when you need inspiration.
While all of the above self-care tips will benefit you in some way, you needn’t try to use them all at once from the start. It is best to pick one of the above tips and implement it into your daily routine. As you go on, this should form a lasting habit, and you can then start to build on your self-care routine by adding the additional self-care tips in the same way.
Our ten favourite self-care ideas
If you need some ideas for self-care to get you started, check out our favourites here!
- Go for a nature walk (pets are always welcome too!)
- Make a nourishing meal for dinner that feeds the body and soul
- Write a gratitude list
- Self-care yoga practice
- Make plans to meet a friend or family member (either in person or video chat)
- Write three pages of your thoughts in your journal as you think them without worrying about how they sound, whether they make sense, grammar, punctuation, spelling, etc.
- Get a massage (professional, from your partner, with an at-home machine, or a massage ball)
- Allow yourself to indulge in your favourite book or show without feeling any guilt
- Try that new skill you’ve always wanted to learn
- Throw yourself a solo dance party!
Final thoughts on why self-care is important
Despite popular belief, self-care is not a fad; it is an essential part of life needed to support your overall wellbeing.
The benefits of regular self-care practice can be life-changing, yet so many of us don’t partake because we don’t think we can.
So, if you take one thing away from this article, let it be this:
Self-care is for everyone to enjoy so you can improve the five aspects of your life that will bring you balance.
What is your favourite self-care activity? Or, if you don’t currently practise self-care, which activities are you excited to try?
Let us know; we love hearing from you!