We know that self-care is far more than bath bombs and beauty, although those things are part of it. Caring for your body, mind and spirit is also completely different from being self-centered; although it can become self-indulgent when out of balance, like anything else...
But what is it really? How do we improve it? Why don't we? And more importantly, what does it mean to YOU??
One thing for sure is that self-care requires time to explore what you really need in every area of life, honesty about what you find, and willingness to learn how to provide for yourself and/or ask for help.
Self-care is a process of learning to nurture yourself, and to care for your deepest needs with as much TLC as you’d give to your own child.
Self-care is an integral part of your mental, physical, and overall health. You need it to help prevent burnout, chronic stress, or exhaustion. Think of it as a renewable energy source; without it your lights go dim, your white blood cells lose their glow, and your engine sputters out.
Self-care plays a significant role in mental health as well. It ensures you’re coping with stress in healthy ways, owning your feelings, and communicating assertively in your relationships. It not only prevents medical illness, but also manages it when needed, and connects you to proper lines of support.
If self-care is lacking, most relationships suffer too. No one knows how to care for you better than you do... and it can damage relationships when one or another person refuses to take care of themselves.
At the community level, chronic self-neglect can influence a variety of public health issues.
The multidimensional task of self-care can include everything from eating and sleeping well, allowing time for creative projects, taking time to be alone, and making time where there was none - in order to tend to anything and everything that honestly helps us function better.
Because self-care has so many facets, it may take a long time to fully integrate what you learn about yourself along the way.
In other words, it’s okay to really delve deep and allow your own unique expressions of self-care to emerge. We all have role models who have or haven’t provided the best examples of such habits, and it can be crucial to listen to your own body, to honor your own rhythm.
There are no quick fixes for self-care, but there are small actions that make a huge difference over time. If you don’t feel better immediately, it won’t help to abandon the process. And once you start moving forward again, you won't ever want to go backward.
For example if just one healthy meal, glorious full night's sleep, journal page, honest conversation, or walk in the woods doesn’t do the trick, try doing them all... more regularly and more often.
Sometimes, timing is everything... and it can be more helpful to simply allow yourself these moments of nurture when you really need them the most... in the midst of chaotic life situations, in spite of not feeling well, and because you don't feel well!
And if you do commit to a long term practice, it will eventually become routine in your daily life, and you will start to feel better in multiple ways. It takes time, motivation, and diligence. The more effort you put in, the more you’ll see the benefits and feel the worth of it.
Self-care isn’t the same for everyone; each person has their own unique journey. As you go along that journey however, it’s important to remember that you’re constantly growing and changing… so your self-care practices will need to adjust as well.
It’s easy to get into a loop of doing the same things over and over; but as you grow and develop, the same practices might not be as effective anymore. It’s important to stay in tune with your body, listen intently, and make changes over time.
Self-care is a commitment; it takes time to see the lasting results. You will likely need to nurture the routine, hold yourself accountable, and backslide endlessly.
It is important to get clear on your own reasons and motivations, to help inspire you to stick with it - or at least to start again when things fall off.
Nurturing your self-care routine involves actively making time for it every day, paying attention to what’s working and what’s not, to ensure you’re getting the most out of your efforts.
The more you nurture your self-care routines, the more they will nurture you, allowing your whole being to really thrive.
It's not easy to define exactly what self-care will look like for each individual, and your own sense of it needs to be defined by you.
There are several working definitions of what self-care actually IS, and many are still debating it. Here are some common working definitions of self-care, as quoted below…
“Self-Care in health refers to the activities individuals, families and communities undertake with the intention of enhancing health, preventing disease, limiting illness, and restoring health. These activities are derived from knowledge and skills from the pool of both professional and lay experience. They are undertaken by lay people on their own behalf, either separately or in participative collaboration with professionals.”
World Health Organization (WHO). Health Education in Self-Care: Possibilities and Limitations. Report of a Scientific Consultation. Geneva, Switzerland. Nov 1983.
“Self-Care is what people do for themselves to establish and maintain health, and to prevent and deal with illness. It is a broad concept encompassing hygiene (general and personal), nutrition (type and quality of food eaten), lifestyle (sporting activities, leisure etc.), environmental factors (living conditions, social habits, etc.), socio-economic factors (income level, cultural beliefs, etc.) and self-medication.”
WHO. The role of the pharmacists in self-care and self medication: report of the 4th WHO consultative group on the role of the pharmacist. Geneva, 1998.
“Self-Care is a lifelong habit and culture. It is the action individuals take for themselves and their families to stay healthy and take care of minor and long term conditions, based on their knowledge and the information available, and working in collaboration with health and social care professionals where necessary.”
UK Department of Health Steering Group. Joining Up Self-Care in the NHS. 2003
“Self-Care is a part of daily living. It is the care taken by individuals towards their own health and well being, and includes the care extended to their children, family, friends and others in neighbourhoods and local communities. Self-Care includes the actions individuals and carers take for themselves, their children, their families and others to stay fit and maintain good physical and mental health; meet social and psychological needs; prevent illness or accidents; care for minor ailments and long-term conditions; and maintain health and wellbeing after acute illness or discharge from hospital.”
UK Department of Health. Self-Care – A Real Choice. 2005.
“Self-Care is the ability of individuals, families and communities to promote health, prevent disease, and maintain health and to cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a healthcare provider”.
WHO SEARO. Self-Care in the Context of Primary Health Care. Report of the Regional Consultation Bangkok, Thailand. Jan 2009.
“Some general observations about these definitions may be made. Self-care definitions commonly include individuals, their families, friends and communities. Community-level action to support people in self-care will be of increasing importance in future.” International Self-Care Foundation: http://isfglobal.org/what-is-self-care/.