There’s an analogy about self-care that I’ve seen more times than I can count, but it’s widespread for a reason. It compares the process to oxygen masks in airplanes — you’re supposed to secure your own mask before you assist others. The logic here is that if you can’t breathe, you can’t very well help anyone else. Practising self-care is much the same. You have to take care of your own mental and physical health before you can truly devote yourself to your family and friends.
But what is self-care, exactly? Generally speaking, self-care is engaging in activities and behaviours that have a positive effect on your mental and physical health. There is no one thing — or even a list of things — that encompasses self-care. It’s different for each person. However, the end goal is always the same: to reduce stress, preserve relationships, maintain a beneficial work/life balance, and nurture your mental and physical well-being.
Self-care involves a lot of introspection. It requires identifying your needs and taking the necessary steps to meet them. Finally, there’s a bit of a “reverse golden rule” aspect to the practice — treat yourself as compassionately as you treat others. While all of this may seem obvious, many of us (myself included) often put the needs of others first, setting our own aside — and damaging our mental health in the interim.
Why self-care is so important
For some people, it’s almost second nature to yield to the wishes and demands of family members, friends, and employers before even considering their own. Women in particular are moulded by society to be nurturers, mothers and caretakers. In fact, 91% of American nurses and 66% of caregivers responsible for the health needs of elderly loved ones are women. Unfortunately, failing to care for your own emotional and physical needs before attempting to resolve those of others can really take a toll on your emotional and physical well-being.
Self-care is necessary for a number of reasons.
- It increases your sense of self-love, allowing you to appreciate and accept yourself for who you are.
- It promotes feelings of calm and relaxation, serving as a way to refocus and come back to your daily life refreshed and ready to take on anything.
- It improves both physical and mental health by reducing the effects of prolonged stress on your mind and body.
Ultimately, meeting your own needs makes you a more valuable partner, parent, friend, employee or caregiver. When you’re healthy and well-rested, you’re better equipped to support others.
Is there a right way to engage in self-care?
There’s definitely a perception out there that there’s a correct way to go about self-care. Like so many things in modern life, a lot of these misconceptions stem from social media — wherein self-care is painted to look almost like a type of consumerism. The truth is that self-care can take on a number of different forms, and the only “right way” to do it is the way that works best for you.
There are handfuls of self-care subcategories, including physical self-care, emotional self-care and spiritual self-care — you may find you prefer to focus on one in particular or spread your energy among them equally. Here are just a few examples of actions that fall into these subcategories.
- Physical self-care: Eating well, exercising regularly, prioritising sleep and taking care of your health.
- Emotional self-care: Managing anxiety, anger, sadness, and other emotions. Setting boundaries with people who are not positive or supportive. Spending time alone to rest and recharge. Maintaining a bullet journal.
- Spiritual self-care: Volunteering, connecting with nature, yoga, meditation, mindfulness, etc.
The most important thing about self-care is to not force it — if you turn it into a chore, it loses all value. Self-care should be relaxing, enjoyable, and sometimes downright fun. Do what makes you happy, and if you find an activity just doesn’t work for you, try something else!
My own experience with self-care
Until very recently, self-care wasn’t even on my radar. It wasn’t until I had a full-fledged mental breakdown that I decided it was time to start focusing on putting my needs first. My self-care routine has a number of moving parts, including:
- A daily gratitude journal, which has been scientifically proven to have both physical and emotional benefits.
- Getting at least nine hours of sleep every night (that’s my particular magic number).
- Spending an hour or so a day cuddling with my dogs.
- Indulging in my makeup hobby — buying, collecting, applying, and writing about it.
- Doing puzzles — jigsaws, crosswords, fill-ins and Candy Crush.
- Regularly seeing my therapist.
If you’re new to self-care, you may at first confuse it with being selfish. This is absolutely not the case. Self-care is essential to your health — don’t let anyone tell you any different. As Autumn Spencer said:
It’s not selfish. It’s not stupid. It’s not unnecessarily indulgent. It’s not a waste of your time.