In busy or trying times, it can be difficult to take care of ourselves. Between the demands of work and school, family responsibilities and packed daily schedules, there’s little room to take a breath, much less a daily walk. And if you’re in a role that requires you to give to others—parent, caregiver, healthcare worker—giving back to yourself can be even more challenging.
Caring for ourselves sounds so basic, almost too basic to prioritize. But if we consistently put ourselves and our needs on the back burner, it can mean burnout, illness, anxiety, depression and exhaustion. Just like you fill your gas tank to keep your car going, “filling the well” with self-care activities keeps you going. It helps create a healthy balance in your life.
What Is Self-Care?
While new clothes and a trip to the beach might help fill the well, self-care is not about self-indulgence. Self-care is:
- Intentional—deliberately choosing activities to take care of your physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health.
- Reflective—assessing your needs and circumstances so you can care for all aspects of your Self.
- Ongoing—a practice you incorporate into your everyday life.
“Self-care involves focusing on yourself and taking time to rest, reflect, replenish, and renew. Self-care includes taking stock of your own needs, goals, health, and accomplishments; taking time to nourish and nurture all of who you are.”
Crisis & Trauma Resource Institute
Self-care is most effective as a regular practice, but it shouldn’t be something you force yourself to do, another “must” on your already long to-do list. As psychologist Agnes Wainman says, self-care is “something that refuels us, rather than takes from us.” She goes on to explain that self-care is not something you must earn, or something you implement only when you’re already burned out.
While self-love is an act of acceptance, self-care is a plan of action. The plan is different for every person.
Self-Care in Real Life
Because self-care is about improving well-being, it’s helpful to see how it may manifest in four different aspects of your health.
Physical. Taking care of your physical body involves what you might expect: getting enough sleep, eating well and exercising regularly. Maintaining good physical health helps ensure more energy to meet your daily responsibilities. Getting enough sleep improves mental and emotional resilience; sleep deprivation not only affects thinking but increases risk for mental disorders, weight gain, heart attacks and strokes. Good diet can prevent nutritional deficiencies and dangerous swings in blood sugar, which can contribute to energy swings and mood disorders. Exercise helps reduce stress by releasing endorphins into the bloodstream, and a healthy body helps you better respond to life’s many stressors.
Emotional. Caring for yourself emotionally means allowing yourself to safely experience a full range of emotions without judgment. Emotional self-care activities can include:
- finding things that make you laugh, or allowing yourself to cry when you feel sad
- surrounding yourself with positive people
- setting emotional boundaries in relationships (especially difficult relationships)
- addressing issues that bother you to prevent unhealthy build-up of emotion
- cultivating relationships in which you both give and receive love and emotional support
Mental, or Psychological. Taking care of your mental health involves becoming aware of your feelings and thoughts—whether through meditation, journaling, counseling or other aids to self-reflection. It can also mean nurturing your intellect by pursuing subjects that interest you. If you’re a history buff, when was the last time you went to a history museum, or surfed websites for a little armchair time travel? It’s important to control what you can in this realm, for example, steering away from the negative and toward positive actions and relationships.
Spiritual. While religion may be part of your spiritual self-care, it’s essentially about meaning—connecting with your purpose, with your spirit. The non-material parts of your life offer a window to your inner self. Self-care activities can include acts of kindness (taking dinner to a sick neighbor), giving to a cause (volunteering or donating money), attending a place of worship, meditation, bird-watching or gardening, reading inspirational literature, yoga… the list goes on. Spiritual self-care broadens your perspective to help you identify and connect with what’s most meaningful to you.
Self-care can also extend to other realms. For example, your professional life may benefit from better work-life balance through flex hours. Or photos of loved ones in your office could boost your sense of resilience and purpose. Peer-support groups or professional development programs may augment your efficiency and knowledge.
The Rewards of Self-Care
One Boston middle school implemented a program for students using mindfulness-based stress reduction and Tai Chi. Mindfulness involves staying in the present moment, and Tai Chi involves slow, flowing movements that require complete focus. “Statements the boys and girls made in the process suggested that they experienced well-being, calmness, relaxation, improved sleep, less reactivity, increased self-care, self-awareness, and a sense of interconnection or interdependence with nature.”
Tai Chi may not be everyone’s choice, but this example illustrates the benefits of self-care. Making self-care activities part of your life daily or weekly can reduce stress, boost your energy, increase confidence, improve your mood and reduce anxiety.
On the other hand, neglecting self-care can result in exhaustion and feeling overwhelmed and disconnected from your own life. Self-care itself may not always feel good. It can be hard to say No to someone you find emotionally draining, even if it’s better for your mental and emotional health in the long run.
Making Self-Care Work for You
Even small acts of self-care can make a big difference. If you’re working long hours or taking care of a family, you can still take a few moments to watch the birds outside your window (with or without your child on your lap). If the local yoga studio’s fees or hours aren’t feasible, a free online video can give you a five-minute session at 6 am. With creativity, barriers to self-care can be overcome.
Self-care looks different for everyone, depending on your needs and circumstances. The goal is optimal health and a restorative sense of renewal. At Best Day, our counselors are ready to help you assess and address self-care and mental health challenges so you can live a healthy, integrated, full life.
How We Can Help You?
Best Day Psychiatry and Counseling is here to help you have a better day and find a better way. We treat a wide range of psychiatric conditions for both children and adults. Contact us today, we’re ready to help:
Charlotte: (980) 867-4440• Durham: (919) 659-8686 • Fayetteville: (910) 323-1543
Fuquay-Varina: (919) 567-0684 • Greenville: (252) 375-3322 • Raleigh: (919) 670-3939
Wilmington: (910) 500-7072 • Winston-Salem: (336) 934-5556