“Self-care is the intentional, proactive pursuit of integrated wellness that balances mind, body, and spirit personally and professionally.”– Paula Gill Lopez, Ph.D., Fairfield University. 1
Caring for others, particularly children struggling with mental health and substance use issues, takes strength, energy, dedication, and focus; it’s a vital resource to be at our best, one that we cannot share if we lack it. Self-care can take on a myriad of forms and behaviors; and requires taking stock of ourselves and posing simple questions to help us understand how we are doing mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.
When was the last time you asked yourself how you were doing?
During the pandemic, self-care was cemented as an essential concept for integral wellbeing. Simply put, self-care means taking care of yourself to ensure you are balanced, healthy, and happy so that you can function effectively in your job, connect with friends and care for those who depend on you.
There’s a difference between doing something good for you, like eating broccoli, and self-care, like experimenting with a new broccoli dish in the kitchen. The difference is that for something to count as self-care, it must respond to your personal needs on several levels and have a positive impact on your emotional wellbeing; in short, it feels good, if not immediately, over time.
Taking care of yourself and focusing on your well-being and happiness before focusing on the needs of others may sound counterintuitive, but it’s essential if you are to help and care for others. It allows you to approach challenges openly and to support others with renewed strength and energy.
Brighid Courtney, a client leader at Wellable, explains that “Although activities such as running or meditating may be good for your overall health and wellbeing, if you hate them, then they are not considered self-care.” 2
What constitutes self-care is different for everyone and can change with your needs and situation over time. Examples of self-care can include taking time to socialize, setting personal goals, organizing some aspects of your life, and seeking support from others to help us process and face challenging situations.
Self-care may lead to resistance from others and from within because putting your needs first may feel selfish, but it is anything but. If loving yourself does not come naturally, it’ll do you good to practice until it becomes second nature.
Give yourself the space to care for yourself, identify and respond to your needs on all levels, and to recognize and accept your shortcomings. In essence, give yourself the freedom to be authentically you. Don’t aim for perfection, it’s way too exhausting. Self-acceptance is a virtuous cycle; it leads to more authentic connections that, in turn, can lead to more self-love.
74% of people consider self-care to mean taking care of their bodies, while 57% think it means taking a mental break. 39% of men say they consistently make time for self-care while only 32% of women do. 3
Self-Care Ideas: How to integrate self-care into your daily routine.
- Take a moment for yourself.
Stealing away from the demands of everyday life can be challenging but become possible and more manageable with a bit of planning. Moments of reflection can help us better understand our needs, help us identify effective coping strategies, and keep us balanced in challenging situations.
- Sleep well.
Sleep, or a lack of it, has a significant impact on our immediate emotional and physical wellbeing. Stress can negatively impact our ability to disconnect and sleep soundly, so it’s important to integrate activities and behaviors that allow us to relax before bedtime.
- Eat well and keep your gut happy.
Food impacts our wellbeing far beyond providing us with the fuel we need to get through the day. Eating well and sharing meals with others influences our feelings of satisfaction, pleasure, and connectedness.
Our diet directly impacts the bacteria that live in our stomachs and can affect everything from your health to wellbeing, to energy levels and mood.
Healing and looking after our gut can lead to increased happiness!
- Move freely.
Moving, or flowing, is essential for self-care. Doctors have long recommended a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise per day. The form it takes depends on you but finding something you enjoy will make it easier to keep it up. So, whether it’s dancing in the living room or training for a marathon, exercise can distract from your worries and improve self-confidence and your mood. In addition, it stimulates parts of that brain that aren’t as responsive when you’re feeling depressed by releasing dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin that can greatly improve your mood and energy levels.
- Express yourself – and learn how to say no.
Saying no is a challenge even for the most assertive of us. When a family member, friend, or colleague asks for or needs our time or attention when our energy is low, saying yes can lead to increased stress levels, irritability, and even anxiety. It takes practice but learning to say no is a healthy and essential part of successfully integrating self-care into your life.
- Talk it out.
Talking, and listening, are essential for healing and growing, yet many struggle to open themselves up to share intimate details or feelings that we carry inside. While talking and leaning on others can be frightening, whether they be family, friends, or support group members, it gets easier. Plus, it provides perspective and builds connectedness and strength.
Healing through sharing is increasingly gaining ground and recognized as an essential step in the self-care process.
Why not try logging off social media for a day? Reducing, if not stopping, using social media for a few hours or days may reduce trivial distractions, allowing you to channel that extra time you gain in responding to the various opportunities and challenges in your life. Giving yourself internet-free time can help you to focus on and reconnect with those around you.
- It’s OK not to be OK.
Self-care and self-love begin with being kind to yourself and working towards self-acceptance. It’s a process that takes time, energy, and commitment – and one full of both challenges and opportunities. The road to self-discovery is seldom direct; the journey can be laden with rewards and setbacks; accepting both the highs and the lows as learning opportunities can help stave off unnecessary pressure and disappointment.
- Do what makes you happy.
While this may seem the antithesis to the standard definition of good parenting, sometimes you need to put yourself and your needs first. This does not mean neglecting your responsibilities or ignoring the needs of those around you, but rather doing something special for yourself that makes you feel good. When you are happy, healthy, and optimistic, you and those around you benefit.
- Say yes.
To yourself. To life. To happiness. Saying yes, like saying no, this is both harder and easier than it seems but can lead to an increased feeling of satisfaction, connectedness, and peace.
“Nothing will work unless you do.”– Maya Angelou
Like starting a new exercise routine, self-care requires that you set achievable goals for yourself. If you aren’t used to setting personal time aside for you, scheduling an entire weekend may be impossible; start with small activities to ensure you don’t end up disappointing yourself. You´ll be amazed how quickly you´ll adapt to taking time and space for you – and how your mood and your energy levels will improve!
To help stave off any possible feelings of guilt that self-care may induce, you´ll do well to consider the following:
You cannot love others more than you love yourself.
You cannot offer patience if you are not patient with yourself.
You cannot be compassionate when you deny how you feel.
And finally, you cannot practice forgiveness if you cannot forgive yourself.