What is self-care?
Self-care is those essential actions that we take to look after our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. The exact components of self-care vary, but they might include things like remembering to brush our teeth, shower and wear clean clothes, as well as eating nutritious foods, drinking enough water and looking after our physical health by being active. Self-care can also include making sure we use our annual leave from work, finding a quiet moment in a busy day to practise mindfulness, having a nice bubble bath, or wearing our favourite cosy jumper.
There’s no right or wrong way to practise self-care, and what works for one of us may not work for someone else. Similarly, something may work for us one week, and be the last possible thing we might need the next week. This is completely fine, and it’s important to remember that as we change and grow, our self-care will change and grow too.
Self-care doesn’t have to be expensive, time-consuming or complicated. It’s also not selfish, as we cannot take care of others if we aren’t taking care of ourselves first. Self-care is something we can all benefit from doing, no matter where we are on the scale of mental and physical wellbeing. While it can be helpful to increase our self-care when we are feeling low or struggling with our mental health, self-care is something we can make an active choice to do all the time, in order to look after ourselves. Just like we don’t need to wait until our teeth are falling out to start brushing them, we also don’t need to wait until we’ve reached a crisis point to start practising self-care.
When we have busy or stressful lives, or lots of commitments, or responsibilities to others (including caring responsibilities), or we’re struggling with our wellbeing already, self-care can feel like just one more thing to squeeze into our already-overflowing to-do list. The last thing we need is another commitment, another pressure on us, another thing to do. However, without building in those small moments for self-care, we may find it harder to keep up with our other responsibilities and outside pressures. By taking the time to factor in self-care to our busy lives, we can look after ourselves as well as improving our ability to look after others.
1. Separate work from home
If we are working, whether that’s a paid role or volunteering, we might feel pressure to be available 24/7, to check our emails in the evenings, to respond to work-related phone calls in our own time, and to let work creep into our home lives. This can feel like a difficult position to be in, and can eat at our wellbeing by stopping us from being able to switch off and unwind. It can be hard, but trying to separate work from home by having boundaries is a form of self-care by giving us some much-needed time away from the stress of our working lives. These boundaries might look like:
- Not checking our work emails after work hours
- Switching off our work phone when we leave work
- Taking our breaks during the day and using the time to step away from our desk
- Using our annual leave
- If we have access to work-related apps or messages on our phones, we could delete these apps to prevent us from feeling constantly ‘available’
- Speaking to our managers if we are finding our workload is not manageable during our contracted hours
2. Treat self-care as a commitment to ourselves, but be flexible
When we’re already busy, it might feel too much to add another commitment in the form of self-care. As self-care is an active process (it doesn’t just happen by itself – you make a conscious choice to do self-care) planning ahead to when we are going to incorporate our self-care activities is an important part of fitting it in to our already-busy lives. However, this doesn’t mean we can’t be flexible. Perhaps it’s helpful for us to plan to know we are going to do some self-care this evening, but we know we will be flexible with the time and activity we choose to do. Self-care is something that should help us, not hinder us, and while it is a commitment to ourselves, it is one that we can approach with compassion and kindness.
This doesn’t mean we can cross self-care off at the first sign of our to-do lists filling up again. We can try to remember that self-care is an important way to look after ourselves, and that we are deserving of time to rest and recharge.
3. Check in with ourselves to see how we are feeling right now
If we’re already feeling grotty, especially if we have been feeling this way for a while, it can be hard to know what might help us to feel better. It may help to run through a checklist of the following things: have we eaten a healthy meal recently? Could we benefit from drinking some water? Would some fresh air or exercise help us? Are we tired, feeling physically low, or particularly struggling with our mental health? If we can pinpoint what it is that might be making us feel this way, then we are one step closer to knowing what might help us feel better.
However, if we’re not sure why we feel the way we do, or what might help, that’s fine too. Any act of self-care can be beneficial for us, and might even give us that much-needed headspace to work out further specifics.
4. Know what works for you
Self-care is an individual process, but we might feel pressure to do self-care in the ‘right’ way, or to recreate some of the activities we see on social media. It can be good to gain inspiration from others, but fundamentally only we know what will work for us. Perhaps we hate scented bubble baths, but love the idea of an energising shower. Perhaps we have a physical health condition which means going for a walk or a hike is not possible, but sitting in our garden or with our door or window open is a perfect way to get some fresh air. Maybe we’re not big readers, but like the idea of watching our favourite film or TV show.
These are all valid ways of practising self-care. No one form of self-care is any better or worse than any other, and only we can decide what will help or hinder us. If we’re not sure yet, it might be helpful to keep a note of what we have tried and how it made us feel, which we can use for inspiration in the future.
5. Have boundaries –what don’t you want to do?
When our to-do lists are overflowing and we’re being pulled in every direction, when we feel pressured to say ‘yes’ to everything and everyone, when the demands on us are building up, it might be helpful to cut down on the number of things we are committing to. ‘No’ is a very powerful word. ‘No’ is a full sentence on its own, and does not require an explanation or an apology. Saying ‘no’ can be a vital part of our self-care by allowing us to devote more of our time and energy to the things that really matter to us.
Examples of this form of self-care might include:
- (Politely) turning down an invitation to an event we have been dreading
- Turning off notifications for social media and email on our phones, so we can decide when we want to check in
- Blocking out some time for ourselves, and saying ‘no’ to anything that would encroach on this time
- Resisting pressure from others to do things we don’t want to do
- Telling our managers at work if we feel we have a full workload already and cannot fit in any more work
There are lots of ways we can practise self-care. For more ideas, check out Blurt – a social enterprise aimed at improving mental wellbeing. They have many, many, many ideas of self-care, which we can try or use as inspiration for our own ideas. There are lots of other resources out there, too.
And to recap – self-care is a personal, individual activity and the only person your chosen activity needs to work for is you. We can try any ideas we like the look of, and leave any that just aren’t speaking to us.
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