What is self care?
What comes to mind when you hear the words “self-care”? Requires money? Time? The mantra “treat yourself” may come to mind, but self-care isn’t pointless splurging. Research shows that self-care enhances your health, decisions, and day-to-day actions. Let’s talk about it.
First and foremost, let’s discredit the fact that self-care is synonymous with self-indulgence or being selfish. Self-care is taking care of yourself so that you can be healthy and well so you can do your job, help and care for others, and achieve all the things you need to and want to accomplish in a day. The World Health Organization defines self-care as: “the ability of individuals, families, and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and to cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a healthcare provider.” Something as simple as massaging a serum into your skin care, for example, can be a simple but great way to relax both your mind and body.
Self-care is a wide concept which encompasses hygiene, nutrition, lifestyle, environmental factors, socioeconomic factors, and self-medication. Fundamentally, self-care includes individual aspects as well as communal aspects.
As self-care has become more mainstream, the definitions have started to become more applicable to the general public and tend to focus on tuning in to one’s needs and meeting those needs. “It could be anything that floats your boat — anything that puts a smile on your face,” Dr. Gill Lopez, an associate professor and chair of the department of psychological and educational consultation at Fairfield University says. “Anything that makes you feel cared for, even if it's you caring for yourself.”
Self-care requires checking in with yourself and asking yourself how you’re doing and what your body’s asking for. Some people use it to deal with difficult news stories, others just to maintain their happiness day to day. Self-care does not mean the same thing for everyone. Different people will adopt different self-care practices, and even your own definition might change over time.
The practice involves making healthy lifestyle choices, avoiding unhealthy lifestyle habits, making responsible use of prescription and non-prescription medicines, self-recognition of symptoms - assessing and addressing symptoms, in partnership with a healthcare professional where necessary, self-monitoring - checking for signs of deterioration or improvement, and self-management - managing symptoms of disease, either alone, in partnership with healthcare professionals, or alongside other people with the same health condition.
To further break down the types of self care, we have three main categories. Firstly, emotional self-care, such as self-talk, weekly bubble baths, saying “no” to things that cause unnecessary stress, giving yourself permission to take a pause, or setting up a weekly coffee date with a friend. Emotional self-care is centered around ensuring your emotional needs are met and protected. This includes typical activities such as doing yoga, getting a massage, and socialising. This includes taking time for valued activities meaningful to the individual. What are your hobbies? The importance of allotting time to pursue, or just dabble with a hobby or pastime is often undervalued or brushed off as a waste of time.
Next, there is physical self-care, such as prioritizing sleep, adopting an exercise routine, and choosing healthy and nourishing foods. Physical self-care is a broad term that can refer to a range of practices. It can include basic daily life activities that, during a mental or physical health episode, we tend not to follow through on. These can include washing up, taking a shower and putting on fresh clothes, doing your skincare, and making sure you visit the dentist. But it can also mean eating well, exercising regularly, reducing risk of disease by getting vaccinated, practicing safe sex, wearing sunscreen etc.
Finally, spiritual self-care, such as attending a religious service, spending time in nature, mediating, incorporating regular acts of kindness into your day, or keeping a gratitude journal. Spiritual self-care involves a number of practices focused on connecting with your inner being, which may assist people in their personal development, sense of peace, and foundation to fall back on. Possible strategies for spiritual self-care include meditation, going to your place of worship, reading spiritual or religious texts, prayer, and seeking peace and finding joy.
Additionally, Dr Gill Lopez puts self-care into two further categories: temporary and enduring. An example of temporary self-care is going on a date with a friend. You’ll benefit from the social connection, but the benefits won’t last for very long afterwards. Enduring self-care, on the other hand, has more permanent effects. Dr Gill Lopez says an example of this is practicing mindfulness regularly, because it leads to brain changes, she says. According to a study published in Psychiatry Research, eight weeks of mindfulness training led to changes in gray matter concentrations in the areas involved with learning and memory, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking. In a nutshell, self-care is anything you do to take care of yourself so you can stay physically, mentally, and emotionally well.
Why is it important?
So why is this practice increasing in popularity and also so important for everyone to adopt it into their everyday life? Self-care is part of the answer on how we can all better cope with daily stressors, explains Kelsey Patel, a Los Angeles–based wellness expert. Stresses such as work stress or even the stress of trying to keep up with the pace of daily life, which technology has hastened more than ever, ie: your overflowing email inbox. “People are feeling lonelier and less able to unwind and slow down, which makes them feel more anxious and overwhelmed by even the simplest tasks,” Patel says.
Research suggests self-care not only promotes better physical, mental, and emotional health and well-being but also positive health outcomes, such as fostering resilience, living longer, and better managing stress. “When self-care is regularly practiced, the benefits are broad and have even been linked to positive health outcomes such as reduced stress, improved immune system, increased productivity, and higher self-esteem,” says Brighid Courtney, a client leader at the wellness technology company Wellable and a faculty member at the Wellness Council of America (WELCOA).
Skin care can be an important step to improving your mental health, according to Marie Jihn, a dermatologist at Premier Dermatology in San Carlos, California. Rena Jogi, a dermatologist and affiliated physician with Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center in Houston says that although not everyone begins a skin care regimen for beauty reasons, the act of looking out for your skin is in itself comforting and soothing regardless of the reasoning behind it. Perhaps skin care is the first and very important step into the lifestyle of practicing much bigger self-care acts.
To break it down, the benefits of self-care are threefold. Self care will help with better choice making, better physical AND mental care, and eventually better value by reducing medical fees.