What is self care and why is it important? The topic of self care comes up everywhere these days—and…you might have noticed the self care checklist included on my site 😉 But, I have to admit that while the concept seems simple enough, I’m still exploring and learning about self care and what it mean for me in my life.
The idea of caring for oneself might sound indulgent or “fluffy”, but I assure you that based on my own practice and doing a lot of research, its actually crucial for your health. Not only that, but its also very simple. Practicing care can be achieved with just a few simple habits.
When asked what self care is, most people would say “yes”. But when I dig into how someone *practices* self care, I had to think about it a little more. PsychCental defines self care this way…
Self care is any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health. Although it’s a simple concept in theory, it’s something we very often overlook. Good self care is key to improved mood and reduced anxiety. It’s also key to a good relationship with oneself and others.
So…what is self-care?
Self-care is anything you intentionally do to take care of your physical, mental and emotional health—leading you to a more balanced life.
Self-care shouldn’t arise out of obligation or pressure; and things you do for self-care shouldn’t be forced, stressful, or things you don’t enjoy. It means taking time for things that nurture you, and treating yourself kindly.
Good self-care fills you up and refuels you. It is provided by you, FOR you.
What are the benefits of self-care?
Ability to help others
A common example given regarding self-care is that of an oxygen mask on a plane. In an emergency, we put the mask on ourselves before assessing who else needs help. Once you ensure your safety, you become able to assess the situation of others and offer your help—this applies to self-care and wellness as well.
We need to practice self care so that we are balanced and well before we can help anyone else.
Self-care has been shown to improve immunity. Any components of taking care of yourself inevitably lead to better health: mindful eating, more sleep, enjoyable physical activity, focus on de-stressing, etc. Additionally, feeling well cared-for leads to greater relaxation and calmness.
All of these things activate your Parasympathetic Nervous System, which is partly responsible for regulating the body’s unconscious actions (put simply, a lot of what your body does to function when you’re not thinking about it). When you active your parasympathetic nervous system, your body goes into rest and restore mode. The more your body goes into rest mode, the more you’ll be able to competently take on the next day.
Self care makes us less susceptible to experiencing stress, anxiety, depression and other emotional problems. It also helps us feel more positive more easily. For care-takers, good self care can prevent you from feeling resentful or experiencing feelings of low self-worth.
Additionally, self care helps prevent burnout by managing your time and energy before you become overloaded and overworked. Instead of pushing yourself until you give up, consider taking breaks and taking time for yourself. I’ll talk more about that below.
The more you pay attention to what feels good and bad, the more you’ll become aware of what is in alignment with your values. Additionally you’ll discover what is most important to you as you prioritize, evaluate, and prioritize.
Many times, slowing down aids to increased productivity. It’s ok to say “no” to commitments that don’t serve you and prioritize your time for what is important to you.
Are there different kinds of self care?
Self-care contains multiple categories depending on who you talk to.
In my self-care checklist, I break down 4 categories: basic, physical, spiritual and emotional. But I feel like even these categories can be simplified to two categories of self care: physical and emotional.
Physical self care can be anything from taking a nap when you’re tired to making sure you get some movement or exercise in every day. It also includes making sure you eat good, nutritious food and that you’re not afraid to treat yourself every now and then either. Physical self-care can lead to healthier emotions and feelings of well-being.
Stress is a huge component in our overall health. It’s true that small amounts of stress serve a purpose. According to PainDoctor.com, stress is an evolutionary response. When your body senses that it needs a burst of motivation or instinctive action, adrenaline and cortisol are flooded through your body. So,
some stress can be good, because it gives you a temporary brain boost. The purpose of stress is a quick burst of responsive energy—but if we don’t manage it or feel ongoing stress for long periods, the effects on our health can be chronic. Practicing self care can help manage stress, and therefore, help prevent the long-term negative effects of feeling too stressed.
Emotional self-care is less obvious and probably more often neglected. When you read about practicing self care, you probably read about the emotional side of things more often than not.
This includes things like making sure to say “no” to things you don’t want to do, setting healthy boundaries with people, letting yourself cry when you feel sad, and talking to someone when you need to process a situation or just share something with someone.
Emotional self care is a small but extremely effective way to reduce stress and feel better. Below, I’ll talk about some ways to practice self care in all of these areas.
Why do I need self-care?
There are a few reasons you shouldn’t neglect self-care.
You’re worth it: You deserve to feel cared for and nourished. Its important to learn the art of caring for yourself, because you’re the one person you will always have and be able to count on.
Helps manage stress: Like I mentioned above, managing stress is an important component to your health. Taking care of yourself and practicing mindfulness is an effective way to manage stress.
Improve physical health: Because you’re managing your stress levels and practicing physical self care, your overall physical health is bound to improve as you take small, daily actions.
Keeps you more balanced: Slowing down and becoming mindful of how you feel and how your actions affect both you and those around you eventually leads to a more balanced life.
Get started with self-care
Getting started with self-care is simple—just start with a few items a day that are easy for you to do and feel good.
I created a self-care checklist, which breaks self-care into a few areas people need help: physical, emotional and self-care at work. In my mind, these three areas of self care cover what most people experience day-to-day.
Keep in mind that self care is not something you should attempt to “go big or go home”. Especially when you’re just getting started, don’t attempt to check everything off the list. Focus on the lowest hanging fruit—in other words, the things that seem the easiest for you to accomplish at first. Part of self care is not doing all-the-things-at-once. Do what you can do, and grow a little every day.
Basic Self Care
My basic self care is the easiest thing for me to pay attention to and not forget about. Basic self care addresses being mindful of my physical care. Did I sleep enough, did I eat three meals, did that food make me feel good, did I brush my teeth, did I move?
These are questions I try to ask myself every day.
Workplace Self Care
Even if you have a flexible schedule and work from home, the truth for 99% of us in the universe is that work is going to be how we spend most of our time. Even if you’re lucky and only work 20 hours per week instead of 40—that’s still a gigantic piece of your time every week.
And that’s why I separate work self care into its own category. I spend 40 hours per week working with people who I like, but aren’t necessarily in my inner-circle. So, its important that I find ways for my work to feel enjoyable, even if I don’t enjoy every project I manage.
I can’t stress this enough. For many people, work is just something they do. They hate their jobs and feel overwhelmed, stressed or unhappy. But I promise you that you can find something meaningful and special in your work.
I wrote a post a while ago about How to Do Things You Hate, so if you’re really struggling at work, you may want to start there.
Practicing self care at work involves doing things like taking breaks, making time to chat with coworkers, creating quiet time or space to work on projects and finding ways to reward yourself (even if you boss doesn’t reward you).
Spiritual Self Care
After going to a cultish Christian church for many years and later becoming somewhat agnostic, the word “spiritual” used to really turn me off. But the reality (for me at least) is that feeling spiritually fulfilled and connected is still something I need, regardless of my beliefs and whether or not I have faith in a higher power.
Prayer has been shown to help manage stress and increase feelings of contentment and calm, but…I really don’t know how to pray anymore. So, I found some new ways to practice self care. If you fo pray, keep praying! Its awesome for your health 🙂
Other ways I’ve been able to practice self care include making time for reflection, spending time on nature, being open to inspiration, and meditating or practicing daily quiet time.
Meditating is another one that’s hard for me. In the past, I practiced meditation consistently for 15 minutes a day or so. I even visited a Buddhist house where people meditated together every day twice a day. The meditation was proceeded by a lesson teaching you how to practice meditation. I enjoyed the experience but rarely make time to practice meditation.
For me, at least for now, its easier to find quiet time or to schedule quiet time and time to think.
Emotional Self Care
Emotional self care is the last section on the checklist I created. I’m separating emotional self care because I think it meets a different need than spiritual self care.
I frequently neglect my emotions and how I feel. I think its a coping mechanism that served me for a lot of my life. But…sometimes isn’t the best thing for me now. The problem with neglecting my emotional health is that many times my emotions bubble up (or explode). When they do, I have no idea why. The more aware I become regarding my emotional health, the more prompt action I can take.
Some of the questions I ask myself when ensuring that I address my emotional health include: did I love and respect myself today? Did I allow time to feel my feelings today? Have I laughed today?
And the great thing about these questions is that just like all of the others above, you can choose one or two to start with every day and build on them. Some days, you’ll check off all 10 items, and some days maybe one thing is all you can do.
Part of self care is recognizing that you can’t do all things all the time.
What I’d love to know from you is: how are you practicing self care?
Is that term a fluffy, self-indulgent term? Or do you now see that self care serves a practical and manageable part of your overall health?
I hope this article was helpful to anyone looking to incorporate more self care into their lives.
Don’t forget to download my self-care checklist so you can begin practicing small, actionable items every day to start feeling better right this instant.