What is self-care?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines self-care as a way to promote, prevent and maintain good health for individuals and communities without outside help. The same term is often used by individuals and professionals to consider a holistic approach to our mental, emotional, physical, social and spiritual wellbeing; to prioritise and maintain health. Even though this term is used in everyday language, many of us have had little opportunity to think about the importance of self-care and how we can implement this into our own lives.
Why is it important?
Experiencing significant times of pro-longed stress such as sudden changes in circumstances, losing a loved one and experiencing hardships can drain us psychologically and emotionally, change our behaviour and have a negative impact on our physical health. Studies have shown that even daily stressors which are comparatively smaller than long term stress factors can have both a short- and long-term negative impact on our wellbeing and physical health. Additionally, our reaction to daily stress may exacerbate physical health conditions, lower wellbeing and predict long term adverse health conditions in the future.
Symptoms of Stress
People often report common symptoms of stress which may include physical, emotional and behavioural effects such as having headaches, feeling tired, sleep issues, changes in mood, irritability, social withdrawal, eating issues and emotional outbursts. Even though many of us experience these symptoms on a daily basis, we may find it hard to recognise the need for self-care or make the link between these symptoms and the daily stress that we experience in our lives.
Benefits of self-care
In the same way that increased levels of stress can have a negative impact on us, reducing the things that stress us and increasing our self-care can have a positive impact on our overall health. Looking after our bodies through better nutrition, exercise and improved quality of sleep can decrease heart pressure, increase circulation, increase subjective wellbeing and extend life expectancy. The benefits of self-care are immense and can have long-lasting effects on our lives.
Roadblocks to overcome
There are many reasons why we don’t take care of ourselves. Social and cultural issues such as inequality, a lack of support systems and pressures of daily life can become roadblocks for us. When we feel low, anxious or have low self-worth it may become more difficult to put ourselves first. There may also be times when we need to seek help from others such as when we are dealing with times of crisis or life events.
Journey to self-care
With our busy schedules, life can sometimes feel chaotic and out of control. The first step of self-care is taking the time to stop and listen to ourselves and recognising the need for change. A key pillar of self-care is taking responsibility for ourselves. It is the understanding that whilst we need one another for support, where possible it is important to prioritise meeting our own needs too.
Strategies for change
We have put together 8 practical strategies that you can implement to bring self-care into your busy daily schedule which we hope you will find useful.
S – Set aside time for yourself each week. This can be challenging when there are multiple responsibilities to take care of. However, set time in your week that is non-negotiable and which allows you to have time to rest, recuperate, have fun or just be.
E – Eat well. It is important to give your body the energy and nutrients that it needs. Many of us struggle to take time to cook and eat nutritious food. Having low energy may decrease our ability to concentrate, make us irritable or impact our productivity. Plan your week ahead and meal prep beforehand so that you can eat nutritious food on busier days.
L – Learn to love yourself. Often people don’t look after themselves because they struggle with low self-esteem and low feelings of self-worth. Start with some self-compassion. Are you your strongest critic? With self-compassion we can start to offer ourselves the same kindness we would give to a good friend (Kristen Neff, self compassion.org). Make a list of positive things that you like about yourself. Buy yourself some flowers or treat yourself to something special just because you are worth it.
F – Fun. When was the last time that you genuinely laughed? Having fun and laughing has been proven to reduce stress and increase overall wellbeing. Give yourself permission in your day to laugh and enjoy yourself.
C – Communicate. Part of self-care is about communicating with others when a job or task is too much. If communication is difficult for you, take some time to write down what you want from a situation then use this as a guide. When you understand your own needs and wants, it will become easier to communicate this to others and set yourself clear boundaries.
A – Awareness. It is important that we are aware of our own needs. Take a few minutes at the beginning or at the end of the day to check in with yourself. How are you feeling today? Is there anything that is bothering you? Be honest with yourself. Take time to acknowledge how you are really feeling. Over time, you may become more in tune with your emotions. Research has shown that writing can be a helpful part of reflection and developing this awareness as it slows the brain down and helps us to name emotions, thereby reducing confusion and feelings of overwhelm.
R – Routine. Creating a daily routine is important to our health. Set aside time in your day to bath, shower, exercise or do your chores. Have a cut off time in the evenings to stop working and relax. Make sure you have enough time to sleep. Sleep is proven to be restorative and good sleep can keep us alert and focused for the day.
E – Exercise. Studies show that daily moderate exercise can improve your mood, sleep, self-esteem, lower stress and reduce illness. Put a daily walk into your lunch break, move around more with the household chores, use the stairs instead of the lift. Just adding ten more minutes a day to your exercise routine should increase overall health.
Godfrey, C. M., Harrison, M. B., Lysaght, R., Lamb, M., Graham, I. D., & Oakley, P. (2010). The experience of self-care: a systematic review. JBI library of systematic reviews, 8(34), 1351–1460. https://doi.org/10.11124/01938924-201008340-00001
Piazza JR, Charles ST, Sliwinski MJ, Mogle J, Almeida DM. Affective reactivity to daily stressors and long-term risk of reporting a chronic physical health condition. Ann Behav Med. 2013 Feb;45(1):110-20. doi: 10.1007/s12160-012-9423-0. PMID: 23080393; PMCID: PMC3626280.
The NHA has a link for healthy eating: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/how-to-eat-a-balanced-diet/eight-tips-for-healthy-eating/