What Is Self-Care & Why Is Caring About Yourself Important?
Self-care is a popular topic these days, but it is often poorly explained. Perhaps you keep seeing it mentioned in self-help books or magazine articles and yet don’t have a clear sense of how you’re supposed to add it to your life.
It may seem wishy-washy or vague to you. Alternatively, maybe you aren’t convinced that you should practice regular self-care.
Maybe you think your resources are better saved for working and for looking after others.
So, what is self-care, and why is it so important? As it turns out, there are many different self-care practices, and not all of them suit everyone.
This guide will take you through the reasons why you need at least some sort of self-care in your routine, and will help you understand the specific changes you need to make.
What Is Self-Care? The Definition Of Self Care
Self-care is a broad term that encompasses just about anything you do to be good to yourself. In a nutshell, it’s about being as kind to yourself as you would be to others.
It’s partly about knowing when your resources are running low and stepping back to replenish them rather than letting them all drain away.
Meanwhile, it also involves integrating self-compassion into your life in a way that helps to prevent even the possibility of burnout.
However, it’s important to note that not everything that feels good is self-care. We can all be tempted to use unhealthy coping mechanisms like drugs, alcohol, over-eating, and risk-taking. These self-destructive activities help us to regulate challenging emotions, but the relief is temporary.
The difference between unhealthy coping mechanisms and self-care activities is that the latter is uncontroversially good for you. When practiced correctly, self-care has long-term benefits for the mind, the body, or both.
Benefits Of Self Care
With a self-care definition on the table, we can now turn to look at what happens to us when we add it to our lives. So, why is self-care important?
As hinted above, there are many benefits of self-care. The most obvious relates to mood and energy levels. However, as it turns out, research shows wider-ranging benefits as well.
Top 6 Benefits Of Self Care
- Better productivity. When you learn how to say “no” to things that over-extend you and start making time for things that matter more, you slow life down in a wonderful way. This brings your goals into sharper focus and helps you to concentrate on what you’re doing.
- Improved resistance to disease. There is evidence that most self-care activities activate your parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). What this means is that your body goes into a restful, rejuvenating mode, helping it to fortify its immune system.
- Better physical health. Similar to the previous point, with better self-care often comes fewer colds, cases of flu, and upset stomachs. Less stress and a better immune system can surely help you feel more physically able and strong inside and out.
- Enhanced self-esteem. When you regularly carve out time that’s only about being good to yourself and meeting your own needs, you send a positive message to your subconscious. Specifically, you treat yourself like you matter and have intrinsic value. This can go a long way toward discouraging negative self-talk and your critical inner voice.
- Increased self-knowledge. Practicing self-care requires thinking about what you really love to do. The exercise of figuring out what makes you feel passionate and inspired can help you understand yourself a lot better. Sometimes, this can even spark a change in career or a reprioritization of previously abandoned hobbies.
- More to give. When you’re good to yourself, you might think you’re being selfish. In truth, self-care gives you the resources you need to be compassionate to others as well. Giving compassion is a bit like filling a bucket; you can’t fill someone else’s if you don’t have enough of your own!
Types Of Self Care
One of the main excuses people make for ignoring articles about self-care is that they just don’t have time. The great news is that there are many different self-care practices, and none of them are especially difficult or require a lot of planning. The trick is to find some that you genuinely enjoy and that fit with your life and values. Once you start adding emotional self-care to your life, you’re likely to become fiercely protective of that time and wonder how you ever managed without it!
Here are the five main categories of self-care, along with explanations of how they help you. We’ll also look at specific self-care examples within categories, which should get you thinking about activities you’ll particularly like.
Sensory self-care is all about helping to calm your mind.
When you are able to tune into the details of the sensations all around you, it’s easier to live in the present moment. And when you’re in the present, you can more effectively let go of resentments related to the past or anxieties about the future.
When you think about practicing sensory self-care, consider all of your senses: touch, smell, sound, and sight.
Most people are more responsive to one than the others, so ask yourself what that sense might be for you.
The following examples of sensory self-care involve at least one sense, but often more.
Sensory Self-Care Ideas
- Cuddling up under a soft blanket.
- Going to the countryside and focusing on the smell of the air.
- Watching the flames of a candle or a fire.
- Feeling the water on your skin during a hot bath or shower.
- Focusing on the movements of your own breathing.
- Lying down and listening to music with your eyes closed.
- Sitting in the heat of the afternoon sun.
- Having a small square of the most delicious chocolate.
- Walking barefoot in the grass.
- Having a massage with essential oils.
- Holding a pet in your arms.
When it comes to your emotional health, one of the best self-care tips is to make sure you fully engage with your emotions. When you face them head-on, this actually helps with stress.
You may feel tempted to push down feelings like sadness or anger, but it’s healthy to feel them, accept them, and move on.
Remember that emotions are not “good” or “bad” in themselves. You are not blameworthy for the emotions you feel; only how you behave in response to them.
On this theme, consider any one or more of the following if you want to practice better emotional self-care…
Emotional Self-Care Ideas
- Keep a daily journal, and be totally honest about your feelings.
- See a therapist, even if it’s just for 8-10 sessions of general personal development.
- Write a list of “feeling words” to expand your emotional vocabulary.
- Make time to be with a friend or family member who truly understands you.
- Let yourself cry when you need to.
- Deliberately encourage yourself to laugh with old memories or funny videos.
- Sing along to the song that best expresses your current emotions.
If you’re not religious, you might be tempted to skim-read this section or skip it altogether.
However, spiritual self-care isn’t just about believing in a deity. It’s applicable to atheists and agonistics as much as to religious people.
Spiritual self-care is about getting in touch with your values and what really matters to you.
Self-care tips for depression often stress that developing a sense of purpose is vital to your recovery. Below are some versatile examples that can help you with this.
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Spiritual Self-Care Ideas
- Keep up a daily meditation or mindfulness practice.
- Attend a service, whether it is religious or humanistic.
- Read poetry.
- Walk in nature and reflecting on the beauty around you.
- Make a daily list of 5-10 things that make you feel grateful.
- Be creative, whether through art, music, writing, or something else entirely.
- Make a list of 5-10 things that make you feel alive, then ask yourself how you can better incorporate these things into your life.
- Say affirmations that ground your sense of self and purpose.
- Go on a trip with the sole purpose of photographing things that inspire you.
The importance of self-care definitely extends to purely physical aspects of your health. Physical activity is vital not only for your bodily well-being but also for helping you let off steam.
You might think there’s nothing fun or self-compassionate about going to the gym, but that’s far too narrow a way of thinking about physical self-care. Instead, broaden the concept by thinking about the following lists.
Physical Self-Care Ideas
- Dance to your favorite songs
- Do yoga. Even if you’ve never tried it, there are poses that are perfect for beginners.
- Join a class and learn a new sport.
- Go running with your dog (or a friend’s)!
- Cycle through the countryside.
- Simply go for a walk.
In addition, remember that physical self-care is as much about the things you don’t do as the things you do! So:
- Nap when you need to. Just 20 minutes can make you feel mentally and physically refreshed.
- Say “no” to invitations when you’re simply too tired to enjoy them.
- Don’t push yourself to do your exercise routine when you’re run down or unwell.
- Commit to 7-9 hours of sleep per night, barring exceptional circumstances.
Finally, social self-care is another category that’s important for us all.
It might look different depending on whether you’re an introvert or extrovert. However, connecting with other people is necessary for happiness for a large diversity of people.
It helps you to understand that you’re not alone. Plus, it can also give us a sense of being fully “seen” by others. This can, in particular, help us combat loneliness and isolation.
Social self-care isn’t about just doing things with others for the sake of it, but about choosing to do things with people who really make you feel good.
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Social Self-Care Ideas
- Make a date to have lunch or dinner with a great friend.
- Write an email to someone who lives far away, but who you miss.
- Reach out to someone you like but haven’t seen in a while.
- Consider joining a group of people who share your interests.
- Stop socializing with those who undermine or disempower you.
- Strike up a conversation with someone interesting.
- Join a support group for people who struggle with the same things you do.
- Sign up for a class to learn something and meet new people at the same time.
40 More Self-Care Ideas
- Practice replacing ‘should' in your vocabulary.
- Take a different route to work or the shops.
- Watch an episode of your favorite TV show. Then write 5 reasons why you like it.
- Create a new, healthy, daily habit and schedule it in your life.
- Unsubscribe from spammy emails.
- Reflect on previous wins and achievements.
- Take 15 minutes to soak up the sunshine.
- Visit your local library.
- Do a household chore you've been putting off.
- Watch motivating videos and speeches.
- Speak to a loved one about their own self-care ideas or routines.
- Write a review for a business you have enjoyed lately (such as a restaurant or product you have purchased).
- Make your bed.
- Work on a puzzle you enjoy but challenges you. For example, a Sudoku puzzle, crossword or jigsaw.
- Start a journal.
- Write down a new affirmation.
- Make sure you drink at least 8 glasses of water today.
- Dance like no one is watching.
- Learn how to give yourself a massage and do it.
- Write a letter to your younger self.
- Write a letter to your older self.
- Do a 6-hour digital detox.
- Go to the cinema on your own.
- Do something for charity.
- Clean out your car (if applicable), handbag, and jacket pockets.
- Find a local therapist or counselor.
- Do something fun you used to do as a kid.
- Cook a meal you've never cooked before.
- Research local history.
- Set up daily reminders on your phone to remind you that you are awesome!
- Clean your desk or workspace.
- Watch a documentary.
- When feeling particularly stressed, take a mental health day and call in sick to work.
- Change your bedsheets and have an early night.
- Reread your favorite book.
- Consider joining a local support group.
- Read inspiring quotes.
- Make a self-care box filled with materials such as candles, essential oils, affirmation cards, self-care ideas, a book, etc.
- Smile at yourself in the mirror!
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