The term “self-care” is rapidly gaining attention in almost all parts of the world. An increasing awareness of the importance of well-being is prompting more of us to spend time looking after ourselves. However, it’s fair to say the pandemic prompted perhaps the most significant change in most people’s approach to self-care.
Google searches for “self-care routine” increased by 250% during 2020, and virtually countless celebrities, influencers, and thought leaders have started to share their own take on the concept.
If you’re planning on showing yourself a little more compassion this year or committing more of your time to good health, it might be time to discover what self-care really means.
One of the reasons “self-care” is so difficult to understand, is there isn’t a one-size-fits-all definition for the term. For some people, self-care is all about setting time aside for relaxation. For others, it’s about investing in preventative health or looking after mental fortitude.
At its core, however, most people agree that self-care is all about looking after yourself – whatever this might mean to you. While nobody deliberately neglects their well-being, self-care requires us to take an active role in improving and preserving our health.
Self-care can take many forms, from forcing yourself to cut down on your excessive work hours, to practising yoga to manage your stress levels. However, whatever form it takes, the process should enable you to become your most productive, empathetic, happiest self.
Unfortunately, misconceptions about self-care have prompted many people to overlook the concept, associating it with things like self-indulgence, laziness, or selfishness. Self-care isn’t about being over-indulgent, but instead about focusing on taking care of yourself so you can be healthy and live your best possible life.
The science behind self-care
Several organisations, including the World Health Organisation, consider self-care to be an important part of any person’s overall approach to well-being. Far from just a “luxury” as some people see it, self-care is a proven tool for improving your sense of wellness.
Used correctly, self-care can be a form of emotional “first-aid”, helping you to deal with complicated feelings and difficult periods in your life. For instance, exercising as an aspect of self-care can help you to regulate and control your emotions better in difficult situations.
Self-care also restores your energy resources, replenishing your psychological strength, and boosting your feelings of patience and resilience. Self-care also has a long-term impact on your health. Research shows that the stress hormone (cortisol) can wreak havoc on your wellbeing, causing everything from long-term inflammation to blood pressure problems.
By investing in self-care, you can:
#1 Be kinder to yourself
Self-care involves thinking more about what you need in any given moment to be your happiest, healthiest self. This involves recognising when you might be holding yourself to unreasonable standards, so you can be kinder to yourself and more understanding of your individual strengths and weaknesses.
#2 Manage your emotions
Something as simple as practising a little yoga on a regular basis can help you to find a sense of inner peace, so you can manage your emotions. When you look after yourself regularly, you provide yourself with crucial emotional resilience which is extremely helpful when you’re dealing with difficult situations. Certain kinds of self-care have more of an impact on your resilience than others. For instance, getting plenty of sleep helps you to feel less overwhelmed when faced with stress.
#3 Gain more mental strength
Looking after yourself, whether a night of relaxation or by exercising regularly, is a great way to build strength in a range of different ways. Not only do you become more psychologically strong, but you can develop your immune system and improve your physical strength too.
#4 Reduce your risk of long-term problems
Failing to practice self-care could put you in a position where you’re constantly dealing with excessive amounts of stress. These high levels of stress place additional pressure on your physical and mental health. With self-care, you can reduce your risk of everything from depression to high blood pressure.
Simple ways to practise self-care every day
Practising self-care on a regular basis is an excellent way to look after yourself and ensure your long-term wellbeing. Ultimately, you need to look after yourself before you look after others, otherwise, you’ll end up burning yourself out. You can start to bring more self-care into your life by simply saying “no” more often. Saying no to the things you simply can’t handle, or the people who drain your energy allows you to focus more time on yourself. You don’t have to say no to everything, simply be mindful of what you can reasonably accomplish, and how each task or activity you agree to will influence your wellbeing.
In an ideal world, good self-care will allow you to focus on doing more of the things you enjoy – even if this means just taking some time out with a warm bath and a good book. It also involves being kinder to yourself. Rather than beating yourself up every time you need to take a “me moment”, recognize we all have our limits!
Other ways to improve your self-care routine include simply paying more attention to the basics of looking after yourself. You don’t have to cook nutritious home-cooked meals every day, but you should attempt to get the right amount of nutrition into your daily diet. Similarly, enjoying regular exercise will help to keep your body healthy, while giving you a much-needed endorphin boost.
Self-care doesn't have to be complicated
If possible, try to spend some of your exercise time outside. Get outdoors and enjoy the natural vitamin D of the sun on your skin. Soak up some beautiful sights while you’re there. Even better – why not exercise with friends? Reaching out to your friends and family is an excellent way to care for your mental health and preserve your wellbeing.
Put simply, self-care can be a fantastic way to improve your life.