Self-care is probably something most of us give insufficient consideration to, preferring instead to focus our care and compassion on the needs of others such as family and friends. However, if we fail to look after ourselves well enough we will inevitably deplete our limited reserves of energy and discover that we can no longer do the things that are important to us and which give meaning and purpose to life.
At the Retina 2016 Conference psychotherapist Katrina Connolly gave an excellent presentation on the importance of self-care and how we can begin to attend to our own legitimate needs in a way that benefits everyone:
“Take care”, “Look after yourself”, “Mind yourself”, “Take care of yourself” – these are phrases we use every day when talking to family and friends. We are so quick to advise others to look after themselves but how often do we apply them to ourselves? Self-care means caring for oneself. It is said that we cannot love another person without first loving ourselves. I believe the same applies to self-care. In order to care for another person we must care for ourselves first.
The World Health Organisation defines good health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” So caring for our health has three components to it, physical, mental and social well-being.
Firstly, physical self-care involves the obvious things like eating a healthy diet and drinking water, getting enough sleep, taking exercise, maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding excessive alcohol, smoking and other drugs. But there are other aspects to physical self-care like giving your body mindful attention by checking in with each part of your body and how you are feeling.
Our body holds our emotions and feelings, tuning in to what our body is telling us can make us aware when things are not right. We can tune into our body by doing a body scan which is also a very effective relaxation technique.
Start by sitting comfortably in your chair, feet flat on the floor and focus on your breathing as you breathe in and out at a normal pace. Then, starting at your feet, focus on relaxing all your muscles and slowly work your way up your body. As thoughts come into your mind let them pass and bring your attention back to your breathing. Oxygenate your body by taking deep breaths. Deep breathing is good for our mind and all our internal organs and helps to calm us particularly when we are stressed and anxious. Breathe in through your nose, hold the breath for a few seconds and then breathe out slowly through your mouth.
Besides breathing and relaxation, don’t forget the importance of having fun. Try to laugh every day, even if it is at yourself!
Secondly, mental self-care involves paying attention to our mental health. You cannot have a healthy body without a healthy mind and vice versa. One essential component of self-care is to identify and pay attention to our negative thoughts. Thoughts are just thoughts, they are not facts. Don’t fight your thoughts, just let them pass through your mind and identify them for what they are. Say to yourself “my worries and anxieties come from my negative thoughts”.
Don’t be afraid of your thoughts or feelings. Depression occurs when we press down our feelings instead of acknowledging them and allowing them to emerge. There are no bad feelings, all feelings are okay but it is what we do with feelings that is sometimes not okay. A healthy way to process our feelings is to let them out by talking about them, having a good cry or write them down and try to understand what is behind them.
Another important aspect of positive mental health is to try to live in the present. Being mindful of what is going on inside and outside of ourselves helps to keep us focused on what is important. You may be familiar with the saying “Yesterday is the past, tomorrow is the future, today is a gift, that’s why it’s called the present”.
Thirdly, we need to care for our social well-being. Human beings are social beings, we are not meant to function alone. Be your own best friend and then you will be a good friend to others.
Socialisation is so important in our daily lives. We can reach out to others by offering to help and by volunteering. Doing something for others makes us feel so good about ourselves that there can be no monetary value put on it.
But it is just as important to ask for help when we need it. Asking for help is a sign of strength not weakness. If I am practicing good self-care I will recognise when I need help and not be afraid to ask for it.
Self-care is not selfish. Putting yourself first is not selfish. The more I put into caring for myself the more I will be able to care for others. Self-care can also be called self-love. Loving oneself is about maintaining a healthy relationship with oneself. By doing so we feel positive, confident and have better self-esteem. Caring for ourselves ensures we are the best we can be. By paying attention to your own self-care you will feel more connected to yourself and the world around you. You will go about your day with less stress and nothing will seem quite as difficult as it did before. Self-care is important for your family and friends too. They learn from you, so taking care of yourself shows them that they need to do so too.
To summarise positive self-care: