Say the term ‘self-care’ to the person on the street and a few common themes will come up. “Pampering”, “Treating yourself”, “Putting yourself first”.
All of these things can be self-care under the right circumstances. But it’s important not to confuse self-care with self-indulgence.
First and foremost, self-care is about taking steps to improve your health and wellbeing. A bottle of wine and a spa day every now and again can most definitely be a part of that. However, if booze, bubbles and luxurious indulgence become your self-care be-all and end-alls then your wellbeing will worsen rather than improve.
Self-care starts by understanding yourself. Getting to know what is and is not good for you, learning your limits, and understanding what you need in order to reach a place of physical and emotional equilibrium.
Depending on your needs, self-care actions can be as small as brushing your teeth twice a day, or as big as leaving a toxic relationship. Here are some examples of what self-care is
Self Care Is...
Setting healthy boundaries
If people are often draining your time and energy, or treating you disrespectfully, setting personal boundaries and learning to say ‘No’ could be a big part of your personal brand of self-care. It’s not always easy to set these boundaries - but self-care isn’t always easy.
Making time for healthy habits
Eating enough fruit and veg, drinking enough water, getting enough exercise, practising good sleep hygiene...all these will improve your quality of life. If you’re struggling to find time to do these things, a bit more boundary-setting with your employers, family and friends could help.
Knowing what’s good for you
Some healthy things are general (we could all benefit from more veg in our diets, for example), while some are more personal. Some people get a lot of mental and emotional benefit from taking long, solo walks in the countryside. Other people may get that same kind of benefit from a night out on the town. Learn what helps to balance your emotions, and use that knowledge wisely.
Knowing what’s bad for you
We’re not always good at recognising our stress triggers. If you’re an introvert who’s worn out by too much ‘peopling’, recognise that in yourself and make time to be on your own. If too much coffee is making you jittery, cut down on the caffeine. If you’re not sure about your triggers then it can help to keep a diary of your moods, your state of mind, and what’s happening in your life as they occur. This will make patterns clearer to you.
Self Care Is Not...
There’s nothing selfish about taking care of your health. In fact, making sure that you’re on an even keel will make you a more productive and more helpful person. You can’t care for others if you yourself are stressed, exhausted, unhealthy and unhappy.
If your brand of self-care involves blowing wads of cash on shopping sprees or weekend wine benders, you’re doing it wrong. It may be enjoyable, but if it’s not improving your health and wellbeing in practical, tangible ways then it’s not self-care. It’s self-indulgence.
Anyone else’s business
What self-care looks like for you is nobody else’s business. You do you! On the flipside, nobody else is obliged to participate in your self-care. Respect their autonomy and don’t force anyone into anything in the name of ‘self-care’.