Self-Care: What It Is, What It Isn’t & 11 Ways We Can Practice It

When I worked at a women’s specialty clinic several years ago I asked my group of clients, “what are some things you can do to practice self-care?” All of the clients were mothers struggling with addiction issues.  Several hands were raised and I called on one who stated proudly and confidently “I can ask my husband to watch the kids and I can go grocery shopping alone.” I remember looking around the room at the 11 other clients shaking their heads in agreement while I scratched mine in confusion. 

Honestly, how many of you reading this right now are overworked, overstressed women and mothers who agree that self-care is being able to go grocery shopping alone? I can understand why that activity may be considered self-care, however I would ask that you look at it more as a welcomed exception rather than an intentional act of caring for yourself. Being a mother myself I can totally understand wanting to go grocery shopping without the kids and we deserve that “reprieve”. But, at the end of the day grocery shopping is still grocery shopping; it is a chore that must be or else you and your family will go hungry.

Self-care is another buzzword that has received a lot of hype in recent years. With all of the attention and varying definitions it is easy to misunderstand exactly what it is so I’m going to try to clarify just what this trendy concept is. Self-care is intentionally doing things that care for your mind, body and soul. Some self-care activities are fun and enjoyable while others may not be but are necessary nonetheless. Self-care is making yourself a priority and following through with behaviors that nurture and support the many components that makes you who you are.

Taking care of ourselves needs to be a priority. As a mom I admit that I have (and still continue to at times) put my needs second to my children and my husband. I associated doing things for myself with selfishness. I convinced myself that I couldn’t get that massage because that money would be better spent on something for my children or my household. When I did that I noticed that I was left feeling resentful, stressed out, irritable and unable to perform my best in many areas of my life. If I’m being totally honest, it was also a ready-made excuse to avoid doing the things I didn’t want to do like go to the doctor or exercise after a long day at work.

Taking care of yourself is an essential and a legitimate goal to be worked on.1 I know you’ve heard the instructions about putting your mask on in an airplane before you assist others. That practice exists for a reason and that is because we cannot effectively care for others if we are not caring for ourselves. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) actually gives us permission to care for ourselves as it states people who nurture their overall health are better able to recovery from challenges, build healthy relationships with people and effectively adapt to life’s changes.1

There are several benefits of self-care that have been scientifically researched. Benefits can include:2

•Optimizing our potential and performance.
•A reduction in stress.
•An increase our ability to effectively manage stress.
•An increase in our quality of life.

NAMI reports that if we care for our mental and physical health we are more able to enjoy happy times, effectively manage and work through difficult times and be more resilient to setbacks.1

Let’s take a look at the different ways we can practice self-care regularly. Self-care doesn’t have to cost money although let’s face it, some of our favorite self-care practices do.  Ten practical and effective ways to take care of ourselves are listed below.

1. Meditate/practice mindfulness– To achieve the most benefits of mindfulness we should try to practice every day for 5 minutes a day. To learn more about mindfulness read my blog post 20 Health Benefits of Mindfulness and my Mindfulness Page here.

2. Eat balanced and healthy meals– This also includes honoring our diet and preparing for a long day by packing enough food to sustain us.

3. Exercise– Research has consistently demonstrated that exercise has a direct impact on our mental and physical health.

4. Visit our healthcare providers regularly– This includes our primary care doctor, dentist and for us girlfriends, our lady doctor.

5. Take our medication/adhere to our treatment plan outlined by a medical professional– This can include taking our medication, making and attending follow up appointments and following behavior recommendations.

6. Avoid or minimize use of alcohol and drugs– What may seem like a means to stress relief and relaxation, drug and alcohol use can have adverse effects on our mental and physical health.

7. Get enough sleep– According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) adults need at least 7 hours of sleep if not more.3 Lack of sleep and sleep disorders contribute to a variety of dysfunctions including car accidents as well as physical and mental health disorders.4

8.Do something creative– Research suggests that engaging in creative behaviors can reduce depressive symptoms and stress as well as lessen the burden of some physical diseases.5 For all of you DIY’s and crafters, you have a legitimate reason to indulge your creative pursuits!

9. Schedule one thing a day that you have to look forward to- This can mean watching your guilty pleasure of a t.v. show or series (The Real Housewives franchise anyone!?!), getting takeout from your favorite Thai restaurant, getting a massage and buying the shirt you’ve been eyeing.

10. Take time to be alone to reflect on your wants and needs– In the hustle and bustle of life it can be easy to ignore our wants and needs which makes it very difficult to work towards getting them met. If we take a few minutes each day to reflect on how we are feeling, our personal limits and what our personal goals are, we can be more effective in behaving in ways that help us get our wants and needs met in all different aspects of our lives.

11. Comfort yourself with your senses– Make that warm cup of calming tea, put on your favorite comfy pants as soon as you get home from work, make that plate of pasta you’ve been craving, light your vanilla cookie scented candle and listen to your favorite song! (They don’t have to occur all at once but if you’re feeling particularly motivated you could give it a shot and let me know how it goes!)

I’m not saying that if you have an opportunity to go to the grocery store without the kiddos don’t take it! I will still jump on that opportunity every chance I get believe me. What I hope for you is that you don’t just use that event as your self-care activity and instead find additional ways of caring for yourself.

We will get out what we put in. Think about a car for example. Auto maintenance is essential for optimal performance; you and I are no different. Let’s make sure we are not caring for our cars more than we are caring for ourselves! Let’s make an intentional commitment to showing ourselves some love by engaging in self-care. Both we and our loved ones will be happier and healthier because of it.

References:

1. National Alliance on Mental Illness. (2018). Taking care of yourself.

2. Wright State University. (n.d.). Self-care.

3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (nd). How much sleep do I need?

4. U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2013). Sleep disorders as a cause for motor vehicle collisions.

5. U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2008). The connection between art, healing, and public health: A review of current literature.

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