As adults, we are constantly hammered with mixed messages. We’re expected to perform at our highest and best level, delivering top-notch work in our careers while staying responsible for the must-do tasks of our daily lives. In addition, we’re supposed to spend quality time with family and friends and also stay connected to the world by joining groups or volunteering. And somehow some way in all of that, we’re supposed to keep our own mind, body, and soul connected. Jeffrey E. Barnett, Psy.D., ABPP refers to this as the “impossible situation”. And impossible it most certainly feels.
In today’s society, it is a common practice to put ourselves last. We put our jobs, our kids, our partners, and even strangers ahead of ourselves. While doing this may seem like a strong and selfless act, it can be detrimental not only to your own personal health but to your life as a whole. It is incredibly important to give yourself permission for self-care.
The Oxford English dictionary defines self-care as “the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one’s own health”. The true practice of self-care means taking responsibility, being accountable to oneself and instilling reliance in self, to positively maintain and improve your own health for the present and the future.
True self-care is taking care of yourself inside and out.
Self-care has been a so-called fad or popular trend in recent years. The term self-care has, unfortunately, been linked to inaccurate, unrealistic, and sometimes harmful thoughts or actions. Some of these include overspending, instant gratification, binge eating unhealthy food, and numbing your negative feelings with substances or alcohol.
Self-care is absolutely not about ‘positive vibes only’ and acting as though everything is okay when it isn’t! It’s not about overindulgence, eliminating responsibilities, or pretending events of the world are not happening.
Self-care is about allowing yourself a specific time to solely focus on you and whatever it is that you need.
True self-care is taking care of yourself inside and out. It encompasses your
- emotional state of being
- physical state of being
- mental state of being
So how can you practice self-care at each of these levels?
Emotional self-care is defined as the “act of nurturing and tending to your inner feelings and emotions.” This means being gentle with yourself and acknowledging your emotions with kindness and without judgment.
Emotional self-care activities include the following:
- Setting boundaries
- Practicing mindfulness
- Staying connected to others
Physical self-care can be described as the act of caring for all your physical needs. This includes how much rest or sleep you’re getting, how your body is being nourished, and how much activity you are getting. This also includes keeping up with doctor’s appointments.
Physical self-care activities include the following:
- Staying hydrated
- Eating a well-balanced diet
- Going for a walk
- Maintaining structured sleep
- Engaging in physical activity such as going to the gym, attending a pilates class or hiking
Mental self-care can be described as participating in activities that keep your mind sharp and maintaining a healthy inner dialogue.
Mental self-care activities include the following:
- Completing puzzles
- Learning a new language or skill
- Reading a book
- Practicing self-compassion and acceptance
These are just a few ideas. Self-care looks different for everyone and there is no wrong way to take care of yourself unless, of course, you aren’t. By giving yourself permission to allocate time each day to care for your emotional, physical and mental health, you can lower your stress levels and improve your general well-being.
Kristin Lothman, a mind-body counselor with the Mayo Clinic’s Department of Integrative Medicine and Health, states it is important to intentionally set aside time to be quiet and practice self-care, as a person can “reap significant benefits” from doing so. She recommends developing a daily self-care practice and I personally agree with this whole-heartedly. I’ve experienced the benefits of spending dedicated time nurturing myself and making this a part of my daily routine.
Giving yourself permission for self-care is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself. Having a strong and healthy mind, body, and soul is crucial to being successful and enjoying your life. Practicing self-care is not a selfish act. It allows you to be your very best self.
Self-care is not about making yourself a priority to the exclusion of all else, it often simply means acknowledging that you too need and deserve to be a priority, showing yourself a bit of self-compassion and accepting that you need to make the time to nurture yourself. This will in turn allow you to support, help, and care for others in your life and in the world.
Let me know in the comments – what are your favourite self-care activities?