What is Self-Care? was first published in December 2018 and updated January 2020.
Self-care. It’s such a broad term – but what is it?
Definitions in the Oxford English Dictionary include: The practice of taking action to preserve or improve one’s own health and the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress.
What is Self-Care?
Although the act of self-care may look different to everyone, essentially, it’s all the same.
Self-care is something that makes you feel good and energises you. It’s something you want to do, rather than something you feel like you should be doing.
Self-care is looking after yourself, mentally, physically and emotionally. It’s about knowing when to slow down and when to say no. It’s about taking a step back and asking yourself what would be the best thing for me to do right now?
It’s recognising the signs that you’re feeling overwhelmed and then taking steps to figure out how best to deal with it. Or better still, finding ways to look after yourself so you can help reduce the chances of becoming overwhelmed in the first place.
Mental Health Awareness
Unfortunately, there’s still a stigma around mental health. Although, people are starting to talk more openly about their problems, it’s still considered a taboo subject among many. With symptoms like anxiety, stress and depression at an all time high, it’s more important than ever to look after ourselves and practise self-care.
I’m currently studying towards my Level 2 Certificate in Counselling Skills, and I’m learning so much about mental health and how it affects us. Sometimes, self-care is simply taking time out and doing something you enjoy. Other times, it might be talking to someone, getting things off your chest and voicing things that are worrying you.
If this is the case, and you feel like you need to speak to counsellor, I’ve listed some websites at the bottom of the post that you might find helpful.
What Activities Contribute to Self-Care?
Self-care isn’t one size fits all, and my self-care routine will probably look different to yours. If it contributes to your well-being in a positive way and makes you happy or feel good about yourself – it’s self-care.
- Exercising regularly
- Being creative e.g. writing, drawing, making something
- Getting a massage
- Taking your dog for a walk
- Having a lie in
- Binging on Netflix
- Saying no more often
- Listening to your favourite music
- Going for an hour long walk every lunchtime
- Getting enough sleep
- Eating healthily
- Taking on less
- Having regular weekends away
- Taking a break from social media
There is no right or wrong answer – everyone deals with stress and anxiety differently.
As long as it helps your mental well-being – it’s all good.
What Self-Care Means to Me
For me, exercising is non-negotiable. It means doing some form of exercise every day, and it takes priority over everything else. If time is tight, I get up earlier than usual, or I drop something else instead. Either way, my workout happens.
A variety of running, resistance training, yoga and HIIT are things I do regularly to make me feel good. Exercise releases endorphins, which trigger positive feelings within the body. Getting active helps me deal with stress and helps me to figure out the answers to things that are bugging me.
I find running outside and hiking especially therapeutic.
Along with exercising, journaling helps me to figure things out. Sometimes, I just need 10 minutes to release some pressure before my head explodes. Other times, I can easily spend an hour working through issues that are troubling me. Journaling provides a judgement free space, where I can write whatever I want.
No-one is going to get offended, take anything the wrong way, or give their unwanted opinion. It helps me get my head straight, and writing things down is one of the best ways for me to find solutions to my problems.
Meditation comes in different forms. For me, I like to listen to music and then I concentrate on my breath. When thoughts arise (which they frequently do!), I acknowledge them and then let them go. Occasionally, I’ll listen to a guided meditation.
The main thing is, I’ve locked myself away from the outside world and for 10 minutes, I’m giving myself permission to relax and just be. Even if I end up with a monkey mind, at least I’ve been in a quiet space, away from everything. Ian even bought me a meditation cushion for Christmas, which means I now associate this with my meditation practice. A bit like when you roll out a yoga mat and try and leave your worries off the mat.
I always have a journal nearby, because sometimes, after I’ve finished meditating, I have a moment of clarity about something that I’ll want to write down and explore further.
I love reading. This (along with journaling) is how I normally start and end my day. This is my ideal downtime and given the opportunity, I could spend all day curled up with a good book.
My mother-in-law gifted me a Kindle a few years ago, because the number of books I owned was making me anxious. I’ve never looked back! The amount of reading I do has increased too, because I don’t have to worry about piles of books anymore.
Occasionally, I’ll still buy an actual book if I feel the Kindle or Kobo won’t do it justice. I’m also a big fan of health, wellness and fitness magazines.
I’m a firm believer of everything in moderation. I never deny myself anything, and I occasionally indulge in cakes and pizza, but I don’t go overboard. I like feeling fit and healthy and I hate feeling sluggish, bloated and unhealthy.
I know what nutrients my body needs for the lifestyle I lead and I know how it reacts to certain foods. My body soon tells me if I’ve been over indulging.
There’s something magical about being outside in nature. I love hiking, and it’s one of the reasons we moved a couple of years ago. We now have easier access to places like the Lake District and the Forest of Bowland too.
Getting active outdoors has many benefits, including:
- Reducing stress levels
- Strengthening our immune system
- Improving mental performance and helping us to gain clarity
- Helping to reduce blood pressure
- Increasing happiness
- Improving our physical health, mental health and emotional well-being
This is a broad term for me. This can be anything from writing, Zentangle, making something, or learning to play the ukulele! I drop hobbies and pick up new ones all the time, but having some form of creative outlet in my life is important for me.
I even went on a course a couple of years ago where I learnt how to make a scatter cushion!! I enjoyed this so much, I started selling them!
Not exactly at the top of everyone’s self-care list but clutter and the amount of stuff we own makes me anxious. I don’t like the feeling of things building up or the walls closing in. We also live in a house that we’re renovating, so it’s especially important for me to try and keep on top of things.
It’s said your surroundings are a representation of what’s going on inside your head. That’s why de-cluttering can be so therapeutic. You’ve probably noticed how lighter you feel, when you have a good tidy up or clear out. By getting rid of things that no longer serve you, you can make space for new things that do and give yourself some head space in the process.
As you can see, self-care is a broad term that will mean something different to everyone. But if a certain activity helps with your mental well-being, brings you happiness or adds value to your life, you’re onto a good thing.
Try and create a regular routine. I always feel better when I meditate or allow myself to do something creative, but unfortunately, I don’t do them as frequently as I’d like. I know this is something I need to address.
You can practise as much self-care as you like, but sometimes, you might find yourself needing a little extra support. If this is the case, please don’t be afraid to talk to someone. Sometimes, you might just need a friend to listen while you offload some niggling concerns. Other times, you might want to talk to someone who’s qualified to listen. Please visit the charity Mind for general advice, or the BACP or Counselling Directory to find a counsellor in your area.