It turns out that self-care is so much more than just taking a break from the exhausting activities of your day. It takes careful consideration to consider which practices are actually benefiting you, your mental health, and your overall well-being. Therefore, although self-care can be tailored differently for each person, it is not entirely up to interpretation.
So what is self-care and what isn’t? And how can you start a self-care routine that will benefit your long-term health? Don’t worry: we consulted with several mental health experts to clear up all your preconceived notions of self-care and how to use your free time in the best way that works for you.
What is self-care?
Self-care is taking steps to ensure your own well-being, meeting any emotional or physical health needs as best you can, says Haley Perlus, Ph.D., sports and performance psychologist. “Practicing self-care can help ensure you are on top of your health and well-being, which involves taking the time to do things that will help you improve your mental and physical health.” Practicing mental health can help manage stress, lower the risk of illness, and increase energy levels. Even small acts of self-care can have a significant impact on your overall well-being, says Perlus.
Self-care is the process of making sure people have everything they need to maintain their health and thrive, says Christopher Palmer, MD, director of the Department of Graduate and Continuing Education at McLean Hospital and assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. “It’s not about being ‘selfish’. Instead, it’s about being responsible and taking care of yourself,” he adds.
Why is self-care important to your well-being?
When people do not take care of their own health, their needs are often not fully met. This can result in declining physical and/or mental health, explains Dr. Palmer. “People can start to develop health problems such as being overweight, insulin resistance, burnout or depression…
Self-care encourages you to focus on your physical and mental health needs, says Caroline Fenkel, DSW, LCSW, clinical director at Charlie Health. “Self-care is being present with yourself, which can help prevent burnout, maintain balance, and keep you in tune with your needs.” She further explains that regularly engaging in self-care can help process stress and encourage routine, consistency, and healthy ways of dealing with your emotions.
Practicing a self-care routine has been proven to help eliminate anxiety, reduce stress, improve concentration, minimize frustration, increase happiness, and improve energy, says Perlus. “All of these things help improve your overall quality of life.”
What are some different types of self-care?
The list includes many things, such as a healthy diet, physical activity, an adequate amount of sleep, intimate and loving relationships, an adequate amount of “free time” for relaxation, and engagement in rewarding and meaningful activities that can support a person’s health. . sense of meaning and purpose in life.
There are many different types of self-care, including physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual self-care, explains Fenkel. “Ultimately, the goal is to find a balance between each of these “types” to best suit your individual needs and interests.”
Physical self-care can involve activities like exercise, healthy eating habits, and getting enough sleep, says Fenkel.
Physical self-care includes how much sleep you’re getting, how much physical activity you’re doing, what kind of food you’re eating, and how you take care of your physical needs, says Perlus. “Questions you can ask yourself to assess your physical health include: Am I getting enough sleep? Is my diet fueling my body well? Am I exercising enough?”
mental self care
Mental health includes our psychological and emotional well-being, says Perlus. It can affect how we feel, think and behave. “Mental health is crucial at all stages of life, from childhood to adulthood.”
Mental self-care can involve activities like meditation and mindfulness, says Fenkel.
It’s essential to develop healthy coping skills to help deal with emotions like anger, sadness, and anxiety, says Perlus. “Emotional self-care is being aware of feelings and taking the necessary steps to care for those emotions.”
Emotional self-care can consist of making time for hobbies or connecting with friends and family, says Fenkel.
We all need social connectivity to thrive in life. While it can be difficult to make time for family and friends with busy schedules, close connections are essential to our well-being, says Perlus. “Here are some fun ideas to try, and if these activities below don’t resonate with you, try something that does.”
Watch a fun movie with friends
call a father
Dinner with your special someone
Schedule a family game night
spiritual self care
Nurturing your spirit doesn’t necessarily involve religion, although for some it does, says Perlus. “It can be anything that helps develop a deeper sense of meaning.” Examples include:
If spiritual self-care involves religion for you, spiritual self-care might look like engaging in prayer or spending time with your religious or spiritual community, says Fenkel.
What counts as self-care and what doesn’t?
Self-care includes taking care of yourself to ensure your needs are met or making reasonable requests of others. It’s not about being self-centered, or always putting your needs above the needs of others, or expecting others to do whatever you want, explains Dr. Palmer. “It’s a balancing act – making sure you have enough for yourself while at the same time taking care of the people in your life and helping them get what they need. Sometimes that requires compromise or even sacrifice.”
“For example,” says Dr. Palmer, “many parents put their children’s needs ahead of their own.” But when people start to notice signs of poor mental or physical health, they may need to prioritize their own needs, at least for a while, he explains.
Optimizing your own health allows you to remain vibrant and productive, which allows you to contribute to society and serve others, adds Dr. Palmer. “If you let yourself burn out, you probably won’t be the best parent, spouse, worker, or member of society you could be.”
Self-care really can vary from person to person, but ideally, self-care is anything that promotes overall health, connection, and well-being, says Fenkel. “On the other hand, things that contribute to anxiety or stress, encourage toxicity in relationships, or just drain our energy are the opposite of self-care.” Along with this, Perlus notes that “self-care is not about using substances like alcohol or pills to numb feelings or indulging in overspending for a momentary rush.”
How can you start a self-care routine?
The first step is to think about your current health, says Dr. Palmer. “Are there areas of vulnerability? Have you been diagnosed with a lifestyle-related health condition, such as pre-diabetes, diabetes or high blood pressure? Are you struggling with burnout, depression or anxiety? If so, starting a self-care routine can help you resolve these issues. Keep in mind that a self-care routine may not be a quick fix for a serious health issue; therefore, always consult your physician about treatment plans related to medical conditions.
Think broadly about the things you may need but aren’t getting, such as a healthier diet, starting an exercise routine, getting enough sleep, cutting back on alcohol, or spending more quality time with friends and family.” says Dr. Palmer. “Pick one thing and create a few small habits that will help you work to correct those deficits in your self-care routine.” He notes that making goals small and achievable will help you progress.
According to Perlus, you can follow the steps below to adopt a sustainable self-care practice.
1. Find what makes you feel centered. Make a list of things that bring you pleasure, big or small. This could include your family, walking, a specific smell, music, getting back rubs, etc.
2. Decide how to incorporate these things into your daily life.
3. Set goals for incorporating self-care behaviors into everyday life. Once you’ve decided which self-care practices you want to incorporate into your life, set goals and choose how often you’ll practice them. Make sure your goals are realistic. For example, if you’re trying to exercise more, start with an easy routine/schedule. Then, when you can stick to this routine for a few weeks, set a more challenging goal.
4. Find support. Surround yourself with people who also engage in self-care activities; this will help encourage you to continue.
5. Adjust your approach as you go. It’s okay to have days off and face bumps in the road. Our needs change over time, and we must adapt to that.
How can I ask for help with self-care?
Going to therapy is also a form of self-care, says Fenkel. “If you feel like you need an extra level of support, don’t be afraid to ask for help.” Sometimes even therapy once a week isn’t enough for people who really struggle with their mental health, she adds. So remember that as you start your own self-care journey, you don’t have to do it alone. If you’re struggling to find a self-care routine that works for you, talk to your doctor about regimens that might work for you.
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