Self-care can be best described as engaging in an activity or practice that will benefit your mental health. In recent years there has been a huge focus on self-care within the area of mental health wellbeing, and this has not just been amongst professionals. I can confidently say that a scroll through any social media channel is likely to yield a post about a self-care practice! It’s great that the stigma around the area is slowly being dissolved, and people are being encouraged to focus on their mental health. But, why is everyone talking about self-care and why is it important?
We all need to practice self-care whether we are working, studying, bringing up children, or have other caring responsibilities. If we think of ourselves as a machine that is responsible for carrying out a task, there would inevitably be a time when the machine needs to be maintained. Without doing so, how can the machine continue to achieve what it does day in day out tirelessly? In other words, how can we continue to achieve what we set out to when we haven’t taken care of our own needs first?
Another reason for self-care is that when we take a breather we can begin to think about bigger changes, goals, and aspirations we want out of life. In this way, self-care can provide clarity with the absence of the stressors within our daily routines. On the other hand, in times when one becomes too anxious about what the future may hold, self-care can provide a welcome switching-off and encourage one to just live in the moment.
Here are 5 tips (or some things to bear in mind) for your next round of self-care:
When to practice self-care.
Your body has a way of letting you know that you need a change in routine. This is down to the fact that mental and physical health go hand in hand. Let’s face it, even when we are doing something we love and are achieving our goals, we can become tired and overwhelmed. Some of the most common signs that we need a pause may be things like feeling tired, becoming easily irritable, coming down with a cold/flu, or having racing thoughts. Unsurprisingly though, we all react differently to becoming overwhelmed. This is why it is necessary to think about what happens to you when life takes its toll. What are your telltale signs? Knowing and understanding what they are can be helpful in letting yourself know that the time has come to plan some ‘me time’.
Understanding your needs.
Self-care can mean so many different things to different people, what is one person’s heaven may be another’s hell. For this reason, I do not wish to be prescriptive in advising what one should be doing as a self-care activity. However, if one does want to get the creative juices flowing a search on the internet certainly reveals numerous ideas of self-care practices. This can range from things like meditation, to exercise, to even just getting a good nights rest. Self-care may even involve just having time to talk to a friend that you trust, or even with a counsellor. It is so important to think about what makes you feel good about yourself when you want to consider some self-care. For this, I ask clients to reflect on when they feel at their happiest or most relaxed. It can even be useful to think about what self-care practice will allow for you to think more clearly, or alternatively will grant you the chance to switch off (this really depends on what you need out of your relaxation time). These are usually great starting points for some inspiration when actively thinking about self-care.
Barriers to self-care and the importance of self-compassion
Something I often hear from my clients is the idea that self-care is selfish. There may be feelings of guilt around the fact that time may be wasted or even the worry that the needs of others may not be met. However, we cannot begin to do things for others, until we have taken care of our own needs first. In fact, if we act too selflessly all the time and ignore our own needs, there may be the danger of becoming irritable or even resentful towards those who are dependent on us. This can be equally true when the focus becomes unbalanced between work and professional goals with our personal needs.
It’s useful to reflect on what the idea of taking time out means to you. What expectations have you put upon yourself that may be a barrier to you practicing self-care? Or, what expectations have others put on you? It can be beneficial to reflect on these barriers and tackle feelings of guilt and shame around self-care. Letting yourself know that it is ok to rest is such a simple way to be compassionate towards your own needs. This type of self-compassion is indeed self-care within its self.
Make boundaries around your self-care
This is the part that can be difficult. Making boundaries around your self-care simply means to set out to practice self-care and to achieve it, minimising any potential disturbances or barriers. For example plan for the kids to be taken care of, switch off your work phone, or just let others know that you are taking time out. It’s here where the feelings of guilt can creep in. Again, it might be useful to up the ante on the self-compassion and remind yourself of the reasons why you deserve and need a break. This is where we need to be self-responsible in ensuring that we get the break that we require.
Create a routine of self-care
This is about self-checking and basically finding a way to be self-responsible about caring for your own needs. Every day, week, or month (or whenever you see fit) ask yourself whether you need to be nourished, thinking about what you have done towards this. Consider whether you can notice signs that you are depleting and figure out how you can put it right again. Look at the barriers to you achieving your self-care, do you need to engage in some self-talk and be more compassionate towards yourself? Assess what boundaries and plans you need to put in place for you to recharge. Coming up with you own self-checking routine can be beneficial in ensuring that self-care isn’t just a one-off, but it becomes a habit of a lifetime.