What is self-care?
Self-care is the practice of looking after yourself to protect and/or improve your physical and mental health.
It means ensuring that we’re aware of and are actively taking care of our needs.
It’s impossible to go through life without stress or issues that we need to deal with. We all have to navigate work, family and relationship challenges that are sometimes completely out of our control.
Self-care is the act of understanding that these things have an impact so we can better take care of ourselves.
Why you need to practice self-care
Self-care sounds very simple in theory, however, the reality is that it’s often something we overlook. We can be so busy doing things for other people, we forget about looking after ourselves too.
Yet, in order to be able to do our jobs properly and care for others, we need to be in a good physical and emotional state. We need energy and balanced emotions; otherwise, it’s easy to feel frazzled, snappy or simply run down.
The emergency drill on planes always tell you to put your oxygen mask on before helping someone else. I’ve never really understood this; thinking my first reaction would be to save my child (and then remove my high heeled shoes to go down the big slide – joke). But the reality is, you can’t save anyone, if you can’t breathe. You need to equip yourself to make sure you can look after everyone else.
I appreciate that’s quite a bleak example; however, hopefully the message behind it makes sense. You have to look after yourself to be the best for everyone else.
you can’t pour from an empty cup
Self-care and understanding what your mind and body needs means you can protect and preserve yourself. Fundamentally, it will give you more energy and help you feel better able to deal with challenges as they come along. Practising self-care doesn’t make us selfish; we’re just recognising we have needs too.
When we don’t take care of ourselves, we’re more likely to feel fatigued and get physical symptoms, such as headaches and stomach issues.
Self-care helps us to create that balance.
How to start a self-care routine? Carry out a self-care audit
The best way to start a self-care routine is to recognise you need to think about yourself too amongst, everything else that’s happening in your life.
We all have different issues happening at different times in our lives so it makes sense that what we need from a self-care routine will be unique to all of us.
Try to reflect on where you are currently. Ask yourself questions about how you’re feeling. Are you tired? Are your emotions hard to deal with? Do you think you’re suffering with signs of stress such as feeling teary, snappy or down?
I created this self-care audit template so you can work through it and see what areas you could focus on. All you need to do is reflect on some of the questions and see if there are some simple changes or actions you can take to look after yourself better.
Often we don’t see the toll that stress or life challenges are taking on us until it’s too late, so identifying potential triggers helps us put self-care strategies in place. As a doctor would say: prevention is better than cure.
It’s also important to remember, your self-care routine will need to adapt and change depending on what else is going on in your life so check in with yourself regularly.
20 simple self-care ideas
- Practice self-compassion and talk to yourself as though you’re a friend and not a critic.
- Run a bath. Yes, I know a hot bath with candles is a self-care cliche. However, it’s a great way to take 20 minutes out for yourself and rest your muscles.
- Remember done is better than perfect. Give yourself a break.
- Get into good sleep patterns.
- Create and reinforce boundaries.
- Take time out for yourself. Go to a yoga class, read a book – anything that’s just for you.
- Drink more water.
- Go for a walk. Fresh air and exercise are always beneficial.
- Practice mindfulness which has proven benefits on improving mental health. Daily meditation will help with stress relief and calming an overactive mind. Try Andrew Johnson or the Headspace App.
- Talk about your feelings and try not to let things build up. I appreciate this is easier said than done so think about journaling and write about your feelings instead.
- Are you eating properly? My diet turns to custard when I get busy. I don’t have the time to buy food, never mind cook it.. Try to plan in advance with a few frozen meals so you have something nutritious to eat when time is minimal.
- Choose a couple of things each day to tick off your to do list. There’s only so much you can do in a day so try to break down tasks, rather than feeling a failure for not achieving the unachievable.
- Have a digital detox. Ever fall down an Instagram rabbit hole and wonder what you’re doing with your life? Yes, me too. Think about switching off your phone once a week or after 8pm.
- Prepare in advance. There is a saying that says: ‘a Sunday well spent, brings a week of content’ and it’s true. I find if I plan for my week ahead, then life runs a lot smoother.
- Learn to say no. I often find myself saying yes to things out loud even though I’m saying no in my head, which is utterly ridiculous. It’s a hard habit to shake but an important one.
- Keep a gratitude diary. I feel I bang on about my gratitude practice a lot but it’s one of the easiest ways to change your neural pathways and help you feel more positive about life.
- Focus on your own personal growth. It’s hard to go through life without picking up some emotional baggage. It’s good to focus on your own self-development and become more self-aware as a result.
- Put yourself first. If you’re tired and you don’t want to go to something, then don’t go. You’re allowed to rest and recuperate.
- Celebrate your successes. I’m great at beating myself up when I feel I’ve messed up and terrible at congratulating myself when I’ve done well.
- And lastly, breathe. Even focusing on your breath for a minute will help calm your thinking.