The Importance of Self-Care

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Article Written By: Judy Rooney, LCSW, Tri-State Clearwater Medical

Why is it so hard for us to take time for ourselves? We tend to put our work, kids, families, and other responsibilities in front of time for ourselves. Putting “me time” on the back burner, is a big part of why we feel overwhelmed, run down, and frazzled. Lack of self-care can make us ill-equipped to handle life’s stressors.

People tend to see self-care as a luxury, rather than a priority. There’s this notion that if we take time for ourselves that we are being selfish, or perhaps, self-indulgent – well nothing can be further from the truth. This mentality can contribute to feelings of guilt, (and who needs more of that) thinking that we need to take a break from our lives, to do something that actually makes us feel better.

With all the challenges and changes we are facing now with COVID-19, it’s more important than ever to be kind to ourselves and make self-care a priority.

Self-care is defined as the intentional practice of taking action to preserve or improve one’s own health, well-being, and happiness, in particular during times of stress. There are many forms of self-care that promote physical, mental and emotional health, to give you an overall sense of well-being. Just to clarify, self-care is not a little treat we give ourselves every now and then, we are talking about developing a sustainable practice to build resilience, health, and well-being. When we take good care of ourselves, we are likely to see improvements in many aspects of our lives, including our physical health, relationships, self-esteem, and management of our stress.

Self-care is not a “one size fits all” kind of practice; you will need to customize your own self-care plan based on your needs. There is no prescription on how or when to do it, however if you intentionally do something every day for yourself – that’s a start to a good habit.   

There are several areas to consider to ensure that you are caring for your body, mind, and spirit. Here are some tips to get you thinking about your own plan:

  1. Physical self-care. We all know the strong connection between the body and the mind; when you are caring for your body, you think and feel better! Physical self-care involves how you are fueling your body, how much sleep you get, how much physical activity you engage in daily, and how you care overall for your physical needs. This includes taking medication as prescribed and monitoring your alcohol and sugar intake. Taking time outside helps reduce your stress, improves your sleep, and helps you be more mindful. Exposing yourself to “green space” is associated with greater life satisfaction and less mental distress.
  2. Social self-care. As humans, we are meant to be in connection with others; close connections are important to our well-being. Yet so often, we tend to put time with friends and family at the bottom of the to-do list. I have heard from some people that during this pandemic, they have actually enjoyed more family time, due to less distractions, which has been a silver lining to this national health crisis. When our schedules get busy, we neglect our friendships, however, there is no substitute for friend time; they help us laugh, cry, and dare I say, normalize life! Everyone has different social self-care needs, the key is to figure out what your needs are and then schedule it – don’t neglect it!
  3. Mental self-care. The way we think impacts our mental self-care, our inner critic can really grab hold of our self-talk, which influences our sense of well-being. Mental self-care involves things that keeps your mind sharp, curious, and continuously learning. It’s a matter of fueling your mind with healthy things that challenge you and inspire good thoughts, like reading books, listening to podcasts, or working puzzles. Having a healthy inner dialogue and giving yourself positive affirmations is a form of self-compassion and acceptance. I like to encourage people to have a “mantra of the day” that they say to themselves to give positive reinforcement as they navigate their daily activities and interactions.
  4. Spiritual self-care. Nurturing your spirit does not mean religion – although for some that may be part of their self-care. According to the University of Minnesota’s Center for Spirituality and Healing, a non-religious concept of spirituality is putting emphasis on the well-being of the mind, body, and spirit. We are talking about engaging in an activity that fosters a connection with a higher power, “it’s about seeking a meaningful connection with something bigger than yourself, which can result in positive emotions, such as peace, awe, contentment, gratitude, and acceptance.” Spiritual self-care activities can include contemplation, which involves thinking continuously about something, usually something worthwhile and important, pertaining to life and meaning. Meditation, mindfulness, prayer, yoga, T’ai Chi, performing random acts of kindness, reading an uplifting book, and being in silence, are ways to center and ground yourself in the space around you. For some, it’s a simple as spending time in nature, which is known to be one of the best spiritual activities to foster self-care and optimal well-being. The important thing is that you practice something that nourishes the soul!
  5. Emotional self-care. This may seem obvious – to care for our emotions, however, it can be something very difficult for us. What emotional self-care means is to become aware of, and identify, what you are feeling, and then allow yourself to lean into the feelings in a way that honors yourself and your emotions. We can try to ignore, deny, and suppress our emotions, but eventually they come out, one way or another. Take time to acknowledge and express your feelings: sadness, fear, frustration, overwhelmed, anger; be curious and accepting of them, without being judgmental. Once you sit with them a while, you will learn to understand triggers and patterns of certain emotions and emotional responses, and perhaps recognize when other’s emotions have become our own. You may need to develop some emotional boundaries as your self-care and this may mean saying “no” to people that bring negativity into your life. Our inner critic can hijack our emotions, so part of our self-care is to see our mistakes as learning opportunities, rather than failures; we are human, and mistakes are an inevitable part of life, so make sure you forgive yourself. On the flip side, incorporate more gratitude in your life to switch your focus to the positive and to take control of your emotions. Gratitude is a simple, but powerful tool that can be practiced every day, with long lasting effect. I like to encourage gratitude journaling, a daily night time practice of identifying at least three things you are grateful for, or that went well, or that you did that that day that were positive – so you are ending the day on a positive note. Journaling in general can be a helpful way to release your emotions and to gain clarity. Having healthy ways to process your emotions is essential to self-care, whether that be talking with a close friend, partner, or therapist, practicing meditation, or going for a walk, run or bike ride; incorporating activities that help us cope with our emotions can and will recharge us.

Assess which areas of your life are in need of some attention and self-care. As your life situation changes, your self-care needs will likely shift too. Don’t try to tackle everything at once, habits are developed with small steps that can be sustained and have meaning. Schedule time to focus on your needs. Even when you don’t think you can squeeze one more thing in, make self-care a priority! The most important part of all of this, is being kind to yourself. You deserve it!