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What is self care and how does it improve our physical, emotional and mental wellbeing

Self-care, we all need to practice it in order to maintain our wellbeing but do we all know what it means? Self-care is commonly referred to in magazines and self- help books but it appears to be poorly explained. It takes self-discipline, motivation and determination to schedule time to focus on yourself (Cho, 2016). This guide will help you gain some clarity around understanding what self care is, what the benefits are, what some practices might look like and what the consequences are of failing to practice it. 

Self-care is any action that we do intentionally in order to take care of all aspects of our health. This means taking care of our psychological, emotional, physical, and spiritual health. It sounds simple but with so many areas to attend to we often get distracted and forget to take time out for ourselves to fulfil all of our needs. Some people refer to self-care as a “luxury” but it is not, it is a skill that we need to learn and practice in order to maintain healthy boundaries and achieve balance (Utley, 2017). It is important in order for us to better our relationships with ourselves and with others. In order to do this we need to first identify what we need to routinely do to feel that we have taken care of ourselves. 

I remember an article in ‘The Guardian’ called ‘Marriage in recovery: Practising self-care is the key to survival’ that said that self-care is not just about “massage, scented candles and me-time” and I absolutely agree with this. It can definitely be those things if that is what makes you feel good but it can also be so much deeper than that. According to Cording (2018) It can mean taking some time out to listen to your body and hear what it needs to function to the best of its ability. This could mean observing that you constantly feel exhausted due to a lack of sleep and then making the commitment to sleep earlier, so that your body can function more efficiently. Additionally it might be excusing yourself from situations when you feel very angry so that you do not explode and speak in a way that you will later regret. It could mean observing that after spending time in large crowds you notice that you feel emotionally drained, therefore to overcome this feeling you make sure that you schedule out at least 1 day to yourself after every crowded event to rejuvenate. Another response could be to decide to only attend events that have smaller crowds or to only attend crowded events that you feel are worth the drainage. 

Other examples of self-care could mean taking the time to reflect on whether your needs are being fulfilled in friendships and if they are not then making the decision to limit contact with that friend or find new friends all together. Another response could be to dedicate time to discuss this issue and suggest a way to meet those needs. In a work setting you might observe that saying yes to every single task that is offered is making you feel stressed so you might give yourself a maximum amount of tasks to accept so that you can restore some balance again. 

You could also feel that after stranger’s over-share personal problems with you that you begin to feel depleted so every time this happens you could dedicate 10 minutes afterwards to do some breathing exercises and visualisation meditations to release any tension. Or you could learn how to set healthy boundaries and practice asserting your boundaries in situations like that to avoid feelings of exhaustion and overwhelm. Self-care could look a million different ways to a million different people but the common theme is that in order to take care of yourself you first need to practice self-reflection to understand the root of the problem. Only after you understand where the feelings of anxiety, stress or resentment stem from can you begin to unpack what self-care activities you need to put in place to alleviate those feelings. If you are unable to get rid of those feelings then self-care can help you manage and cope with them. 

A lack of self-care can result in compassion fatigue and burnout, I have discussed this in previous articles. Compassion fatigue is where we are unable to extend our compassion towards others due to our own physical, emotional and mental exhaustion therefore we stop caring about everything all together. The field of traumatology refer to compassion fatigue as the “cost of caring” because if you spend a lot of your time caring for others only without caring for yourself as well, then the cost of putting others first results in you feeling overwhelmed and like you never want to hear another problem from another person again. Constantly putting other people and their needs before your own first can even result in resentment. 

An example of this could be if Betty keeps putting Jack first and attending to all of his needs so often that she has no time to herself, in turn she could start resenting him. Maybe she really wants to go get a foot massage with her sister but she does not have any time to because she is too busy attending all of the events that Jack needs to attend. If Betty does not schedule time to first self-reflect on what the problem is and where it stems from, then she could begin to build anger towards Jack and this could impact their relationship. If however she schedules time to self reflect she could understand that she is upset because she feels like she has no time to relax since there are always so many events to attend. The root of the problem would lie in the fact that she is not dedicating time to herself to practice self-care. 

Some self care activities that she might enjoy could be yoga, meditation, hiking, kayaking, watching her favourite tv series, writing poetry, painting, walking her dogs, going to the hair salon, getting her nails done, going to gaming arcades and many others. Through self-reflection Betty would be able to realise the problem and gain a deeper understanding around what her own needs are in order to feel relaxed, rejuvenated and to cope better with her daily routine. After establishing what her unique self-care practices might be and incorporating them into her schedule, Betty will feel more at ease physically, emotionally and mentally. By achieving balance in her life and meeting her own needs while also meeting Jack’s she will no longer feel resentful, angry or overwhelmed. 

There are certain professions in health that are more likely to have compassion fatigue like social work, nursing, doctors, psychology and many more however anyone, regardless of their profession can experience it. Burnout is very similar too and often the two go hand in hand. Burnout is when you feel emotionally, physically, mentally exhausted due to doing too many things at once. This results in you not wanting to accomplish anything at all and feeling very unsatisfied with whatever you are able to accomplish. 

A self care practice that I enjoy doing is journaling all of the emotions that I feel daily and identifying why. For example if I was feeling sad after my morning run through reflection I could understand that this was because I saw a red balloon floating in the air and the last time I saw this was when I was at a funeral, resulting in feelings of sadness. This helps me keep track of what makes me feel good, what doesn’t and why. It also aids me in choosing the right self-care practices for myself in order to feel healthy physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. 

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