Self-care: What It Is and Why It’s Important
Consistency is key!
When you think of self care practice, you might conjure up images of treating yourself to a relaxing day at the spa, or a long, luxurious bath at the end of a long day as a way to manage stress.
While the retail industry has plenty of products on the market that promote self care in an indulgent way, self care practices go beyond lighting a candle or ordering in a meal. In fact, there are many components to practicing self care in order to promote health, prevent disease and support a healthy mind.
In this article, we’ll explore the meaning of self care – what it is, how it benefits your health and well-being, and how to start practicing effective self care routines that support your overall wellness.
What is self care?
The definition of self care has evolved over the years.
As research and studies have revealed the best ways to care for ourselves, the term “self care” has changed in order to encompass new information. According to the World Health Organization, self care is defined as “what people do for themselves to establish and maintain health and to prevent and deal with illness.
It is a broad concept encompassing hygiene (general and personal), nutrition (type and quality of food eaten), lifestyle (sporting activities, leisure, etc.), environmental factors (living conditions, social habits, etc.), socio-economic factors (income level, cultural beliefs, etc.) and self-medication.”
According to the International Self-Care Foundation, self care is made up of seven key pillars, known as the seven pillars of self care. These pillars of self care include:
Knowledge and health literacy
Having access to health information and the health services that allow individuals to make informed decisions regarding their health is a critical aspect of self-care.
Being able to cope with life stresses, overall life satisfaction, mental health and emotional health fall under this pillar.
Incorporating physical exercise into your daily routine, whether through participating in sports activities, cycling or walking, are encompassed in this pillar.
Maintaining a consistently nutritious diet that’s calorie-appropriate and supports your body’s overall needs is the basis of this pillar.
Risk avoidance or mitigation
This refers to preventative practices that help support and improve health over time – from applying sunscreen to getting vaccinated, limiting alcohol use, and avoiding tobacco.
Practices such as brushing and flossing your teeth, bathing or showering regularly and washing your hands as well as certain foods before consuming them fall under this pillar.
Rational and responsible use of products, services, diagnostics and medicines
Understanding how to use the products and services available to you. This can include wellness services like gym memberships or nutritional planning, devices like at-home blood pressure monitors and health products like vitamins and supplements.
How mental and physical self care benefits your physical and mental health
Self-care practices focus on your mental, physical, and emotional health.
Supporting your health with consistent self care practices has been correlated with increased longevity, better stress management and more resiliency overall. Establishing and sticking to a self care routine can also help prevent health issues from arising in the future.
For those living with chronic health conditions, self care can help improve mental health and spiritual health while dealing with physical problems and conditions.
Practicing self care does not take the place of visiting a health care provider. However, self care practices such as the examples below have been correlated with positive health outcomes.
Getting adequate sleep
According to the Journal of the American Heart Association, sleeping less than the recommended seven hours per night has been linked with higher mortality rates.
Eating a proper diet
Consistently consuming five servings of fruits and vegetables per day has been correlated with fewer heart-related issues, and improved longevity, according to The BMJ.
At least two to six hours per week of exercise has been shown to decrease mortality rates, per the JAMA Open Network.
Spending time outdoors
Spending time in nature is an act of self care. According to Lancet Planet Health, lower mortality rates have been linked with increased time spent in lush, green places.
What counts as self care and what doesn’t?
The definition of self care is broad, which can make it hard to determine what constitutes an act of self care and what leans more toward an indulgence or treat.
One rule to consider when determining whether or not something is an act of self care is to examine whether or not this provides you with joy over time versus joy in the moment.
Self care doesn’t necessarily mean spending a lot on experiences. Weekly activities that allow you to unwind and recharge can look like a massage or manicure – but they can just as easily be taking the scenic route home from work or an evening walk around your neighborhood. If it’s something you look forward to not only in the moment but something that sustains you throughout the week, leaving you feeling energized counts as self care.
Self care practices are possible even if you don’t have a lot of money or extra time to dedicate to them. One way to promote emotional health and spiritual self care is to practice mindfulness throughout your day. This means consciously existing in the present moment – rather than letting your mind wander onto future worries of the day or week.
Pay attention to how things feel, smell and look – whether that’s while you’re making your morning coffee, taking a shower or on your way to work during your morning commute.
How to create (and stick to) a self care routine
Self care practices are most effective when conducted consistently. So when building a self care routine, it’s important to construct it in a manageable way, with activities and practices you’re able to complete each day.
Here are a few tips to consider when building self care practices to support your mental, emotional and physical health.
Evaluate areas in your life that need self care
Even if you’re attempting to do an entire overhaul of your daily practices, starting small in the areas of your life that need it most will help set you up for success in the long run.
Start by being more aware of the habits and practices that you wish to change during your daily routine. For example, do your mornings always feel rushed and stressful? Do you find yourself skipping meals or not getting enough sleep?
When evaluating what self care practices would be most beneficial, it can be helpful to look at the categories of physical self care, social self care, mental self care, spiritual self care and emotional self care.
Physical self care
How does your physical body feel at the end of a long day? At the start of each morning? Getting in touch with how we feel physically can be a helpful indicator of what self care practices would be most beneficial to incorporate.
Whether it’s getting adequate sleep, feeding ourselves a more nutritious diet or moving our bodies more throughout the day, small steps toward improved physical health can be a great place to start for better, sustainable self care.
Mental self care
Self care practices that keep us mentally healthy are just as important as the self care steps we take to support our physical health. We use our minds regularly for both work and personal tasks, but positively stimulating our brains is an important part of self care as well.
Evaluate how you could add more daily activity into your routine that positively stimulates your mind. This can be reading a book, solving a puzzle or even actively moving toward a more positive inner dialogue throughout the day.
Social self care
Positive human interaction is a form of self care. Even if your daily routine is packed with face-to-face interactions, carving out quality time for the people in your life who are important is a necessary form of self-care.
Spiritual self care
This doesn’t necessarily mean practicing a certain form of religion. Rather, it’s being in touch with your inner purpose, how you move through the world and how you apply meaning to your daily life experiences. Whether through meditation, attending a service or making space to practice gratitude, spiritual self care is essential for overall health and well being.
Emotional self care
Whether it’s dealing with minor life stressors or overcoming more significant challenges, having an arsenal of coping mechanisms available (see this article on the wheel of emotions for more) when life inevitably gets tough is integral for self care. Being able to process feelings in a healthy way is critical for emotional self care.
Build small self care practices into your routine
Once you have a running list of the areas of your life that are most in need of self care, outline one small step that feels manageable to implement daily. This can be setting your alarm an hour earlier in order to give yourself the time you need to start your day off on the right foot, or even simple self care practices like making your bed every morning.
Incorporate weekly self care into your schedule to maintain health
Day-to-day self care habits are important for overall health and longevity. But adding a weekly self care activity also gives you something to look forward to and allows you to recharge for the week ahead. This can be a weekly meet up with friends as an act of emotional self care, a long run at your local park to support physical health, or a massage or guided meditation.
Self care practices can be powerful tools to help prevent disease and support our mental health, physical health and emotional health. Taking care of our bodies from the inside out is essential for longevity and our overall well being.
Consistency is key for self care, so make sure the self care practices you’re implementing are sustainable. And if you need a little extra inspiration, check out our self-care quotes for a boost!