Self-care! These words can evoke so many different responses ---- yumminess, longing, bewilderment, disdain…… And they have so many different meanings to different people. As I use the term here I refer to any
practices that nourish and enhance
your physical, spiritual or emotional wellbeing.
Self-care can be social, solitary, raucous, serene, playful, physically vigorous, meditative, creative, pampering, and more. What constitutes self-care is very subjective. One person’s self-care can be another person’s hell. It’s important to find the practices that work for you. The options are endless, and they can be very simple and cost nothing. Journaling, baking, meditating, walking, reading, dancing, coloring, going to church, taking an improv class, having coffee with a friend, getting adequate sleep, date nights, massage, mani-pedis, yoga, or watching comedy are just a few.
Self-care is a significant contributor to good mental health and quality of life. As a therapist, I can’t say enough positive things about it. Here are a few.
Self-empowerment. In a world of fast moving technological development and hyper-speeded up pace of daily life, financial demands, family responsibilities, trying to keep up with social media, and other stresses, so many people feel not in control of so much in their day to day lives. And, unarguably, there is a lot that we cannot control. By committing to and developing regular self-care practices, you are taking charge of something that you can influence, and empowering yourself. And the longer you do self-care over time, the more that sense of empowerment can reduce stress and build self confidence.
Quality of life. Self-care is loving, caring attention toward yourself. Though this idea may feel uncomfortable (or worse) at first, most people can acknowledge that, generally speaking, it feels pretty good to receive loving attention. It is important to give that to yourself. It is a very responsible thing to do. It’s fantastic to get loving attention from others, but others’ attention is not always available, and certainly not available on demand. A lot of people find that as their self-care practices strengthen, there is a felt sense of happiness that accompanies them, sometimes a little inner glow.
Feel less harried. Though the idea of trying to find time for self-care can seem like a huge barrier, a lot of people end up feeling that self-care gives them a sense of feeling less time-pressured. When you feel some self-empowerment and happiness, you tend to start feeling less pressed by external forces. The same external demands may be there, but by feeling more in charge of yourself you may feel less bullied by them.
Have more to give. A huge barrier to self-care for some people is the belief that it’s selfish. With limited time, limited resources, and other people needing you, how could you possibly divert precious energies to indulging in self-care? Because it’s one of the best things you can do for the other people in your life. When you are taking good care of yourself and feeling empowered, happier, less harried, and healthier, you have more to give to others. Self-care nourishes and energizes. When you feel better, you attend to others better. You listen better. You respond more fully. You have more energy to turn toward others.
Self-care is good for your health. We're all aware that exercise is important for physical health. And many of us are aware of the mental health benefits of exercise. A holistic view of health is now mainstream. It's impossible to separate mind and body. A growing body of research shows how happiness and emotional well-being contribute to physical health. See Kira Newman's article "Six Ways Happiness Is Good for Your Health" at the Greater Good Science Center website. She cites studies finding that happiness protects your heart, strengthens your immune system, reduces pain, combats stress, combats disease and disability, and lengthens lives.
Self-care reduces unhealthy behaviors. One problem with ignoring self-care is that you increase your risk for developing self destructive habits. Right? Most of us have been there in one way or another. Staring into an open fridge when you’re not really hungry. Channel-surfing when there’s nothing remotely interesting to you on t.v. and your alarm’s gonna go off in seven – oops – six hours. Getting engrossed in a video game and losing track of an hour or hours at a time, then realizing it’s too late to go for that walk. Or turning to alcohol or marijuana to take the edge off after work, then noticing you’re starting to need that at the end of the day. Some unhealthy coping strategies are relatively benign beyond wasting time. But some turn into addictions that then multiply the problems you’re dealing with. Addictions can adversely affect you financially, interpersonally, professionally, legally or physically. Good self-care helps prevent addictive behavior.