If you associate self-care with weakness and woo, think again. If you’re serious about making an impact in the world and don’t want to burn out in the process, it’s time you started taking self-care seriously.
Self-care is one of those phrases that makes me feel a bit… icky.
Maybe it’s because it’s become such an overly popular phrase – practically de rigueur in wellness contexts – and I’m often suspicious of anything that’s too popular. Maybe it’s because it feels like it simplifies things too much. Maybe it’s just because historically it’s something I’m really bad at.
But self-care, it seems, it resolutely on my radar, whether I want it there or not.
I’ve been sent articles on it. I’ve observed big, fat discussion threads about it in online groups that I’m a part of. I’ve even been given a sneak preview to a short course on self-care for new mums.
Time to take a look at what’s going on here.
What is self-care and why is it important?
At surface level, defining self-care is pretty straightforward: caring for the self. On many levels, you’re likely doing that already.
Brush your teeth each day? Self-care. Take supplements? Self care. See a therapist? Self care. Go for a massage? Self-care.
(This last one is in contention, with many people shouting that massage is the cliché of self-care and completely misses the point. We’ll find time in a future post to counter that because we believe that a good remedial massage and other touch therapies are as important as other more lauded self-care practices).
But self-care goes beyond the immediately obvious and maybe it could be helpful to think about it more broadly. Such as personal development. Such as connection. Such as service.
If you’re not even managing the basics, however, like brushing your teeth, then clearly you’re not going to be considering loftier self-care practises, such as personal development.
Self-care, starting with the basics, is essential to our physical and mental wellbeing. As Australian mental health non-profit, Beyond Blue, state: ‘taking care of yourself is the most important part of managing your mental health and wellbeing’.1
Self-care, selfishness and selflessness
There have been many more times than I care to admit where I’ve put my physical, mental and emotional wellbeing at the bottom of the priorities list. I’ve seen getting things done as more important than caring for myself: making sure my son has the attention and things he needs to thrive, that my work is finished, my car is serviced, that my house is in order.
Doing things just for me seemed like an indulgence, something I just didn’t have the time for.
Self-care, I thought, was very self-focused; selfish even.
But over the last five years or so, I’ve come to realise this: if you think that self-care is selfish, you’re missing the point.
Self-care isn’t selfish care. It doesn’t mean that you time out on your other responsibilities.
Self-care means you take time to refuel yourself so that you can better manage those responsibilities.
In my own life, for example, I’m responsible for a little person as well as keeping the wheels turning on my professional work. It’s quite a change from a year ago where I was relatively independent and doing pretty much whatever I liked, whenever I liked.
These days I’m lucky to find any time for myself. On an average day, even a minute of solo time is luxury. Going to the toilet by myself is a luxury.
Needless to say, my personal definition and requirements of self-care have changed. More than ever, I need to keep myself healthy and ensure I don’t burn out. I need to nurture myself so I can nurture my son.
And I need to actually, consciously make time for it.
Prioritising self care (and parenting yourself)
How about you? Are you running ragged? Are you auto-piloting through life?
Maybe you’ve got what feels like no breathing space in your schedule. Maybe you’re on the go – like really on the go – from the moment you wake up to the moment you collapse into bed. Maybe making time for self-care seems like an absolute luxury.
There’s a real possibility that self-care sits low on your list of priorities.
There’s a chance that it’s not something your friends and family particularly value.
And there’s an even bigger possibility that it’s not valued within your professional circles (work late, don’t take lunch, push push push… sound familiar?).
But how about if we shift the focus?
Someone recently commented in an online forum I’m in that self-care is effectively about ‘parenting yourself.’ So if we take a step back and assume the role of parent, does it now become easier to see why we need to look after our basic physiological needs, like sleep? How we need to give space to our psychosocial needs? How by not meeting these needs we set ourselves up for all sorts of struggles?
If we see a child bouncing off the walls after eating too many sweets, we’d be pretty unlikely to give him any more. If we see a toddler rubbing her eyes and starting to play up, we’d be stupid to try to keep her awake.
Now see yourself and your own patterns.
What stands out? Where do you need to start being gentle and firm?
The three circles of self-care
For some of us, the areas that need attention are immediately obvious. For the rest of us, it might take a little more work to explore where exactly we’ve been neglecting our health and wellbeing.
Thankfully, there are various frameworks to help us explore what those areas might be.
One such framework might be the three circles of self-care.
The three circles of self-care are what we’ve arrived at after reading a tall stack of self-care messages and articles in recent months. In their simplest form, the three areas are to:
- care for your mind;
- care for your body; and
- work on your connections.
Without a doubt, all three of these areas are intrinsically linked.
Take the research into the mind-body connection that is throwing up new discoveries every day. The ‘second brain’ of your gut, for example, influences hormones and neurotransmitters, which in turn have an impact on the state of your mind, what you eat, how you feel and how you behave.
And when it comes to who you know and spend your time with, connections undoubtedly have an influence on your health and wellbeing too. If you’re surrounded by stressful people, or people that eat junk food, then that’s on your radar and it becomes somewhat part of your norm. If you spend time with people who are altruistic and compassionate, well guess what? You’re more likely to pick up those traits too.
Obvious stuff, really, but sometimes – in the rush of life – we forget this.
These three areas may already help you to start to uncover which part of your life needs some care and attention. If not, we’ll dig in to these three areas of self-care in some upcoming articles. Keep an eye out for them.
What’s your tried and tested self-care tip? Please share in the comments below.
References and other resources
- Beyond Blue. (2009) Self-Care. https://www.beyondblue.org.au/personal-best/topics/?q=Self-care. Accessed 4 Jun 2019.
- Kawada T, Kuratomi Y and Kanai T. Lifestyle determinants of depressive feeling and a feeling of unhappiness among workers: A study in Japan. 2009. Work 33 (2009) 255–260 255 DOI 10.3233/WOR-2009-0873
- Herrera T. (2018). Feeling Burned Out? Here Are 3 Things That Can Help. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/06/smarter-living/how-to-help-burnout-stress.html Accessed 8 Oct 2019.