In today’s world, the demands of modern living can be exhausting. We have deadlines to meet, a boss to impress, family to take care of, the all-consuming admin of life to deal with. No wander, that we’re slacking when it comes to self-care. There’s always someone or something else at the top of our priority list and so we often neglect ourselves and our wellbeing. We’re too busy with our very full lives; there simply isn’t enough hours in the day and so many things to do! And so self-care may seem like an indulgence, or worse, a selfish act.
“Illness and health are only the tip of an iceberg. To understand their causes, you must look below the surface.”
— John Travis, M.D.
So let’s clear up this common misconception right at the start. Caring for self is not a self-indulgence or being selfish. If you are not healthy or well, how will you care for your loved ones and achieve all you want to achieve in life? To take care of others, start by taking care of yourself.
So how do I do that, you may ask? How do I do all I have
to do in a day and still fit in some “me time”? First, let’s talk about what wellness and self-care are actually all about.
All too often, wellness is defined within a framework of disease, focusing on reducing health risks and preventing disease. And while this is true in any healthcare system, wellness goes beyond the disease-focused paradigm. In fact, our lifestyle choices, perceived stress, our emotions and our thoughts, meaning and purpose in life have a profound effect on our well- being1. A true wellness pioneer, John W. Travis’ describes wellness as “a choice, a way of life, a process, a balanced channelling of energy, an integration of body, mind, spirit and a loving acceptance of self”.
Image courtesy of Brook Cagle – Unsplash
Wellness is not a static state but it is a lively progression towards achieving physical, mental and social wellbeing. It addresses all facets of your life.
Self-care is anything you do to take care of yourself. It includes behaviours, activities and skills that enhance your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health, quality of life and overall state of wellness. There is some evidence suggesting that regular self-care promotes positive health outcomes, such as better resilience, longevity, better ability to cope with stress, increased productivity, higher self-esteem.
Self-care will look slightly different to everyone. It is self- care if it promotes health and it gives you pleasure and brings you happiness. Something that feels nourishing, something you enjoy doing. But it also can be something practical or something you need to get done like scheduling cancer screening or taking prescription medication on schedule. Self-care is to stop and check in with yourself.7 There’s nothing selfish about it. It’s an act of self-love.
Dr. Michael Arloski explains the self-care conundrum using the self-care continuum.
Source taken from: Dr Michael Arloski (2014) p. 187
Where do you think you are on this continuum?
So what steps can you take towards self-care, that don’t take a lot of time and don’t cost an arm and a leg?
- Nourish your body. Eat a diet rich in fruit and vegetables, herbs and spices.
- Look for the positive and say it out loud. Notice the good things that happen during the day. Be present; in the moment; be mindful.
- Get into sleeping routine. Go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time.
- Spend time outdoors, in nature.
- Read a book while soaking in a bubble bath.
- Take breaks from electronics
- Move. If you don’t like to exercise, practice movement. Going for a walk, gardening, dancing, walking your kids to school… It can be anything that keeps you moving and puts a smile on your face.
- Give yourself permission to take a pause or to have a coffee or dinner date with a friend.
Self-care does not have to cost anything and you can practice self-care by turning things you do every day into self-care practices. Stepping outside and taking a few deep breaths when you feel overwhelmed or stressed could be an act of self-care; being present and mindful of your surroundings on your commute; or just turning a daily task into something enjoyable, like listening to your favourite music while you are tidying up the house.
Self-care can mean different things to different people, and everyone will adopt different practices which might change over time. The way you practice self-care should feel right to you.
“You are not responsible for your illness. You ARE responsible for your wellness”
So start being kind to yourself and take the steps towards being more self-full.
If you’re not sure where to start, start small.
– Start by deciding which activity you would enjoy doing.
– Choose one behaviour that you would like to weave into your routine. Something realistic and achievable and practice this behaviour every day for at least a week.
– Note any positive changes and build on it by adding more practices when you feel ready .
– Get support from loved ones, coach, a licenced professional, through community or workplace.
If, reading this, you feel deflated or overwhelmed just by the thought of establishing a self- care practice it’s best to get help and support. There may be barriers and challenges preventing you from making a start. Seek support from trusted specialists, primary care doctor, or a close friend.
The bottom line is that self-care can have a positive effect on your health and wellbeing but it requires commitment.
What will be your first step in the direction of being self-full?
- Stoewen, D.L. (2017), “Dimensions of wellness: change your habits, change your life”. Can Viet J 58(8) pp.861-862. Available: https://www .ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5508938/
- J. Strohecker (2015), “What is wellness” Available: https://is.muni.cz/el/1451/podzim2015/e031/um/TRA VIS_STROHECKER_What_is_Well ness.pdf
- GlobalWellnessInstitute(n.d.),“WhatisWellness”Available: https://globalwellnessinstitute.org/what-is-wellness/
- SelfCareForum(n.d.),”Whatdowemeanbyselfcareandwhyisitgoodforpeople?” Available: https://www.selfcareforum.org/about-us/what-do-we-mean-by-self-care-and- why-is-good-for-people/
- AmherstCollege(n.d.):De-stress”.Available:https://www.amherst.edu/campuslife/health- safety-wellness/counseling/wellness/self-care-and-stress-reduction/de-stres
- Glowiak, M. (2020), “What is self-care and why is it important for you?” Available: https://www .snhu.edu/about-us/newsroom/2019/04/what-is-self-care
- Lawler, M. (2021), “What is self-care and why is it so important for you health?” Available: https://www .everydayhealth.com/self-care/
- Arloski, M. (2014), Wellness coaching for lasting lifestyle change. 2nd edn. Duluth: Whole Person Associates.