Updated: Nov 21
We often talk about self-care with our family, our clients, in our articles. I think it worthwhile to define this concept so that we are all aligned in its meaning and can proceed together using the same vocabulary. It is important to consider that self-care is not selfishness. In order to function, to have health, to be able to support oneself and loved ones - you have to be healthy and this takes investment (and time) form you and you alone.
As ever, please talk to your doctor or medical practitioner most familiar with your medical history before implementing any changes in diet, exercise or lifestyle, especially if you are under treatment. Links to any supporting studies or resources are shared at the end of page.
One clear definition comes from the Word Health Organisation “...self-care is the ability of individuals, families and communities to promote their own health, prevent disease, maintain health, and to cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a health worker.
It recognizes individuals as active agents in managing their own health care in areas including health promotion; disease prevention and control; self-medication; providing care to dependent persons; and rehabilitation, including palliative care. It does not replace the health care system, but instead provides additional choices and options for healthcare.”
What this definition does not so clearly detail is that ‘health’ (by the WHO's own definition) comprises physical, mental and social well-being. I feel that in this instance mental health needs to be highlighted more than they have done so.
The US’ National Institutes of Health (NIH) clearly address mental health as part of self-care in their online literature. In fact when searching online, self-care initially appears to fall under their categorisation of mental and emotional health and is secondly a physical health issue. Notwithstanding this categorisation their description of self-care is: “...taking the time to do things that help you live well and improve both your physical health and mental health. When it comes to your mental health, self-care can help you manage stress, lower your risk of illness, and increase your energy. Even small acts of self-care in your daily life can have a big impact.”
They also provide useful self-care guidance that covers all the key health bases. Please note that this is a direct quote:
“Get regular exercise. Just 30 minutes of walking every day can help boost your mood and improve your health. Small amounts of exercise add up, so don’t be discouraged if you can’t do 30 minutes at one time.
Eat healthy, regular meals and stay hydrated. A balanced diet and plenty of water can improve your energy and focus throughout the day. Also, limit caffeinated beverages such as soft drinks or coffee.
Make sleep a priority. Stick to a schedule, and make sure you’re getting enough sleep. Blue light from devices and screens can make it harder to fall asleep, so reduce blue light exposure from your phone or computer before bedtime.
Taking time to journal, reflect and write down health goals can make a difference
Try a relaxing activity. Explore relaxation or wellness programs or apps, which may incorporate meditation, muscle relaxation, or breathing exercises. Schedule regular times for these and other healthy activities you enjoy such as journaling.
Set goals and priorities. Decide what must get done now and what can wait. Learn to say “no” to new tasks if you start to feel like you’re taking on too much. Try to be mindful of what you have accomplished at the end of the day, not what you have been unable to do.
Practice gratitude. Remind yourself daily of things you are grateful for. Be specific. Write them down at night, or replay them in your mind.
Focus on positivity. Identify and challenge your negative and unhelpful thoughts.
Stay connected. Reach out to your friends or family members who can provide emotional support and practical help.”
Good advice for health indeed.
Moving away from definitions created by august health institutions as the WHO and NIH one group of researchers analysed the scientific literature on self-care to see what common concepts and terminology might come up. Their published conclusion:
“...the ability to care for oneself through awareness, self-control, and self-reliance in order to achieve, maintain, or promote optimal health and well-being.” (1)
So, now that we can agree on a definition, all that remains is the 'easy' part... to practise daily self-care.
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