Everyone seems to be talking about it, especially now that we are all trying to get our lives (routine) back since the height of the pandemic. Yet, we always have to dig deep at the back of our minds about what self-care is. Why is it so much easier to care for others and remind them to take care of themselves, yet we find it hard to extend the same courtesy to ourselves?
Self-care does not necessarily mean spending money to get the best spa treatment. It can be part of it if you have the means, but there is more to it.
A study by Martínez et al. (2021) defined self-care as “the ability to care for oneself through awareness, self-control, and self-reliance to achieve, maintain, or promote optimal health and well-being.”
I remember during my first-aid training, it is a must that you keep yourself safe first. How can you properly assist if you’re already hurt? We often hear self-care among primary and mental health professionals to build resilience and prevent burnout from the daily stress of professional lives. It helps them to remain objective when working with vulnerable clients; otherwise, they risk putting them in danger. But this is not an exclusive routine, nor is it a new concept or a Western thing. We all deserve and should do it whether we deal with our family, relationships or professional activities. Like mental health professionals and those in the helping field, we need to press that “PAUSE” button to check how we are doing physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.
As Martínez et al. (2021) noted, self-care is the ability to care for ourselves. However, awareness is a critical component in achieving this. If we do not take a moment to assess how we feel overall, we will never know how much we are overworking, excessively giving, numbing, and even blocking all other thoughts that can let us see that we need rest. Worse, because we are so burnt out, we will also fail to see how others get affected by our actions and words, especially those who genuinely care for us.
We often hear the saying, “if you do not listen to your body, your body will make you listen.” And this proves to be true since taking care of ourselves can help improve our mortality and overall well-being (Reigel et al., 2021). However, we need to purposely engage ourselves to reconnect and reassess our situation and listen to what our body, emotions, and soul needs.
We all have different needs and definitions of self-care because of our diverse cultural backgrounds and different upbringing. It may also be why we refuse to acknowledge that we need self-care just like everybody else; more importantly, if you grew up in a culture where relaxing is interpreted as laziness. But this is the very reason why we need to cultivate self-awareness. Knowing what kind of view we grew up in can reassess whether those views are still relevant and helpful in our current lives instead of prioritizing what others think. We can have the agency to finally decide what we believe is beneficial to our overall well-being, whether it involves professional, personal, or interpersonal aspects of our lives.
When we are hungry, we eat. The same goes for nourishing our emotional, mental, and spiritual needs. Ask yourself, what part of me needs nourishment?
Self-care can look like a half-hour workout, watching your favourite show, finishing a book chapter, or taking a walk. It can also look like purposely doing nothing for a day or going to that happy place that gives you the most joy. The key is purposefully engaging yourself to let go of anything, even for a moment and do what you think is right.
Just because it is self-care does not mean you cannot be with others. Go to that restaurant you have been meaning to try or cook the dish you love. See or facetime with your friends or family you have intended to reconnect with to feed your social needs.
Self-care can also mean saying “NO” to things you do not want to do over pleasing others. Visit a church or meditate in your way to feed your spiritual needs. We are all built and moulded differently, do what gives you peace and inner joy. By intentionally taking a pause and nourishing your needs, you can better understand your priorities. You can also build resilience to face another day no matter how hard it may seem, but one thing is sure. It won’t be endless.
(Disclaimer: This is not a substitute for professional advice or treatment. Always seek advice from your mental health professional or physician if you have a developing or severe condition)
Martínez, N., Connelly, C. D., Pérez, A., & Calero, P. (2021). Self-care: A concept analysis. International journal of nursing sciences, 8(4), 418–425. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijnss.2021.08.007
Riegel, B., Dunbar, S., Fitzsimons, D., Freeland, K., Lee, C., Middleton, S., Stromberg, A., Vellone, E., Webber, D., Jaarsma, T. (2021). Self-care research: Where are we now? Where are we going? International Journal of Nursing Studies, Volume 116, 2021