Margaret Webster, Escape To Shanti
‘Self-care’ is a phrase we have heard a lot in the media and on social media in recent years. What does it really mean? Why does it matter? Isn’t self-care just another word for being selfish? And, how on earth are you meant to make time for yourself in your busy lifestyle? I’m going to use this Blog to break down the concept of ‘self-care’ and try to answer these questions.
What does ‘Self-care’ mean?
Self-care means doing what we need to do to look after our own physical and mental health.
At its most basic level it means ensuring that you get enough sleep; choose to eat healthy, nutritious foods; drink enough water; reduce your intake of caffeine, sugar, alcohol, nicotine etc; take time to relax and rebalance each day, even if that can only be a minute or two to look outside and take a few deep breaths; find some physical activity that you enjoy; and, of course, ensuring that you make and attend any medical/dental appointments to look after your body.
Going a bit further, self-care means meeting your own needs for peace, calm and relaxation; social connection; fun; friendship; pursuing your own interests; taking time for yourself; pursuing your own ambitions etc.
Why does it matter?
It is all too easy today to put your family, children, partner, friends, job, business, chores, life-admin etc etc etc first, and put your own needs at the bottom of that ever-expanding heap.
While all those things are important, you can’t do any of those things to the best of your ability if you don’t look after yourself first. To be the best possible Mum/Dad/Partner/Friend/Employee/Employer/Business person/Friend etc you have to be in good shape both mentally and physically yourself.
If you are eating crappy foods, not sleeping enough, not doing the things you enjoy, not enjoying regular physical activity, not making time to relax and rebalance yourself, how can you expect to be physically and mentally healthy and strong enough to have the physical and mental energy and capacity to be your best self for everyone else.
And, really importantly, if you have young people in your life, what kind of a role model are you being for them? If you want them to grow up understanding the need to look after their bodies and minds, then you need to lead by example and demonstrate what self-care means and how easy it can be to look after yourself as well as others.
Personally, I learnt the importance of self-care once I had a toddler (under 2) and new-born twins. They all needed me, big time! But life was physically and mentally exhausting. They needed my milk, my time, my energy, my cuddles and smiles, fresh air, play, clean nappies etc…the list could go on and on.
After a few months, I picked up a chest infection which I couldn’t shift. After 2 courses of strong antibiotics I realised that something needed to change. While my babies needed my milk, they needed me more. It dawned on me that I needed to look after my own body and that my body was telling me that I couldn’t keep going the way I had been. More sleep wasn’t an option at that stage (not with 3-hourly feeds around the clock!), but reducing the feeds was an option. So I gradually switched to giving my babies formula during the day and carried on feeding them myself when my toddler was in bed in the evening, night and early morning. This change was enough for me to begin to recover my strength, shake off the chest infection and gradually recover my strength. That was when I learnt that in order to make my family my priority and be the best Mum/wife I could be, I have to look after myself first. I didn’t have much spare time at that stage, but I could make sure that I ate enough, drank enough water, slept as much as possible and got out of doors for a walk every day, so that’s what I did.
As life got gradually easier (they are 14, 12 and 12 now), I was able to carve out more time for myself, for self-care, to meet my own needs so that I could be the best mum/wife/therapist I could be.
Isn’t ‘self-care’ just another word for selfish?
No, No, No, No, No!! It really isn’t.
Life has always been busy and challenging.
But the expectation to be constantly busy, constantly achieving is new.
My parents worked long hours, they both had full time jobs and had to do the chores, shopping and gardening at weekends. However, without the constant overwhelming bombardment of electronic messaging, social media feeds and the internet on which to shop and research at all hours, they were able to take the time to sit down and read a book or watch tv when they were ready to do so. In other words, they had time to meet their own needs to rest and relax i.e. time for self-care.
It is the constancy and overwhelming nature of modern life which make self-care so hard.
Self-care is NOT a luxury, it is essential to our physical and mental health and wellbeing. Looking after your own physical and mental health is not selfish.
I’m constantly busy, my to-do list just keeps getting longer, how am I meant to make time for self-care too? I can’t cope with doing anything more?
If you are asking questions like these, and most people will, then you really really need to make time for self-care.
Self-care needn’t be time consuming or expensive.
You could start simple:
- Choose a healthy snack instead of a biscuit or chocolate
- Drink water instead of cola
- Stop scrolling social media and go to bed 15 minutes earlier instead
- Leave your phone downstairs and read a book in bed.
- Take 2 minutes to do a few stretches when you wake up
- Repeat an affirmation out loud in the shower
- Write down 3 things you are grateful for at the end of every day
If you can set aside 5-10 minutes per day in your diary (you could probably do this if you put down your phone instead of scrolling social media)
- Do a few minutes of yoga
- Do a short meditation
- Do a few body-weight exercises
- Enjoy a few minutes of colouring or crafting
- Go for a short walk in the fresh air
- Step out into your garden to listen to the birds, enjoy the sights, sounds and feel of nature while taking some deep, relaxing breaths
- Make a phone call to speak to a friend or family member
- Read a book
If you can set aside 30 minutes:
- Soak in a warm bath
- Lose yourself in a good book
- Do a workout
- Go for a walk
- Enjoy a hobby
- Book a massage/reflexology/facial/manicure/pedicure
- Take yourself off for a few hours to spend time somewhere you love to be, maybe the coast, a woodland, a lake, river or open countryside
- Go the cinema and lose yourself in a film
- Meet a friend for a walk / cuppa / meal / drinks
Maybe you could make a list of quick, short, medium and more significant things you would like to do. Then make a point of putting at least 10 minutes of self-care in your diary every day and giving it equal priority with all the other chores. Try this for a week and see how you feel. I bet you will find yourself feeling calmer, and notice that you actually have more time and energy to do all the other things you ‘need’ to do.
Once you create this daily self-care habit, try setting aside time once a month to treat yourself to something ‘bigger’. Obviously, I would recommend booking a massage, reflexology, reiki or something else you would enjoy.