What is self care and why is it important?
When I stumble down the litter strewn pavement, past the overflowing bins on bin day to begin my four-mile run I have the same feeling as when I climb into my car on a dark cold morning headed for the gym. I will wait stony faced for the class to start, anxious about the exhaustion I might feel – if I allow myself to work hard enough. It is a weird feeling of uncertainty. In that moment I certainly do not consider it an act of self-care.
When I hear the phrase self-care my mind wanders to an opulent spa. A wooden lodge with jacuzzies set into the floor. Alpine views and log fires. I imagine a luxurious home with all chores taken care of. I could go all out on sheepskin rugs, velvet sofas and hot chocolate with marshmallows.
At this point I take control of my straying reverie just in time to stop me feeling deprived that I cannot prioritise the time or finances for this self indulgent fantasy. And I remember, the feeling when I returned from said four-mile run. The smile on my face when I bumped into a gym class companion and we shared stories of the busyness of life. In this moment I realise that I do make time to care for myself. During the forty minutes of exercise I was there. In that same meditative state, I would have found relaxing on the velvet sofa with my favourite magazine in front of the log fire in my alpine spa lodge, of course complete with sheepskin rug.
It does not have to be expensive or time consuming, but it does have to benefit your wellbeing.
It is difficult to find good evidenced based information on self-care because the focus is largely on ailments. Self-care as a solution to a problem. I want to promote caring for the self as a preventative action. To maintain health rather than treat ill health.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has a definition of self-care and suggestions of practices that support it, which include nutrition and lifestyle. Their focus is predominately based on physical wellbeing rather than mental wellbeing. I subscribe to the belief that our mental state of mind has huge powers over our physical being. Please do seek guidance from the WHO if you are seeking advice on how to support yourself with a physical ailment. Otherwise read on to learn why self-care is important for you.
Self-care should fill your cup giving you a greater capacity to take on daily life. Your act of self-care should be actively planned so that you prioritise yourself. Understand your self-care, why are you doing it? How does it benefit you? What aspects of it do you especially enjoy and what do you need to change to ensure that it is entirely beneficial?
Self-respect enables you to feel good about who you are, what you do and how others treat you. When you treat yourself with respect you command respect. By taking care of yourself and creating healthy boundaries you give yourself self-respect and in turn get respect.
The more time you spend on your personal wellbeing the better you get at noticing what respect for you feels like. Acts of self-care help you to align your mind and body. Your intuition becomes stronger and you feel more able to know what situations, choices and behaviours are best for you.
Self-respect becomes self-care and vice versa. Although it can feel uncomfortable to put self-care at the upper end of your priority list, it is important to recognise yourself at least as important as others. When you do this, you can feel satisfied that you are respecting yourself. As you respect yourself, practice self-care and create clear boundaries, those around you will feel safe and secure in your presence.
Just as a car needs fuel to run, when you refuel yourself with an act of self-care you will have more capacity to help others.
If you keep running on full capacity, doing more work, meeting the needs of others, trying to pack in every invitation, doing more work, sacrificing sleep, sacrificing yourself, your stress levels increase. Life is not enjoyable, and you may begin to burn out. Your body and brain should not run on full capacity permanently. Burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion caused by prolonged periods of stress. As you can read in a previous blog post found here, stress should be a quick reaction. Not a state that we live in.
It is not possible to make everything a priority but instead of doing everything a little bit well, prioritise yourself so that you have the capacity do more things really well.