A question I get on a regular basis is “What is self-care?” There is no single definition – I often tell my clients that self-care is unique to each individual. In a nutshell, self-care refers to how one manages and copes with day-to-day stressors, and prepares for success with future stressors.
In our world, especially since the onset of the pandemic, people are finding it increasingly difficult to slow down and unwind. Some of us feel anxious or overwhelmed by even the simplest tasks. How are we taking care of our bodies, minds and day-to-day responsibilities?
Just as we have physical health, we have mental health as well. If I were to ask how you take care of your physical health, what might you say? Maybe you walk outside daily, maybe you eat healthily at most meals, or maybe you attend a gym. But if I asked how you take care of your mental health, many people might not know how to answer.
For some, self-care can be extremely challenging. There is a belief sometimes that we need to put our own needs behind others. While this can be a noble quality in some situations, it is also a way to burn out. By ensuring that we take care of ourselves, we can be better positioned to take care of others.
The airline industry illustrates this idea very well in the safety announcement before takeoff. If the cabin pressure fails and masks come down, “Make sure you fit your own mask first before helping others.” The fact is that if you cannot breathe, you will not be able to help anyone else. The same principle applies to mental health.
The practical steps will depend on what works for each individual. Some people enjoy a warm bath, yoga, meditation, or spending time outdoors. Others read a good book, listen to music, or treat themselves to some freshly cut fruit.
Because self-care is so unique to each of us, it can sometimes help to do a quick check-in. Find a self-care assessment worksheet online, such as this one.
1. Find 10 minutes where you can focus on the assessment.
2. Answer from an honest and genuine self-perspective.
3. If some questions don’t apply, leave them blank.
4. Don’t worry if you have some low scores – this is normal!
5. After completing the worksheet, pick one or two areas where you’d like to improve the score and focus on adding these self-care components to your routine.
· The days when you are most tired, or stressed, are the days when self-care is most important.
· Self-care can be as quick as 30 seconds and doesn’t have to cost anything!
· Taking time to focus on deep breathing can be very powerful in grounding yourself and bringing you back to the present moment.
· Talking to a mental health professional can be a healthy way to learn more about self-care and setting yourself up for success.
· Remember the airplane analogy - Take care of yourself, to better help others.
· Self-care is not selfish!
Al-Kareem Visram is a Provisionally Registered Psychologist in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, and was awarded one of the top 150 Canadians making a difference in the mental health space.