Self-care has been recognized in recent years as a key contributor to mental health. But what is self-care and why is it important for mental health? The World Health Organization or WHO defines self-care as “the ability… to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and to cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a healthcare provider.” In essence, it’s whatever you do for yourself to care for yourself and promote your physical and mental health beyond the doctor’s office.
Self-care has become even more vital since the COVID pandemic began in 2019, as people were forced to remain indoors and observe their health. This pause in normal life set the stage for an exploration of the importance of self-care. As the COVID pandemic brought with it tremendous stress, there was more need than ever before for self-care to aid in stress reduction. Self-care is important as it fights stress which helps in disease reduction, enhances immune response, improves mental health and mood, and boosts confidence.
What is Self Care?
Stress is our body’s response to negative environmental stimuli and pressure. When we feel stressed, we are overwhelmed and unable to cope with life’s pressures. Stress has a detrimental impact on the body, from suppressing immune function to raising blood pressure and upsetting the digestive system.
When you experience tremendous or ongoing stress, it may manifest in the following symptoms:
-Frequent illness, signaling lowered immune function
-Headaches or migraines
-Upset stomach and indigestion
-Changes in appetite and sleep patterns
-Inability to concentrate
-Constant worry and racing thoughts
To reduce stress, you may seek to implement a self-care routine. Self-care is anything that helps you to manage stress and improve your health. From a luxurious skincare routine that allows you to unwind and decompress to yoga and deep breathing, there are many ways to practice self-care in your daily life to improve your wellbeing.
Types of Self Care
There are countless ways to practice self-care. Just as stress comes from many channels - physical, financial, relationships, work - self-care can be addressed. Here, we will focus on physical, mental, and emotional self-care.
Physical Self Care
Physical self-care is a crucial foundation upon which other forms of care can be established. The Latin term “mens sana in corpore sano,” which means a sound mind in a sound body, conveys this idea. If you do not incorporate physical activity and care into your self-care routine, you will likely not find your other self-care efforts to be successful. The basics of physical self-care are the big three: sleep, diet, and movement.
Adequate and consistent sleep is vital as it lays the framework for your day. Adults require 7-9 hours of sleep each night for optimal wellbeing. To get your best sleep, create a quiet and serene sleep environment, unwind at the end of the day with a consistent routine, and power down electronics at least 30 minutes before bed to signal to your brain that you are readying the body for rest.
Diet is essential to your physical wellbeing. A balanced diet with nutritious whole foods and hydration will help your body fight infection and give you the energy needed to complete your daily tasks.
Movement and exercise are the third cornerstones of self-care. The CDC recommends 150 minutes of moderate to intense activity and two muscle training sessions each week. Break this into 30 minutes a day of movement, like a 30-minute walk before the workday or yoga.Consistency is key!
Physical hygiene and care are essential for your self-care, along with the big three. This includes daily maintenance: showering, brushing teeth, and dressing, along with physical care that just feels good - a pedicure, lovely perfume, or facial mask!
Mental Self Care
Mental self-care is vital in mitigating psychological stress. These stressors normally come from one’s occupation, unfavorable life circumstances and challenging or abrupt changes like moving, change in relationship status, or world events. To manage these stressors, it’s essential to care for your mental wellbeing.
This form of self-care typically entails a breathing or meditation practice, set hours away from screens to reset and recharge - like 30 minutes before bed or a selected day each week out from screens and technology, and maintaining a schedule to account for busy and free time alike, which will reduce stress.
Social Self Care
We aren’t meant to be alone - relationships are critical for our long-term happiness and can even help us to manage stress more effectively. So you should aim to carve out time for existing relationships and create new ones to enhance your social self-care. This may mean a once-weekly date with a spouse, a standing phone date with a long-distance friend, or joining a new club to network and make friends.
You should also try to make your relationships as healthy as possible by enforcing healthy boundaries and removing negative interactions. It’s also likely that taking time for yourself to decompress will improve your social interactions. For example, a busy mom that is spread thin between work, childcare, family responsibilities, and her social circle may want to build in a solid hour of alone time each day to unwind and decompress.
Emotional Self Care
Emotional self-care involves acknowledging and addressing distressing inner states and celebrating joyous ones. Many individuals choose to explore therapy as part of their emotional self-care and journaling, and practicing positive thought and gratitude. These practices allow you to identify and work through emotional roadblocks and reflect on the day’s high points.
3 Tips to Implement Self Care
Now that we’ve explored the various areas of self-care and practices for your physical, mental, social, and emotional self-care, we’ll discuss how you can make self-care a part of your routine.
1. Make it a Habit
Whichever strategies you may choose to implement on your self-care journey, it’s crucial to establish regular routines. Consistency will help to make a larger impact over time. To stay consistent, make self-care a habit.
You may do this by setting a timer for the same time each day to mark the beginning of your self-care practice - like a 30 minute timer set for lunch time, to signal you to go on a walk and unwind. If you struggle with finding time for relationships, but want to enhance your social self-care, consider calling a different friend each day for 20 minutes at the same time to check in. After a few weeks of these reminders, your practice will become a habit and part of your daily routine!
2. Pair Up
You are more likely to achieve goals when you have support. This may mean you find an accountability partner or coach to keep you on track in the form of a friend you text each day you journal, or an online support group for meditation.
Better yet, share a common goal with a friend or family member to make success even more likely. If you and your friend both struggle with getting adequate sleep, send each other a ‘good night!’ text at a set time to signal that it’s time to get some rest and keep each other on track.
3. Pick a Spread
Self-care works best when approached holistically. In essence, you’ll feel your best when you care for yourself physically, emotionally, mentally, and socially. If one of these areas is lacking, you will not be able to achieve optimal wellbeing and stress resistance. Pick a method to improve in each area: like 30 minutes of exercise each day to improve your physical health, journaling to care for yourself emotionally, setting 30 minutes away from screens before bed to unwind to enhance your mental health, and a standing phone date each week to care for your social relationships.
If you can, consider choosing methods that tackle two of these areas at one time: go on a hike each week with a friend, which will combine physical and social self-care.