Research has shown that self-care can improve one’s beliefs about themselves, influence their behavior to reduce stress, limit exposure to conflict, and improve interpersonal relations. However, many people resist incorporating self-care into their daily lives, because they associate self-care with being self-centered or indulgent. Unfortunately, these misconceptions strip self-care of meritable, research-based applications, and relegates the idea of self-care to being a notion that mainly refers to the temporary relief from busy-ness, and the reduction of stress. It is not uncommon to hear people’s first impression of self-care as making time to go to the gym, or hang out with friends… some believe self-care involves eating “better,” getting a massage, or “being pampered.” Arguably, these experiences can make us feel better. However, these interventions are mostly physical, or social, and require one to overcome some level of resistance that is based on how they believe they are perceived by others.
In fact, self-care does not need to be concrete, social, or material. Self-care can be primarily internal. Moreover, internal self-care may have a considerably longer lasting effect than physical self-care, alone. Even more compelling, there is empirical evidence that self-care is essential to mental health.
Internal self-care focuses on creating, nurturing, and being mindful of positive traits and positive, self-directed feelings. This can mean finding a sense of contentment, exploring meaningful and purposeful experiences, or finding an emotional balance that is relevant to both work and leisure. Validating one’s instincts, and reinforcing feelings of self-worth are prime examples of internal self-care. Our efforts to stay connected to our true feelings can help foster healthy, interpersonal relationships. When we are listening to our intuition and trusting our instincts, we communicate more effectively. In turn, these self-promoting energies help us to feel replenished and rejuvenated, and subsequently improve our mood and outlook. Self-care also allows us to access ineffable and transcendent experiences, such as spirituality, self-awareness, and a higher consciousness.
It is not incorrect to wonder about how self-care corresponds to our external world. We gauge our need for self-care by our interactions with others, and by the way our emotional and physical constitution are impacted by the pace and customs of a stressful, overscheduled world. Therefore, it is actually practical and necessary to consider how to “schedule” self-care. Different life stages and the accompanying experiences require us to work hard at finding a balance. When we become parents, our children’s needs take precedence over our own.
There are many events and responsibilities that can displace self-care: being the primary bread-winner, a demanding job… or an unexpected life-changing event, such as a relative’s death, a crisis in our immediate circle of people we are close to…or, a natural disaster. Even more reason to incorporate self-care…to be able to handle, “come what may.”
The fact remains, self-care needs to be reframed as an evidence-based paradigm that has essential applications. By making self-care a priority, we can have better control over the experiences that interfere with our ability to address our well-being, and exercise greater control in reaching our full potential.
Looking to expand your concept of self-care? Here are some ideas
- Engage your senses- Seek calm or energy using the five senses. Listen to music that lifts or calms your mood, place flowers in your home, where you can frequently see and smell them, sip on some warm fragrant tea, light a lavender candle, or use other kinds of aromatherapy.
- Find activities that engage your creativity, intuition, spiritual beliefs, and natural gifts- try gardening, painting, playing an instrument, learning a new language, visiting nature.
- Pets can help support self-care, too. The unconditional love from a pet can boost our positive feelings on a daily basis.
- Make non-frenetic activity part of your routine- See a movie, take a walk on the beach, read a book, take a nap, challenge your belief that you are being indulgent, and actually do treat yourself to a massage, or a hot bath
- Nurture your spiritual side- Meditate, read philosophy, relish the sunset or sunrise, make a gratitude list (list five things you are grateful for), write in a journal, practice yoga, or search for inspirational quotes and poems.
- Your Social Self- call an old friend and catch up, participate in a book club, plan a lunch date with a close friend, set boundaries on a relationship that has become emotionally draining.
Regarding the self as an entity that needs care and creating time and space for that care promotes emotional health and allows us to be present. In this way, we are more often than not able to give ourselves permission, be spontaneous, playful, and have access to our full faculties and capacities.