By Elizabeth Scott, PhD
All the stress relief activities in the world won’t help if you aren’t taking care of yourself. Meditation won’t do you any good if you aren’t getting adequate sleep. In fact, when you try to meditate, you might doze off because you aren’t taking care of your body’s need for sleep.
Similarly, hitting the gym once in a while won’t relieve much stress if you’re not regularly fueling your body with healthy, nutrient-dense food. You need to take care of your basic needs first if you want your stress relief activities to be effective.
What Is Self-Care?
Self-care has been defined as a multidimensional, multifaceted process of purposeful engagement in strategies that promote healthy functioning and enhance well-being. Essentially, the term describes a conscious act a person takes in order to promote their own physical, mental, and emotional health.
There are many forms self-care can take. It could be ensuring you get enough sleep every night or stepping outside for a few minutes for some fresh air.
Self-care is vital for building resilience toward those stressors in life that you can’t eliminate. When you’ve taken steps to care for your mind and body, you’ll be better equipped to live your best life.
Unfortunately, however, many people view self-care as a luxury, rather than a priority. Consequently, they’re left feeling overwhelmed, tired, and ill-equipped to handle life’s inevitable challenges. It’s important to assess how you’re caring for yourself in several different domains so you can ensure you’re caring for your mind, body, and spirit.
Different Types of Self-Care
Self-care isn’t just about finding ways to relax. It’s about taking care of yourself mentally, physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually. In order to care for your health and well-being, it is important to find a balance that allows you to address each of these areas. Sometimes you might need more self-care in one specific area in order to restore balance or find relief from a stressor in your life.
1. Physical Self-Care
You need to take care of your body if you want it to run efficiently. Keep in mind that there’s a strong connection between your body and your mind. When you’re caring for your body, you’ll think and feel better too.
Physical self-care includes how you’re fueling your body, how much sleep you’re getting, how much physical activity you're doing, and how well you’re caring for your physical needs. Attending healthcare appointments, taking medication as prescribed, and managing your health are all part of good physical self-care.
When it comes to physical self-care, ask yourself the following questions to assess whether there might be some areas you need to improve:
- • Are you getting adequate sleep?
- • Is your diet fueling your body well?
- • Are you taking charge of your health?
- • Are you getting enough exercise?
2. Social Self-Care
Socialization is key to self-care. But, often, it’s hard to make time for friends and it’s easy to neglect your relationships when life gets busy.
Close connections are important to your well-being. The best way to cultivate and maintain close relationships is to put time and energy into building your relationships with others.
There isn’t a certain number of hours you should devote to your friends or to work on your relationships. Everyone has slightly different social needs. The key is to figure out what your social needs are and to build enough time in your schedule to create an optimal social life.
To assess your social self-care, consider:
- • Are you getting enough face-to-face time with your friends?
- • What are you doing to nurture your relationships with friends and family?
3. Mental Self-Care
The way you think and the things that you’re filling your mind with greatly influence your psychological well-being.
Mental self-care includes doing things that keep your mind sharp, like puzzles, or learning about a subject that fascinates you. You might find reading books or watching movies that inspire you fuels your mind.
Mental self-care also involves doing things that help you stay mentally healthy. Practicing self-compassion and acceptance, for example, helps you maintain a healthier inner dialogue.
Here are a couple of questions to consider when you think about your mental self-care:
- • Are you making enough time for activities that mentally stimulate you?
- • Are you doing proactive things to help you stay mentally healthy?
4. Spiritual Self-Care
Research shows that a lifestyle including religion or spirituality is generally a healthier lifestyle.
Nurturing your spirit, however, doesn’t have to involve religion. It can involve anything that helps you develop a deeper sense of meaning, understanding, or connection with the universe. Whether you enjoy meditation, attending a religious service, or praying, spiritual selfcare is important.
As you consider your spiritual life, ask yourself:
- • What questions do you ask yourself about your life and experience?
- • Are you engaging in spiritual practices that you find fulfilling?
5. Emotional Self-Care
It’s important to have healthy coping skills to deal with uncomfortable emotions, like anger, anxiety, and sadness. Emotional self-care may include activities that help you acknowledge and express your feelings regularly and safely.
Whether you talk to a partner or close friend about how you feel, or you set aside time for leisure activities that help you process your emotions, it’s important to incorporate emotional self-care into your life.
When assessing your emotional self-care strategies, consider these questions:
- • Do you have healthy ways to process your emotions?
- • Do you incorporate activities into your life that help you feel recharged?
Why Is Self-Care Important?
Having an effective self-care routine has been shown to have a number of important health benefits. Some of these include:
- 1. Reducing anxiety and depression
- 2. Reducing stress and improving resilience
- 3. Improving happiness
- 4. Increasing energy
- 5. Reducing burnout
- 6. Stronger interpersonal relationships
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), self-care is important because it can help promote health, prevent disease, and help people better cope with illness.
Specific forms of self-care have also been linked to different health and wellness benefits, including a longer life. Exercise, finding a sense of purpose in life, and sleep have all been connected to an increased lifespan.
Develop Your Self-Care Plan
An effective self-care plan should be tailored to your life and your needs. It needs to be something created by you, for you. Customizing your own self-care plan can act as a preventative measure to make sure that you don’t get overwhelmed, overstressed, and burned out.
As you are building your self-care plan, the following steps can be helpful:
- • Consider your stressors: Think about the aspects of these areas that cause stress and consider some ways you might address that stress.
- • Devise self-care strategies: Think about some activities that you can do that will help you feel better in each of these areas of your life. Spending time with friends or developing boundaries, for example, can be a way to build healthy social connections.
- • Take small steps: You don’t have to tackle everything all at once. Identify one small step you can take to begin caring for yourself better.
- • Schedule time to focus on your needs: Even when you feel like you don’t have time to squeeze in one more thing, make selfcare a priority. When you’re caring for all aspects of yourself, you’ll find that you are able to operate more effectively and efficiently.