The term Self Care is becoming a common phenomena with many of its own hashtags #selfcare #selfcaresaturday #selfcaresunday are just a few with plenty of more out there in the world of social media.
No doubt you would heard the term used before, but with all this talk of self care, what does it actually mean and how does it help people who want to look better and feel better about themselves?
I often share with my clients the importance of self care and why it’s necessary to incorporate it as part of a healthy lifestyle whenever it is possible, including those times where there seems to be barriers or challenges preventing you from practicing self care.
It can be particularly useful to those who are already struggling with mental health issues and find it difficult to identify when some of their own basic needs are not being met, no matter how small.
The act of practicing self care is about recognising what we need mentally, spiritually and physically before we reach the point of exhaustion. The idea is that it is something that you actively practice, to develop the skill of being able to notice and become self aware of what it is that we are lacking, and what it is that we need. The key is to recognise and identify what some of those needs are, paying attention to when your resources are depleted before it reaches the crucial stage of burnout.
Reaching the point of mental, emotional or physical exhaustion is not the point to start thinking about self care, it needs to become an integral way of life, before burnout sets in. Prevention is better than cure, so to speak.
"Saying yes to others shouldn't mean saying no to yourself"
Is self care indulgent?
When people think of self care they often relate it to being indulgent, selfish and perhaps quite narcissistic. We are not used to the idea of solely thinking about ourselves, without the negative belief that we are being selfish and self-centred. We are often told we need to think of the needs of others, we need to be there for other people, which of course also has great importance, but being there for others should not come at the expense of your own health or wellbeing. Saying yes to others should not mean saying no to yourself.
Self care is not all scented candles and bubble baths, if that’s your thing, then great, but the act of self care and paying attention to your wellbeing is much deeper than that. Making sure that you are emotionally, mentally and physically heathy is not self indulgent, but very necessary if we are to maintain healthy lifestyles, relationships and cope with the challenges of a busy lifestyle and a healthy work/life balance.
Self care and relationships
Self care is the action of taking care of ourselves so that we can continue to function and feel healthy within ourselves and within our relationships.
“You can’t pour from an empty cup,
you have to take care of yourself first”
The concept of taking care of yourself before you are equipped to take care of others is not a new concept. Think of anytime where you’ve boarded a plane, the inflight attendant will advise you that in case of an emergency and you need to use the provided oxygen mask, be sure to apply your own oxygen mask before attempting to help anybody else. Potentially, this could mean causing unintentional harm, not only to the other person as you attempt to help them, but you also cause potential risk to yourself. As the saying goes you cant pour from an empty cup, you have to take care of yourself first.
Identifying your self care needs within your relationships might mean becoming aware of the people that you have surrounding you. Pay attention to the energy that they bring and notice the impact that they have on your wellbeing.
Do they lift you up, make you feel inspired and valued, or do they drain you, criticise you and make you feel worthless?
If it is the latter, then perhaps identifying ways that you can protect yourself from this would be a healthier step in learning more about your personal boundaries within your relationships as an active practice of self care. This might feel difficult or a bit scary at first, but taking small steps to action your boundaries within certain relationships can be empowering and help to improve your self esteem.
Self Care and Self Critical Thinking
The act of self care also means paying attention to your own internal thoughts and inner dialogue.
Are you often self deprecating or self critical?
Do you often feel like you are not good enough or compare yourself to others?
Does everybody else seem to get it right where you always seem to get things wrong?
Self care means treating yourself with kindness and offering self compassion over unhealthy criticism, this includes developing the skills to silence your inner critic and recognising your strengths and triumphs when you do things well. Only focusing on your weaknesses or what you perceive as negative traits is harmful to your self esteem and inhibits you from feeling able to grow or develop in these or other areas. You can begin to notice some of these thoughts and get into the habitual practice of actively challenging your inner critic.
This process isn’t easy, and it takes time to be able to reprogram thoughts based on negative self beliefs, this is due to the way the brain automatically is drawn to remembering times of threat, rejection, or disappointment. It’s human nature to protect oneself from perceived threat, which is exactly where the root of remembering times of discomfort originate, it helps us to remember not to let ourselves let our guards down or put ourselves in a vulnerable position. At one time, this form of self preservation was a needed function for the human species, but now quite often it works against us.
We are often very harsh and critical if we think we do or say something wrong, our inner critic becomes our negative internal dialogue, adding meaning to hurtful thoughts that we would never dream of saying out loud to another person.
A good point of reference to be able to counterbalance this negative thought process would be to challenge these thoughts by asking yourself these questions: is it fair, is it kind, would I say this to a friend?
When you find the practice of self care challenging, often it is tied into your own feelings of self worth and whether or not you believe you deserve or are worthy of spending time that is solely dedicated to you and your wellbeing. This may relate to feelings of guilt, being a people pleaser or thinking you are undeserving of the love and kindness you give so freely to others.
If you work yourself to the point of exhaustion, the way you can start to recognise you’ve been pushing yourself to your limitation is when you notice yourself becoming more irritable, your stress and anxiety levels increase and your relationships begin to suffer.
When you are unable to practice self care it might be time to look at this in more detail and be curious. Why is self care so difficult at this time, is it a matter of finding enough time? Are finances causing an issue?
The ideas suggested here looks at free self care survival tips that include not having to spend any money, which might help in reframing your thoughts on your value and self worth. If anything, this shows self care doesn’t have to cost you a penny.
Can you really afford not to do this for yourself?
Therapist tip: Having self awareness of your needs or when you are feeling particularly stressed without criticism or judgment is a much healthier and mindful way to practice self care.
I’m Lizandra Leigertwood and I’m counsellor and psychotherapist in private practice in St Albans, Hertfordshire. I help people to build their confidence, self esteem and find their helpful inner voice. To arrange a consultation you can email me in confidence here.