When many people hear the words "self-care," their minds immediately go to the extra luxuries they rarely have time for - a bubble bath, pedicure, or a weekend getaway. What many of us don't realize, however, is that self-care encompasses a whole lot more than just finding ways to relax.
Self-care is defined as 'the practice of taking an active role in protecting or improving one's own well-being and happiness.'1,2 Since we are all complex and multidimensional individuals, self-care too, falls into 5 specific facets: physical, social, mental, spiritual, and emotional. Research suggests that having an effective self-care routine is vital for building resilience towards the inevitable stressors we all face in life, and is associated with a multitude of health benefits.2
The tricky thing, however, is there is no one-size-fits-all 'effective self-care routine'. Everyone has varying levels of needs in each of the five facets and those needs may change across your lifespan.
In order to create your own personalized self-care plan for your current season of life, you should first assess your needs across the five types of self-care. Take a moment to consider the following:
Remember there is a strong connection between your body and your mind. When you are caring for your body well, you will think and feel better too!
- How am I fueling my body to meet my daily needs?
- How much sleep am I getting most nights?
- How much physical activity am I engaging in on a consistent basis?
- When was my last preventative doctor's visit?
Close connections are extremely valuable for our well-being. Unfortunately, our relationships are often the first thing we neglect when life gets hectic. Individual social needs can vary greatly, but the important thing is to be mindful of is intentionally scheduling opportunities to connect with others even when you think you're too busy.
- Do I feel connected to my community?
- Am I getting enough face-to-face time with friends to fill my social 'cup'?
- How am I investing in my closest relationships with friends and family?
Mental self-care involves keeping yourself mentally stimulated just as much as caring for your mental health.
- What activities do I engage in to stay mentally sharp?
- Do I pursue knowledge about new topics that fascinate me?
- Am I practicing self-compassion in my inner dialogue?
- Do I have access to mental health support if I felt I really needed it?
Research suggests a lifestyle that includes spirituality is correlated with a longer lifespan and healthier habits.2 While religion is the most common example, anything that helps you develop a deeper sense of meaning, understanding, and connection with the universe can fulfill your spiritual needs.
- Do I feel like I am part of something that is bigger than myself?
- Am I engaging in spiritual practices I find fulfilling? (Mediation, prayer, or escaping to nature are just a few examples.)
- How often am I attending religious services (if applicable)?
Emotional self-care includes activities that help you acknowledge and express your feelings regularly and safely.
- Do I have healthy coping mechanisms to deal with uncomfortable feelings like anger, anxiety, or sadness?
- Is there someone in my life I feel safe having deeper emotional conversations with?
- What leisure activities do I engage in to process my emotions independently?
After thinking through these questions, there were likely some categories where you felt contented in your answers, and perhaps others that elicited a more emotional response. Try to narrow it down to one or two of those categories, and take time to consider what specifically about those areas of your life cause you stress. Zeroing in on the what and why of your stressors can then serve as a helpful foundation for figuring out howyou can implement self-care strategies to combat them.
Remember, your self-care strategies do not need to be extravagant, they are simply meant to be something you can intentionally do (or stop doing!) to feel good and manage stress. For example, if you are feeling weighed down by the barrage of negativity that comes from the 24-hour news cycle, maybe you could call a friend to go for a walk where you could talk about your feelings. Or perhaps you could watch your favorite comedy in place of the 10 o'clock news to make sure your head is in a good space before it hits the pillow. You could even set a limit on your cell phone apps where you find yourself 'doom scrolling'.
The secrets are to start small and make it a priority. Even when you are feeling overwhelmed or like you don't have time to assess your needs and engage in self-care activities, that is probably when you need it most. Kind of like emergency oxygen masks, you will be more effective and efficient in all your life's pursuits if you keep making space for self-care in your daily routine.
Footnotes and Sources
1. Google.com, March 31, 2022
2. VeryWellMind.com, December 09, 2022