Self-care: what it means, the benefits and how to start

Most of us have so many responsibilities that we forget to take care of ourselves. Setting aside the time for self-care and we could all use more of it, is critically important to your health; especially since we're feeling just as anxious than ever. Almost half of us — 45% to be exact — report lying awake at night due to stress, according to a 2018 American Psychological Association survey. 

So, what exactly is self-care?

With all the buzz surrounding self-care, it's easy to forget what it actually means to practice self-care. It’s important that you allow yourself time to rest and recharge. And it’s not unusual to hear that women don’t even know what it means to practice self-care; it can feel foreign.

Self-care is quite simply defined as the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one's own health. It can be more simply defined as anything you to do be good to yourself.  It’s also helpful to know what self-care isn’t. Many women confuse self-care with being selfish. Especially for women who often define themselves as caregivers, we are notorious for putting our own needs aside to care for others. But taking care of oneself isn’t selfish at all. When you take care of yourself you function at your best, which in turns means more to give to every aspect of your life.

Why is self-care important?

When we don’t take care of ourselves, we’re more likely to feel fatigued and experience physical symptoms.   We are also less able to handle the stresses that come our way.  Taking time out to maintain self-care has both physical and emotional health benefits.

There is evidence that most self-care activities activate your parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). What this means is that your body goes into a restful, rejuvenating mode, helping it to fortify its immune system. So, with better self-care often comes fewer colds, upset stomachs, and long-term disease.

When it comes to emotional health, people who neglect their own needs are at danger of deeper levels of unhappiness, low self-esteem, and feelings of resentment.  Having a well-cared-for body can make you feel good about yourself and your life, contributing to long-term feelings of wellbeing.

How to practice self-care

There’s a misconception that self-care is something we have to spend money on.  Many forms of self-care are free or nearly free. There are so many different ways to practice self-care.  Some simple examples of self-care are the folloowing:

Taking a bath can help you take a break from stress and make you feel like you are taking a mental and emotional vacation. Giving your body some special treatment, in any form, from a bath, to a massage, to a manicure, is a natural way to relieve stress.

Meditating or sitting in stillness Having time alone is important. When you’re relaxing by yourself, it’s easier to slip into a state of quiet meditation, enjoy some self-reflection, and let your problems work themselves out in your mind. Stress is a major cause of disease. Those who meditate reduced the likelihood of being hospitalized for coronary disease by 87 percent, and the possibility of getting cancer by 55 percent.  People who meditate also have reported more energy, higher productivity and more patience. 1

Go for a long walk and be in nature and be outdoors  Pay attention to your surroundings, recognizing the birds that are chirping, flowers in your path, and the sun beaming down. This form of sensory self-care is proven to calm your mind.  When you are able to tune into the details of the sensations all around you, it’s easier to live in the present moment. And when you’re in the present, you can more effectively let go of resentments related to the past or anxieties about the future.

Keep a daily journal When it comes to your emotional health, one of the best self-care tips is to make sure you fully engage with your emotions. When you face them head-on, this actually helps with stress.

In addition to the above, self-care involving healthy lifestyle choices are important, too. Consuming a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, and getting enough sleep are all important for long-term health and stress management as well.

Take the first step

Make a commitment that each day you will practice one act of self-care. Start with one new commitment a day, and stick to it for a month. Soon, through practicing one self-care act each day, you will start to feel the many benefits of a self-care practice.