Self-care is more than just pampering. It has scientific benefits that help you live a longer, healthier life.
- Posted on Feb 10, 2019
Do you take care of yourself?
It seems like a simple question with an automatic answer. Many of us would say, “Yes, of course.” But what if the follow-up question was, “How? What do you to make sure your needs are being met?”
At its core, that’s what self-care is.
You’ve probably come across the word while reading your favorite glossy lifestyle mag or browsing a popular healthy living blog but for so many people, defining self-care, and actually practicing it, are difficult things to do. Maybe that’s because society has taught us that success is synonymous with happiness, maybe that’s because you were raised to think of others before yourself. Whatever the reason, self-care is something that’s fallen by the wayside for many of us. Fortunately, we’re finally cluing into the positive benefits of looking after ourselves.
It might be easier to first define what self-care is not. Self-care is not selfishness.
"Many women confuse self-care with being selfish — that somehow taking care of ourselves is self-involvement or a selfish act instead of a self-respectful act," Helen L. Coons, a clinical health psychologist at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Aurora, Colorado tells Good Housekeeping. "Self-care is one’s action is around our physical, emotional, relational, perhaps professional, educational, and, for some people, spiritual well-being that reflects the way that we take care of ourselves on the most fundamental levels."
Self-care is, simply, looking out for your own needs. It’s tuning into the important things in your life, trying to focus on what makes you happy, what brings you stress and adjusting your habits accordingly. Practicing self-care enables you to live a more fully-realized life, to appreciate the gifts you’ve been given, to make room for others. In a sense, self-care is inherently unselfish. By identifying your values, your abilities, and your limitations, you become better equipped to support others.
Self-care isn’t just a perk we wish we could afford, it has proven scientific benefits. Being described as a “hard worker” is often thought of as a compliment, but science has proven that overworking yourself leads to all kinds of health problems including exhaustion, anxiety, depression and heart disease. Stretching yourself too thin, forgetting to address your own needs, often leads to a downtick in your emotional well-being which can affect your relationships, and interferes with your moods and your thought patterns.
“The reality is, without taking some time to engage in self-care, you’re burning the candle at both ends. The research is clear: the human brain and body cannot stay focused, productive and effective without taking breaks to recharge,” Clinical psychologist Dr. Chris Friesen tells NBC News.
People who allow themselves breaks throughout the day to recharge, who carve out time to spend by themselves, who dedicate even 15 minutes to doing something they want to do solely for their benefit, are better able to think, communicate, and perform in multiple areas of their lives. The bottom line: self-care makes you a more well-rounded, healthy individual.
This is often where the confusion comes in. Self-care is just that, it’s specific to oneself. What makes one person relaxed or happy might not be the same for another. The best way to practice self-care is to identify what brings you joy and set aside time for pursuing it. For some, that means a relaxing massage, an appointment at the salon, a day at the beach, an hour reading your favorite book, a midday nap. For others, it might be a fishing trip, a yoga class, a meditation time, a bike ride in the park. Big or small, whatever activity brings a sense of peace to your hectic day is worth doing and doing often.
Of course, there are plenty of self-care habits that apply to all of us. Eating healthy is a form of self-care. You’re signaling to yourself that, despite lack of time and a busy schedule, you’re invested in nourishing your body. Getting plenty of sleep is another universal form of self-care. According to the American Psychological Association, most Americans would be happier, healthier, and safer if they were to sleep an extra 60 to 90 minutes per night. Gifting your body time to recharge, and your mind to renew itself is one of the easier self-care steps we can all take.
But whatever kind of self-care speaks to you remember, it’s an active decision. You must make time for yourself and to do that, you must fight past obstacles that might stand in your way. For many, that’s guilt. We’ve simply not been taught to think of ourselves first, but by doing so, we’re ultimately better prepared to serve others. Another hurdle is time. We live in a fast-paced world that demands we keep up, but life is also meant to be enjoyed. That’s what self-care can truly teach us. How to enjoy each moment and make the most of it.