By Dr Paula Robertson
The Oxford Dictionary defines self-care as “the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness.”
Although a simple concept, it’s something we very often overlook. Effective self-care is important to reduce stress, reconnect with yourself and view problems as opportunities rather than obstacles. It’s also key to a good relationship with oneself and others.
Self-care is not only about considering our needs; it is rather about knowing what we need to do in order to take care of ourselves so we can take care of others as well. A good analogy is the golden rule of airplane emergency procedures – you need to put your own oxygen mask first, before you can tend to others. That is, if I don’t take enough care of myself, I won’t be in the place to give to my loved ones either
Here are some key principles of good self-care:
Stick to the basics. Over time you will find your own rhythm and routine, and be able to identify forms of self-care that work for you.
Self-care needs to be something you actively plan, rather than something that just happens. It is an active choice and you must treat it as such. Add certain activities to your calendar, announce your plans to others in order to increase your commitment, and actively look for opportunities to practice self-care.
Make conscious self-care choices. In other words if you don’t see something as self-care or don’t do something in order to take care of yourself, it won’t work as such. Be aware of what you do, why you do it, how it feels, and what the outcomes are.
Although self-care means different things to different people, there’s a basic checklist that can be followed by all of us:
• Create a “stop doing” list. This will include things you know don’t serve you well. Examples might include: not checking emails at night, not attending gatherings you don’t like, not answering your phone during lunch/dinner.
• Eat a nutritious, healthy and balanced diet.
• Get enough quality sleep. Younger children need between 10 to 12 hours a night, teens typically require between 8 to 10 hours and adults usually need 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night.
• Exercise regularly. Exercise is as good for both emotional and physical health. It increases serotonin levels, leading to improved mood and energy.
• Follow-up with medical care. Have regular routine check-ups with your doctor.
• Use relaxation exercises and/or practice meditation.
• Make time to spend with your loved ones and enjoy their company.
• Aim to do at least one relaxing activity every day, whether it’s taking a relaxing bath, listening to music or talking a walk.
• Try to do at least one pleasurable activity every day; from going to the cinema, to cooking or meeting with friends.
• Look for opportunities to laugh!
• Practise gratitude. At the end of the day, think about two to three things you are grateful for in your life.
Don’t forget: Good self-care takes practice, so be patient with yourself.