Self-care refers to those regular activities and practices that help to maintain and enhance our own short and longer term health and wellbeing, both physically and mentally.
How to Start Practising Self-Care
We can practice self-care anytime and anywhere.
However, it does make it easier if you have a flexible schedule, that has some wiggle room. When we get too busy, self-care tends to get overlooked!
Practising self-care shouldn’t be expensive and time-consuming. It doesn’t require buying a home gym or other expensive equipment, or signing up for a membership at a fitness or sport centre.
To promote your own self-care, requires identifying your own personal values, for example:
- being responsible;
- doing work that gives you a purpose;
- a focus on family.
The next step is to establish the goals and tasks that will help you in achieving your values.
Commit to doing something from your list of values for 30 minutes at a time, a few times a week, to support your long term wellbeing. For example, catching up with a friend, watching a movie, listening to music, playing sports, going out for a walk, gardening, and spending quality time with your loved one.
You can establish your own strategies to make sure these self-care activities happen, such as marking them in your diary.
The Difference between Self-Care and Self-Medicating
True self-care is about choosing the actions that will bring results, and are in line with your values.
Because you are committed to your health and wellbeing, you might choose to go for a remedial massage. A massage is a great way to become more relaxed and calm, and ease your mental stress. Physically, it helps to improve blood flow, release toxins, and regulate your hormone levels.
On the other hand, self-medicating is about using activities/things that you enjoy to avoid facing challenging or stressful situations – and they don’t help you work towards your goals.
Say for instance you have a verbal altercation with your co-worker. When you get home, you realise that you don’t have any of your favourite junk food in the pantry – so you go to the shop to get some, only to find they are out of stock. You feel angry and upset – until you return home and realise that there is one last packet in the cupboard after all! That makes you feel much happier.
This is ‘self-medicating’ – things which may bring temporary pleasure, but as a pattern of behaviour (turning to junk food when you’re annoyed or upset), it prevents you from being the person you want to be long term (eg a healthy weight).
People use all sorts of things to self-medicate – alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, retail therapy, porn, etc. While they might help you to feel better in the short-term, in the long-term, they distract and lead you away from the things that really matter to you.
A good habit to get into is to ask yourself:
- How is this activity helping me?
- Is it taking me away from something that is important to me?
- Is it simply a distraction or a way of running away from my responsibilities or goals?
The Link Between Self-Care and Mental Illness
If you are diagnosed with a physical illness, self-care – such as taking a day off to rest in bed, taking medicine – is important to help you recover.
If you are diagnosed with a psychological illness, your participation in your self-care also plays a crucial role in your recovery.
You can facilitate your own recovery, by choosing healthy lifestyle habits, such as getting plenty of sleep, regular exercise, and creating boundaries. If you never have time for yourself because you are preoccupied with responding to family members and other people, you need to say “No” sometimes.
Self-care is all about knowing what is best for you, and knowing what is best for you requires you to develop self-awareness. One way that you could do this is by keeping a journal of your thoughts and feelings. Exploring these in writing often brings greater insight and self-awareness. Or, set a reminder on your phone to check in on your mental state and feelings a couple of times a day.
An individual with mental health issues may sometimes struggle to perform day to day activities, etc. So in these cases, important acts of self-care could include:
- Keeping a clean and organised living space;
- Regularly maintaining personal hygiene;
- Making the choice to attend therapy, and taking prescribed medication;
- Being brave enough to say, “I don’t have all of the answers”, or “I need more support”.
Engaging in activities that promote your self-care will help you to be healthier, stronger and happier!
Author: Vishal Patel, M Social Work, AASW, AMHSW.
Vishal Patel is an Accredited Mental Health Social Worker, with significant experience in working with victims of trauma, abuse and violence. His area of interest includes addressing significant complex and challenging behaviours in children under the age of 12 years. He is able to provide therapy in English, Gujarati, Hindi and Urdu.
To make an appointment try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call M1 Psychology Brisbane on (07) 3067 9129.