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Getting started with self-care

Updated: Aug 24, 2022

Self-care has become something of a buzzword in recent times. It’s often seen as a luxury and can feel as though it only counts when it’s been added to an instagram story with colour co-ordinated candles, face mask and bath bomb!  The reality is very different with the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand stating that  “self-care is necessary” and should be viewed as a priority. But with many people misunderstanding what self-care is, how can we include more of it into our daily lives?

A great place to start is understanding what self-care is and what it is not. Self-care isn’t selfish. Self-care is about recognising our needs and taking care of ourselves so that we can better support and care for our loved ones too. There are five types of self-care that fall under the following headings: physical, social, mental, spiritual and emotional. However, there are many negative stereotypes that are associated with that can get in the way of people actively practicing effective and productive self-care. 

Self-care isn't about treats or pampering 

On occasion self-care may take the form of buying yourself something or booking in a pamper appointment but the reality is that self-care, the majority of the time, is about simpler acts for yourself. It’s the things you might put off like going to the dentist or replacing the shoes you’ve owned for a few months that are actually hurting your feet. Or perhaps facing up to your laziness to do what is best for your body like spending some of your lunch break walking to the park round the corner to eat rather than sitting at your desk. Or setting an alarm on your phone to go to bed rather than watching Netflix till the early morning. 

Self-care is letting others into your world

Many people hold the opinion that self-care is something you do alone, in private. Now whilst this may be true for some acts of self-care, more often than not self-care is social. As someone who identifies as an introvert, this can feel challenging but reaching out to trusted others when under stress has become part of my self-care repertoire. Touching base with important people, whether you’ve seen them recently or not, or seeing a close friend face to face. Letting others into your world just a little bit can improve so many aspects of your well being. 

Self-care depends on the situation.

Self-care is not as simple as a list of behaviours. Deciding what is the self-caring act for yourself can differ from moment to moment. An example that highlights this is when I needed to get a new passport photo taken. I wanted the photo to look good, being that it would be years before a new one would be needed. But it was also the job that wouldn’t go away. So what is the best self-care action to take? I could say to myself a good photo is important, I should make the time to sort myself, head to a photo booth, and pick the photo I’m happy with. Or I could say to myself I just need to get this off my list, I can stop by the post office on my way home from work and get someone else to take it and it’s done. Neither of these are more self-caring than the other. Self-care is about having the self-awareness and flexibility to make the best choice for yourself in that moment. So, for me, the mental freedom of removing the nagging job of getting my passport photo taken was more pressing for me over taking the time to get the “best photo” of myself. 

Check in with yourself

Once we have an understanding of what self care is and isn’t it’s time to check in with yourself to see how you are caring for yourself. Here are some questions, considering the five types of self-care, to help your thinking of how to practice some positive self-care in your life:

  • Physical 

Are you getting enough sleep? How much sleep does your body need? Are you moving each day? Are you fueling your body appropriately? Are you in charge of your health? 

  • Social 

How often do you see your friends face to face? What do you do with your friends and family that nurtures the relationship?

  • Mental 

Are you proactively doing things to help you stay mentally healthy? Are you making enough time for activities that mentally stimulate you?

  • Spiritual 

What questions do you ask yourself about your life and experience? Are you engaging in spiritual practices that you find enriching? 

  • Emotional 

Do you incorporate activities into your life that help you feel recharged? Do you have healthy ways to process your emotions?

Considering the questions above, make a list of the things you no longer want to be doing in your day to day life. This might be not scrolling through TikTok before bed or going for a walk after work to move your body more regularly. Next, think of the barriers you might face. What might stop you from making the change? Maybe you want to stop eating dinner in front of the TV but the barrier is that you don’t have a table to sit at or the table you do have has your work from home resources on it. No worries. Make your plan: turn the TV off while sorting dinner; don’t turn it on again until the meal is finished. Self care needs to be actively planned. Hold yourself to account: put it in your calendar, tell someone outloud, attach your plan to the fridge, write a reminder on the TV “turn off for dinner!”. Increasing your commitment in this way will support you to actively participate in self-care.

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