- Self-care can be divided into several categories: emotional, mental, physical, social, spiritual, and practical.
- Emotional self-care focuses on how we attend to our feelings. This attention can include connection and processing of information regarding our feelings.
- Intellectual/mental self-care focuses on the mind. This mental process can include thinking, learning, curiosity, and creativity.
- Physical self-care focuses on the body. This includes one’s physique and bodily attributes.
- Social self-care focuses on one’s relationship with others. This interaction can include attention, a sense of belonging, intimacy, nurture, guidance, safety, and physical touch.
- Spiritual self-care focuses on one’s sensitivity to things related to their nonphysical characteristics (i.e., spirit or soul) that influence a person’s identity.
- Finally, practical self-care focuses on tangible situations. These real-life situations require a common-sense solution to everyday problems.
Self-care refers to a routine of behaviors a person performs, on their own with the intention to maintain and improve their own health.
Because self-care is inherently unique to a person, it is difficult to say what will work for each. For that reason, I have delineated some of the most common forms of self-care and ways one can attend to their own self-care.
Emotional self-care focuses on how we attend to our feelings. This attention can include connection and processing of information regarding our feelings.
Emotional self-care benefits us through an overall improved quality of life through emotional regulation, self-love, and self-discovery. Here are a few activities that help to promote emotional self-care:
1. Thought recording.
How: Note events that trigger a stressful response, observe the thoughts that immediately follow, and find proof (evidence) to support or disprove the accuracy of the thought. This can include journaling, structured conversations, or recording yourself talking.
Why: Thought recording helps one to identify unhelpful thoughts or beliefs, refute them and change them so that they are balanced and reasonable.
2. The practice of self-compassion.
How: Take a noncritical position to your perceived areas of weakness or inadequacies. This can include self-forgiveness, acceptance, and positive self-talk.
Why: Self-criticism can contribute to a bad mood and unproductive behaviors. Self-compassion helps buffers the emotional implication of one’s shortcoming or failure.
3. Values clarification.
How: Be aware of your morals and ethics. This can include identifying what is important to you, reflecting on factors that affect decision-making, and exploring what you have identified to be “right or wrong” or “good or bad.”
Why: Our values heavily influence our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. We make decisions based on what is important to us. Those decisions have consequences and sometimes can undermine the things that we value more. Being clear about what is important to you and making an informed decision can help reduce feelings of guilt.
Intellectual/mental self-care focuses on the mind. This mental process can include thinking, learning, curiosity, and creativity.
Intellectual/mental self-care benefits us by helping with a sense of feeling competent or masterful in an area. It can also foster a sense of accomplishment or feeling as though we’re making progress toward our goal. Here are a few activities that promote intellectual/mental self-care:
1. Digital detox.
How: Participate in activities that lower your tolerance for stimulation and create opportunities for awareness and readiness. This can include refraining from social media, TV (movies, Netflix, youtube, etc.), or reading more.
Why: We can become addicted to and dependent on stimulation. This can take the form of impulsive behaviors with a high likelihood for consequence to satisfy that urge, (shopping, sex, eating). Digital detox is intended to help one realign with their reality and create distance from one filled with mistaken expectations and misinformed expressions.
How: By learning to perform complex movements or sequences of responses quickly. This can include social skills, problem-solving skills, or time management skills.
Why: Skill acquisition assists with efficiency, proficiency, and adaptability. When one is able to learn a skill they can do things well and quickly, this helps create more time. When you are proficient, or really good at something you are more likely to feel valuable and useful. When one has the privilege of time and the ability to navigate life’s inevitable problems, they are more likely to experience positive feelings such as that of security, autonomy, and confidence.
3. Stress management.
How: Identify a balance that would help you reduce stress and relieve the pressure associated with overwhelming demands and limited access to help. This can include saying no to more things, asking for help, and practicing relaxation techniques.
Why: Stress negatively affects every part of your life from your physical health (heart, blood sugar, sleep and digestion) to your ability to interact with others (irritability, withdrawal, libido).
Physical self-care focuses on the body. This includes one’s physique and bodily attributes.
Physical self-care benefits us through the management and regulation of body conditions but also the relief and prevention of certain mental health conditions. Physical self-care helps promote quality sleep. Here are a few activities that promote physical self-care:
1. Physical activity.
How: Promote and regulate overall cardiovascular wellness and provide oxygenated blood to vital areas. This can include dancing, weight lifting, and a brisk walk.
Why: Physical activity has short- and long-term benefits. It helps manage mood, weight, pain, health conditions, and energy levels
How: Eat healthy balanced meals throughout the day and drink plenty of water. Aim for foods that are gut-friendly such as whole foods like fruits, vegetables, fish, eggs, nuts, legumes, yogurt, and avocado. Also, avoid foods that are highly processed and high in sugar or fats.
Why: Foods can affect our overall mood. Bacteria in the gut can affect the production of serotonin and dopamine that help us regulate our reaction to events
How: Sleep occurs through a circadian state of suspension of consciousness, muscle inhibition, and a nonreaction to stimulation. This can be facilitated through relaxation; a cool, dark, and quiet environment; heavy blanket; and soft instrumental music or white noise.
Why: Sleep is necessary for physical and emotional development. This can include recovering from injury, reducing inflammation, regulating mood, improving focus, managing weight, and reducing stress.
Social self-care focuses on one’s relationship with others. This interaction can include attention, a sense of belonging, intimacy, nurture, guidance, safety, and physical touch.
Social self-care benefits us through improved quality relationships and outlets for playful, sexual, and/or intimate expressions. It can also contribute to increased feelings in safety and security. Here are a few activities that promote social self-care:
1. Identifying boundaries.
How: Set realistic limits and expectations of what is involved with one’s participation. This can include identifying what is not allowed, clearly communicating it to others, and reinforcing the boundary.
Why: Boundaries help with awareness of one’s personal limits and protect the time, energy, and integrity of a relationship.
2. Prioritizing helpful relationships.
How: Intentionally increase association with individuals who have some degree of positive influence on your thoughts, feelings, or actions. This can include reserving time to do things you enjoy with friends, disclosing inner conflicts to a confidante, or going on a date with your significant other.
Why: One of the greatest factors for experiencing happiness in life is the social connections we form. Conversely, an unhappy life can be one filled with miseducated influences, loneliness, and extensive time with a person that you just don’t like.
3. Creating new comfort zones.
How: Increase involvement in new positive social situations through exposure and persistence until it becomes a pleasant place of relaxation and free from worry and suffering. This can include trying something you’ve always wanted to do but felt unsure of, taking a class of interest at the library or community college, or forming relationships with people different than you.
Why: New comfort zones promote growth, resilience, and adaptability. When you create or expand your comfort zones it might challenge what you believed to be true about yourself, your belief system, and your perceived limitations. For that reason, self-confidence is a natural byproduct of successfully creating those zones.
Spiritual self-care focuses on one’s sensitivity to things related to their nonphysical characteristics (i.e., spirit or soul) that influence a person’s identity.
Spiritual self-care benefits us through an increased sense of peace and calm. It promotes a deeper connection with a higher power and others as well as creating stillness for intuition. Here are a few activities that promote spiritual self-care:
1. Creating rituals.
How: Combine routine with intention or purpose. This can include mindfulness, awareness of areas for emotional, mental, or physical development, and identifying support
Why: If you know why you’re doing what you are doing and create a routine of events around it your actions are intentional and you are likely to feel secure and fulfilled. When your actions are unintentional (ie going through the motions) you may experience a lack of purpose resulting in feeling unfulfilled.
2. Connecting with nature.
How: Focus, appreciate, and interact with natural tangible earthly products. The goal is to shift your focus from your inner thoughts to a neutral physical environment. This can include watching a sunrise or sunset, camping/boating, or taking your dog to a new pet-friendly location.
Why: When you connect with nature it provides an alternative environment that helps with disengaging from a distressing internal environment wrought with uncomfortable thoughts or feelings, and connecting with that quasi-mystical experience of insight or perception (not conscious reasoning).
3. Promoting gratitude.
How: Practice gratitude by moving your focus to the positive aspect of life through increased recognition of fortunate happenstance. This can include a gratitude journal, telling someone something you appreciate about them, or taking time out to identify 5 things that have gone in your favor.
Why: It’s in our nature to give disproportionate attention to the negative. There are times that impulse can be life-saving and other times it can woefully distort one’s view of the world. The act of intentionally identifying the positive helps balance our natural instinct to identify threats giving us the best chance at forming a balanced perspective on reality.
Practical self-care focuses on tangible situations. These real-life situations require a common-sense solution to everyday problems.
Practical self-care benefits us through stress management, skill acquisition, increased feelings of security, and increased productivity. Here are a few activities that promote practical self-care:
1. Developing a financial plan.
How: Identify financial goals and create a strategy to achieve your financial objectives. This can include, budgeting, saving, and investing
Why: When one lives in a society that values consumerism, it favors and rewards those that possess more material wealth. When you don’t feel as though you can participate in that society, it promotes feelings of loneliness and exclusion. By having an awareness of one’s current status and capitalizing on their earning potential it can encourage feelings of economic mobility through society and increase feelings of security by increasing feelings of preparedness for crisis response.
2. Creating and updating plans (ie. emergency plans or wills).
How: Prepare intentional actions for a potentially consequential future occurrence. This can include creating a prenuptial agreement, will and last testament, and emergency plans.
Why: The nature of a plan is to guide. When a catastrophe occurs emotions generally become more intense and it is difficult to think critically. A plan helps decrease feelings of uncertainty by creating a guide when times are calm to help anticipate and address the issue in a structured and resourceful manner.
3. Organizing your area.
How: Create structure and order. This can occur through setting goals, deadlines, and decluttering.
Why: Your physical environment greatly affects your mental and emotional environment. When you organize your area you help increase feelings of peace and productivity and decrease shame and stress.
Self-care is a topic that is heavily covered and runs the risk of being redefined by well-intended but misinformed sources or profit-driven agencies. Self-care isn’t something that you can buy online or at the store nor is it something that someone can give to you. Self-care is internally motivated and individually sustained.
Support is very helpful but what takes priority is intentionality, focus, and discipline. Try to limit your self-care options to: “Do I want to do it comfortably or uncomfortably rather than doing it or not?” This helps eliminate a popular but less dependable emotion — “feeling like it” as an option.
Be compassionate with yourself when you stray from your purpose and, when ready, gently realign your behaviors to things that improve your overall well-being!