Self care. It sounds so wishy-washy. Is it really a thing? Is it actually going to have a meaningful impact on my life? The answer is yes.
There are changes that you can make to your day-to-day that will result in a positive outcome.
Some ideas for self care are easier to implement than others but get yourself feeling as good as you can and all areas of your life will benefit from it.
OK then, but you ask, what is self-care and why should you even care about it? Read on to find out.
What is self-care and why should you care?
It might feel selfish focusing on yourself first and pouring energy into getting that right, but think of the airplane analogy – you can’t help anyone else if you are incapacitated yourself.
Being at your best means that you have the resources and compassion to give to others. At your worst, you may need more support from people and systems around you, which can in itself make you feel like a burden to others.
You may suffer from conditions that will always need extra care, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still feel your best in the circumstances. A content mind and body will make a tough situation easier to bear and those around you will want to be by your side.
You might wonder whether I am an authority to trust on the subject. In 2018 I was diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease or motor neuron disease. Overnight it changed my life completely, I could no longer view the normal as normal.
I felt incredibly lost, unwanted and of course unbelievably low. It took a lot of effort, with massive support from friends and those close to me, to bring light back into my life.
I now know I want to get the best out of the time I have left.
I tried and tested many different things to deal with what I have, and those that work most effectively (aside from medication to treat targeted aspects of the disease itself) are nurturing my body and mind, making sure that they are nourished and taken care of as best as is possible.
I know that self care works because it has helped me transform my life. In fact, I made a whole plan you can see here.
What does self care actually mean?
The WHO defines self-care as “‘… what people do for themselves to establish and maintain health, and to prevent and deal with illness. It is a broad concept encompassing hygiene (general and personal), nutrition (type and quality of food eaten), lifestyle (sporting activities, leisure etc), environmental factors (living conditions, social habits, etc.) socio-economic factors (income level, cultural beliefs, etc.) and self-medication.’
This shows how broad a term self care is. Self care sits on a spectrum, with healthy living at one end and major trauma at the other. Disease prevention makes up part of it too.
Healthy living includes daily choices, such as brushing your teeth or showering, to other lifestyle choices, like diet and exercise.
Next, come minor ailments, which can be self-managed or are minor enough not to need major medical intervention; for example sore throat, or administering a plaster.
Long-term and acute conditions come next, followed by major trauma. Major trauma would be compulsory psychiatric care or illnesses or accidents where the care is entirely in the hands of professionals.
The aim behind self care is to empower the individual so that they feel like they are managing their own life, as explained by the Global Self Care Federation.
In doing so individuals learn what works for them and what does not and it makes them more able to react quickly and seek out additional help when it is needed. This does put an element of ownership onto the person, but the benefit is that there is less of a strain on health systems and ultimately costs society less too.
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Why do people stop practicing self care?
As beneficial as self care is, people typically lose confidence in their own abilities quickly and will seek out help from a doctor within under a week. Reasons are usually:
• That they are not clear about how an illness should progress (should my cough really be lasting 3 weeks?)
• Perception of what is acceptable in terms of severity of symptoms
• Reassurance that nothing more serious is wrong
• Hoping for a cure through a prescription
In some cases, just seeing the doctor acts as a placebo, but this is obviously discouraged, as it uses up valuable time of the medical staff. Instead, communities put support systems in place to try to act as the front line before actual medical support is needed.
These would include providing information on illnesses, suggesting lifestyle choices to help improve well-being, signposting people to the right local services and outreach work to provide health advice in non-traditional settings such as restaurants, libraries and job centers.
The goal is to change behaviors by making people more self-assured and responsible for their own health.
Who is responsible for self care?
Care works best when it is propped up from many angles. It starts with the person themself, then help from friends and family, community support, professional medical expertise and everything in between.
It is good news that medical bodies are more and more backing the ideas for self care, however, a large industry from health foods and fitness fanatics, to crackpot cures have popped up, which should be vetted carefully before assuming they will be the solution to all your ills.
Being strong in body and mind gives you the ammunition to deal with external stresses thrown at us from the minute we wake to going to bed – rush hour traffic, a rude co-worker, project deadlines, concerns about a friend or family, and so on.
The 5 types of self care
As humans we are more than just flesh and bones. If we are watered and fed we may function, but we won’t feel well unless our mental, social, emotional and spiritual elements are nurtured, as well as the physical side.
Many see self care as a luxury, and it keeps dropping to the bottom of the priority list. It is clear there is a strong connection between the mind and the body.
How often do we hear stories of people suffering from backache as a result of stress? Just note how you get a headache when you feel under pressure. That is your body telling you that all is not right within.
Swallowing a couple of pain relief tablets will help in that moment, but don’t address the underlying causes. Self care is not a luxury, it is a necessity to keep things functioning properly.
Physical self care ideas include things like eating properly, exercising appropriately and sleeping sufficiently.
We are social creatures and meeting and talking to friends and family is important, and so social self care makes up another aspect. Humans have a need for physical contact, even if in these coronavirus times hugs and handshakes might now be a thing of the past.
Caring for another and listening to their problems will not only make them feel better but you will too.
With mental self care you make sure that your mind feels challenged and engaged. It is about feeling like you are of worth and learning how to say no so that you don’t become overburdened.
Many take comfort from belief in a higher being. Such spiritual self care brings deep fulfillment and meditation and prayer make up important aspects of this.
Emotional self care is about being able to deal with uncomfortable emotions, such as anger, anxiety or sadness and finding strategies to deal with them.
Being aware of other people’s actions and not letting your emotions be impacted by their behaviors (like feeling responsible for another person’s sadness and in turn feeling low yourself) is key. Knowing when to keep social media out of your life is vital too.
Create a self care plan that works for you
Understanding what self care is is the first step to implementing changes in your life that will give you a positive outcome. Many self care plans don’t work because they ask too much of you, require too many major changes to your lifestyle.
Instead, you want something that easily falls in line with your usual pattern. Have a read of my article about creating a self care plan that you will actually use.
Getting financial support
Depending on the severity of your disability or illness, you may need more resources, equipment or carers to help with your day-to-day needs.
This became quite apparent once I was diagnosed and none of it comes cheap.
The restrictions put in place as a result of coronavirus have reduced the support I was previously entitled to, as well as impacting my business. You too may be suffering from a similar predicament.
If you need financial help a good idea is to carry out a crowdfunding campaign. Have a read of how to set up a successful GoFundMe page and see whether that is something that might suit you too.
Having been through the shock of finding out I have a terrible illness to live with for the rest of my life, I know the value in self care. If you have any further questions or need help with your self care plan, please do get in touch.
Now, tell me in the comments below, do you have a self care plan?