We know that self-care is defined as, “the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one’s own physical and mental health”.
However, it’s important to note that the meanings and routines surrounding self-care can look very different for each individual.
Exploring the concept of self-care
If you haven’t already, I invite you to think for a second about what self-care means to you. What strategies do you use in your daily life to preserve your mental and physical health?
Something that often happens when I begin to talk about self-care with my clients, is that they identify ‘self-care’ as rituals or activities that are actually not relatable to them or are costly or time-consuming, such as getting facials, booking massages, going on holiday or out for dinner. For people who are busy or on a tight budget, it can feel like self-care is only for people with lots of time and lots of money!
But actually, the concept of self-care has been around since the 1950s! It was originally used in the medical community to help patients cultivate a sense of self-worth, and in the 1960s was popularized by political activists like the Black Panthers in America and the feminist movement worldwide.
Self-care as a concept in the mainstream comes from a place of radical self-acceptance in the face of an oppressive culture.
American writer and civil rights activist once said, “caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
This quote just shows us that self-care is a revolutionary thing, it’s about looking after your own wellbeing and ensuring your own survival.
Why is self-care so important?
When you are fully nurtured and supported, you are able to nurture and support others. It’s like the oxygen mask principle:
We need to be able to breathe first! You have to be full and energised in order to help others.
Whether you are parenting children, looking after elderly relatives or grandparents, looking after a team, or a classroom of children, you will notice that you can do this more effectively when you are rested, energised, and nurtured.
Your unique self-care battery
One of the reasons self-care is so important is because it increases our energy levels and increases our personal mental health resources.
Think of your mind like a phone battery. If we don’t charge it regularly with self-care, it gets low.
Then, if something happens which takes a lot of energy (like if someone we love is hospitalised or we have a sudden intense time at work) we suddenly find ourselves depleted entirely. Then we find ourselves in a position where we can’t lift others up and help others – because we haven’t recharged our battery or fitted our own oxygen mask.
Different things deplete our battery and self-care recharges it – here’s an example of what that might look like:
When we know what our self-care recharge activities are and when we know what our self-care depleting activities are, we can use that knowledge to take steps toward improving our self-care and ensuring that we always have a charged battery when we need it!
Self-care and communication
In a way, self-care is all about keeping an open and honest dialogue with both ourselves and the people around us. This means checking in with yourself by asking questions like, “how am I really feeling today” and “what do I need”. It also means communicating those needs to those around us – for example by setting boundaries, saying “no”, and asking for help when we need it.
In light of this year’s International Weekend of Self-Care campaign theme of “Let’s Talk”, here is my T.A.L.K. acronym to help you improve on your self-care.
T – Think about your needs
Oftentimes when we are low on self-care and our battery is low, it’s because we are focusing too much on the people around us. We’re not taking that time to check in with our own feelings and wellbeing.
When we do check in, we might notice that we’ve fallen into a negative thought cycle and what we need to do is challenge that with some positive thoughts. We need to take time to check in with our thoughts and needs because if we don’t know what we need, then we can’t recharge our battery.
I call this “checking your battery”. It’s a conversation we have with ourselves to understand our own wellbeing. Have a look at the battery above – these are some of the questions we need to ask ourselves when checking our battery and some of the actions we might need to take.
A – Ask for what you need
Once we’ve thought about it and we know our needs, we need to be prepared to ask for them to be met. This is part of taking action to re-charge our battery. Make sure you are asking those around you for help, support, advice, encouragement. Whatever you need, ask for it.
People can always say NO and that’s alright, but asserting your own needs and recognising that you need time to recharge is an important part of building boundaries in your life with your family, friends and colleagues.
L – Listen to your body
If you’re tired, take a break. If you are thirsty, take a drink. If you are hungry, grab a nutritious snack. Pause every hour and check in with what your body needs to function at its best.
When our self-care battery is low, our bodies often suffer. We might struggle with sleep, we might feel depressed or low, we might have trouble with our appetite and physical self-care like eating well and moving our body falls to the side. Listen to your body and give it what it needs. The more you listen, the more you will be able to anticipate your body’s needs in advance.
K – Kindness
Treat yourself with kindness and compassion. Just like you’d treat a friend.
It’s really easy to fall into a narrative of ‘should’ when it comes to our wellbeing. “I should feel fine,” or “I should be able to cope,” or “I shouldn’t be so tired.” That’s when it’s really important to remember that oxygen mask. You wouldn’t scold someone who couldn’t breathe, you would encourage them to use the oxygen mask!
Self-care is not an indulgence, it’s necessary and when we treat self-care like it’s something non-essential, then we aren’t treating ourselves with the kindness we deserve.
About The Lily-Jo Project’s International Weekend of Self-Care
This blog article is a part of The Lily-Jo Project’s International Weekend of Self-Care campaign which takes place every year in August. To learn more about this campaign and access additional self-care resources, visit www.thelilyjoproject.com/internationalweekendofselfcare.
Further Resources on Self-Care
If you found this article helpful, check out these additional resources and support.
- The Lily-Jo Project’s article, How to Self-Care: Lily-Jo’s Story
- The Lily-Jo Project’s article, How to Self-Care When Battling Anxiety: Mari’s Story
- The Lily-Jo Project’s article, How to Self-Care When Battling Depression: Alexis’ Story
About the Author: Lily-Jo
Lily-Jo is a qualified counsellor, counselling supervisor, and senior coach at Unstoppable Life Coaching. She is also the founder of mental health organisation, The Lily-Jo Project, which specialises in online digital wellbeing resources for children, teens and adults of all ages.