Once seen as just about taking care of your physical health, such as eating well and exercising, self care is now viewed in a much more holistic manner.
Not only is there your physical health to take care of, but also your mental health, emotional health, and spiritual health.
Really, you can practise self care in any area of your life where you make decisions that affect you, whether that is your career, family life, finances, social life, or leisure time.
It’s now also recognised that self care is far from selfish. On the contrary. How can you help others if you are an empty vessel? The more you take care of yourself, the more energy and focus you can offer others.
Depression does, of course, affect our capacity to keep up routines.But if your self care routine is very strong when you are well, even if it goes to half mast when you are down it will act like a support system to keep you going. This might mean you are depressed for a shorter period of time.
What do the studies say about self-care?
Studies are increasingly positive about the effects of self-care on mood and psychological wellbeing.
What about spiritual self care? Having a spiritual path, whether that is participating in a religion, practising mindfulness, or having your own form of feeling interconnected, was already shown in a 2011 study to lower the chance of depression. Offspring of depressed parents were monitored over ten years, and those with a spiritual life had an impressive 90% decreased risk.
And recent research now links having a spiritual life to a thickening of the brain cortex, known to guard against depression.
As for emotional self care, being kind to yourself has been proven to help even when times are tough. For example, a study at the University of Arizona showed that divorcees fared better after their marriage fell apart if they chose to be kind to themselves about it.
Great ways to up your self care
So you are making good choices in your life – you take time to exercise weekly, you follow good nutritional guidelines, you spend time with your family, and you have an active social life. Is that all there is to it?
The new self care is about much more than playing by the rules and looking good – it means that you make choices that work for you, whether or not they work for those around you.
It means being authentic to who you are, not living up to other people’s standards.
So self care becomes a process of constantly checking in with yourself and asking yourself how something makes you feel, and if it is really what you want.
If you find knowing how you think and feel difficult, don’t panic. Read our piece on How to Listen to Yourself, and consider taking up the practise of mindfulness, which trains you to become more aware of your thoughts and emotions.
[For a detailed run down of using self care to improve your psychological health, read our comprehensive Guide to Self Care].
Questions You Can Ask Yourself to Up Your Self Care
It can be fruitful to take time every few months (or more) to look at each area of your life separately and ask yourself questions about your level of self care. Here are some to get you started.
Do the people in my life treat me with respect and make me feel supported?
Are there any people who I have outgrown I need to let go of?