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.
[For a comprehensive overview, see our Guide to Self Care for Psychological Wellbeing].
Self Care and Psychological Health – Why Does it Matter?
Low self-esteem is so connected to depression, they often come hand-in-hand.
Self care, on the other hand, builds both esteem and self compassion. Every positive choice you make sends a message to your unconscious that you are worth respect and care.
Even if you do get depressed, a steady routine of self-care can mean you fare better when the ‘black dog’ does hit. Exercise has now been proven to help with depression, and healthy foods are linked to better emotional wellbeing. A weekly social or spiritual commitment that leaves you feeling connected to others can help you avoid the loneliness that also aids depression to settle in.
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.
Exercise has now been found to be as effective for treating depression as antidepressants, according to a study done at America’s National Institute for health.
As for eating well, research increasingly shows a connection between the gut and the brain. A healthy gut is connected to a lower risk of depressive disorder, and while the solution is not as simple as eating well, a good diet does contribute to a better stomach.
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?
- Am I maintaining proper boundaries around those I love?
- Are there people it makes me happy to be around I could work to spend more time with?
- Do I feel that my talents are being used? How could I use them more?
- Am I being challenged to learn new skills?
- Do I feel recognised for my work? How could I ask for more recognition in a constructive way?
- Is there a training course I’d like to take?
- Am I keeping track of where my money is going?
- Am I on top of my debts and expenses?
- Am I using shopping as a way to feel better, and if so, is there a more healthy way I could reward myself?
- If I am in debt, am I using tactics to not let debt bring me down emotionally?
- Am I investing my money wisely?
- Could I use help managing my finances? Who could I ask?
- Do I have a good work/life balance that means I see my family enough?
- Are there conversations I could have with family members that would bring me peace?
Am I setting healthy boundaries with my family and remembering to take time for me?
- Do I feel supported by my family? How could I ask for more support if not?
Social Life and Leisure
- Do I book time in my calendar each week to relax?
Are the hobbies I am doing ones I like, or ones my friends or partner likes?
- Is there any hobby I’ve always wanted to try that I could make a small step towards doing?
- When did I last take a proper vacation? Was it a vacation that suited me?
- Do I have good parameters where I turn off from work and properly relax?
- Am I feeling connected to the world around me lately? If not, what would make me feel more connected?
- Do I have a sense of spirituality I feel comfortable with?
- Do I make choices that cultivate a sense of inner peace?
Do you have any questions you ask yourself to make sure you are taking good care of yourself? Why not share below?