What Is Self-Care and Why You Should Care
Engaging in a self-care routine has been clinically proven to reduce or eliminate anxiety & depression, reduce stress, improve focus, minimize frustration and anger, increase energy levels, improve moods and much more. Self-care is the practice of actively taking a role to protect and preserve one's health. Self-care encourages you to maintain a healthy relationship with yourself, keeping you in tune with your body. It also allows the ability to transmit positive feelings to others. You cannot give to others what you do not have yourself.
Self-care can be both pampering or active. For example, you may feel the need to do something nurturing like run a hot bath or gua sha. The next day you may be in need of something more active, like practicing the act of being mindful or assertive within your day. Keep reading to learn 7 reasons why self-care is important to your health.
1. Self-Care Helps You Perform Optimally
Self-care helps you maintain balance so you are able to perform your best when needed most. Balance doesn't have to equal a 50/50 split of your time, this will be different per person. What is for certain, most people will crash and burn performing worse on tasks when self-care is absent. Focus is one of the key pillars of success and self-care can help you regain it. When you step away and come back refreshed to your task, this brings a new perspective and drive.
The Pomodoro Technique is a great example of this. This technique was invented in the early 1990s by developer, entrepreneur, and author Francesco Cirillo. In summary, this popular time-management method goes as follows. Pick a task and work on it for 25 minutes, when the timer is up, take a 5-minute break. After four Pomodoros (25-minute work intervals), take a longer 15-30 minute break. During the break, some recommendations include going for a walk, stretching, doodling, being mindful, and drinking water. All wonderful examples of self-care.
2. Self-Care Helps Us Become More Aware Of Our Personal Needs
When you start prioritizing self-care you quickly learn more about yourself. This can be physically, mentally, and spiritually. You will have the opportunity to learn who you are right now in this moment as well as who you want to be in the future. Understanding your needs and wants is the first step to acting on your ambitions. This allows you to set goals and appreciate your achievements.
When you become more in tune with your body you also start to proactively help it. Maybe you stop tolerating the daily sharp pounding headaches with a bandaid fix of swallowing Advil. Instead, you make a plan to stay hydrated and add breathing techniques to your breaks. You may even get the reflex to automatically pinch the brows or massage the scalp instead of reaching for another pill.
3. Self-Care Proactively Relieves Stress From Life
Life is stressful. We all have a million things going on from our careers, family, friends, traffic, and maybe even that pile of laundry in the corner is causing you stress. It seems like it never ends and it never will. You will always have stress throughout your life but what will make you more resilient is knowing how to relive it. Stress doesn't seem so bad when a hot bath and meditation are a few hours away. After all, stress is a natural part of life and is necessary for our growth and survival.
Stress itself is unlikely to be fatal for most people, but prolonged exposure to stress can lead to mental and physical health problems that can be fatal. So the saying “stress kills” does have some truth. During times of stress, your body can release cortisol after releasing its “fight or flight” hormones, such as epinephrine (adrenaline), so you continue to stay on high alert. In addition, cortisol triggers the release of glucose (sugar) from your liver for fast energy during times of stress. Over time staying in this state of vigilance has damaging physiological consequences.
Prolonged stress is known to lead to increased heart rate, cardiovascular problems, breathing difficulties and high blood pressure. Self-care can help remove you from this sympathetic state and bring you back to your parasympathetic state of “rest and digest”.
4. Self-Care Maintains Overall Health & Wellness
You only feel as good on the outside as you do on the inside. Many examples of self-care involve exercise to maintain health & wellness. Exercise has been proven to help lower your risks of heart disease, diabetes, improve sleep, lower blood pressure, reduce symptoms of ADHD and even treat mental health disorders.
Findings released from the Survey on COVID-19 and Mental Health (SCMH) indicate that one in four (25%) Canadians aged 18 and older screened positive for symptoms of depression, anxiety or posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in spring 2021, up from one in five (21%) in fall 2020. With mental health on the rise, self-care has never been so important.
Research shows that taking up exercise reduces the risk of developing mental illnesses and may even help treat mental health disorders. Aerobic exercises, including jogging, swimming, cycling, walking, gardening, and dancing, have been proven to reduce anxiety and depression. "For some people, it works as well as antidepressants, although exercise alone isn't enough for someone with severe depression," says Dr. Michael Craig Miller, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.r. "In people who are depressed, neuroscientists have noticed that the hippocampus in the brain—the region that helps regulate mood—is smaller. Exercise supports nerve cell growth in the hippocampus, improving nerve cell connections, which helps relieve depression," Dr. Miller explains further.
It's difficult to break the cycle but Dr. Miller continues to motivate by reminding us getting up and moving just a little bit will help. "Start with five minutes a day of walking or any activity you enjoy. Soon, five minutes of activity will become 10, and 10 will become 15." When you accomplish even a small workout, you immediately feel the benefits. Increasing feelings of accomplishment can help with decision-making during the day and improve your outlook on life.
5. Self-Care Can Help Maintain Self-Confidence and Self-Esteem
People with high self-esteem and self-confidence value themselves. They understand sometimes putting themselves first is necessary to boost their inner strength. This strength brings confidence to take on the world and whatever life has given you.
Dr. Natalie Dattilo, a clinical psychologist and instructor at Harvard Medical School, explains the importance of self-esteem best, “It encompasses the way we think about ourselves, the way we talk to ourselves, the beliefs we have about what we are capable of, the ideas we have about our worth, and our sense of self-confidence and self-respect,”. She continues to say, “Without self-care, we compromise our mental wellness and our ability to cope with life’s inevitable curveballs.”
Taking on personal meaningful and fulfilling projects has also been proven to build your self-esteem and self-confidence. When you engage and complete projects and challenges that you can be proud of, this also leads to growth in self assurance. Actively working on your self confidence and esteem is one of the greatest things you can do for self care.
6. Self-Care Can Increase Mindfulness
Self-care can allow ourselves the opportunity to practice mindfulness. Actively being present with oneself and noticing the little things. One of the most beautiful things about self-care practices like self-massage, is noticing small but important changes in our body. Noticing progress allows us to appreciate the process and appreciate how far we've come. This goes the same when you are being mindful throughout your life. Maybe you notice the progress of a stiff neck or the improvement of a relationship. Being present and admiring what is right in front of you can be such a simple yet effective way to practice mindfulness.
This is why I have always loved the saying “Stop to smell the roses”. An act of appreciation by recognizing the beauty of life surrounding us. Parts of life that we often forget to notice but these daily moments that bring us joy and gratefulness are some of the most important moments in our daily lives.
Thich Nhat Hanh, author of The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation, has a famous quote about mindfulness. “People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don't even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child—our own two eyes. All is a miracle.”
7. Self-Care Allows You To Be Your Best Self For Others
As mentioned at the start, you cannot give to others what you do not have yourself. As Datillio states, one of the most important parts of self care is “Taking care of yourself and filling your own cup so you can be available to show up as your best self for the other people you are taking care of”. Everyone has people they love and care for that they want to help and support. Friends, family, co-workers, leaders, so on. The best way to help people is by supporting yourself first. This is why on airplanes once you've boarded, you get a message along the lines of “Should an emergency situation occur, put your own oxygen mask on first, before attempting to help those around you.”
It's natural to want to help others and also crucial when creating a caring community. While some may misconstrue self-care as selfish, we know it's far from that. Become your best version of yourself for you and the people you surround yourself with.
Fundamentally, self-care is a way to maintain balance so you can attend to all of your different needs to keep yourself going. In conclusion, make time to take that evening bath. Smile during the day. Drink more water. Go for a walk and smell the flowers. Admire your loved one for the small things. Don't take everything personally and practice not overthinking. It could possibly extend your life and most certainly improve the quality of it.