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What is Self-Care and Why is it Important For You?

Self-care refers to anything that you do to keep yourself mentally, emotionally, physically socially and spiritually healthy. If you don't practice self-care regularly, you're risking your well-being and inviting burnout.
A woman on her deck, practicing self-care by journaling.

While there is no unit of measurement for self-care, I personally like to compare it to calories, which are literally units of energy. That is, one calorie equals one unit of energy. Here, I see one unit of self-care as a unit of personal fulfillment. The more units of fulfillment one has, the higher their life satisfaction. Subsequently, individuals may find themselves more motivated, energized and purposed in their endeavors.

Though calories do give you energy, those alone are not enough to provide the type of fulfillment you're seeking. You must take time to not only appreciate your life but the positive impact you have on others. Regardless of intention, you cannot possibly keep going without having a strong foundation, which is built upon self-care. And, yes, healthy eating — which includes nutritious caloric consumption — is also part of this.

First, What Does Self-Care Mean?

A white outline of a hand holding a yellow heartSelf-care may be defined by the term itself — caring for yourself. It includes anything you do to keep yourself healthy — physically, mentally and spiritually.

Although prioritizing self-care may sound like common sense, especially if you’re considering longevity, it’s often the first thing to go when you find yourself in challenging situations, whether because of bad health, a financial crisis, job loss, divorce or another significant life event. This is why it is important to keep it top of mind and not an after-thought, especially in challenging times.

Why is Self-Care Important?

An icon of a person pushing a ball up a hillIn a society in which people are expected to work long hours and pass on vacation days, there is an underlying belief that we must always be productive — which can ultimately take away from opportunities for self-care. But by taking some time out to engage in this practice, you may relieve the pressures of everyday life and reset yourself to get back to a healthy point where you can be more productive again. Considering the costs associated with mental health services, lost wages and more, spending some time on yourself may ultimately benefit everyone.

Burning the candle at both ends, so-to-speak, comes with significant consequences, which may include but are not limited to burnout, depression, anxiety, resentment and a whole host of other negative implications.

Engaging in a self-care routine has been clinically proven to reduce or eliminate anxiety and depression, reduce stress, improve concentration, minimize frustration and anger, increase happiness, improve energy and more. From a physical health perspective, it has also been clinically proven to reduce heart disease, stroke and cancer. Spiritually, it may help keep us in tune with our higher power as well as realize our meaning in life.

▸ What are the Benefits of Self-Care?

An icon outline of a person walking outdoors, toward two trees.

Self-care offers numerous benefits for your overall well-being. Here are some key benefits:

  • Improved physical health: Engaging in activities like regular exercise, getting enough sleep and eating nutritious meals can enhance your physical health, boost your energy levels and strengthen your immune system.

  • Enhanced mental and emotional well-being: There are many reasons why mental health is important, and practicing self-care can help reduce stress, anxiety and symptoms of depression. It promotes better mental health by providing an opportunity to relax, recharge and engage in activities that bring joy and fulfillment.

  • Increased productivity and focus: Taking care of yourself allows you to recharge and rejuvenate, leading to increased productivity, improved concentration and better problem-solving abilities. When you prioritize your well-being, you have more energy and mental clarity to tackle daily tasks.

  • Better relationships: When you prioritize caring for yourself, you have more emotional resources to invest in your relationships. Taking time for yourself helps prevent burnout and enables you to show up as your best self in your interactions with others.

  • Increased self-esteem and self-worth: Personal care practices can boost your self-esteem and self-worth. By prioritizing your needs and engaging in activities that make you feel good, you send a message to yourself that you deserve care and attention.

  • Prevention of burnout: Regular self-care can help prevent burnout, which is a state of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion caused by prolonged stress. By taking proactive steps to care for yourself, you can replenish your energy and prevent the negative consequences of burnout. This can be especially important for those working in the helping professions.

Self-care is vitally important. Without appropriate nutrition, physical activity, sleep and otherwise, you may be able to get by for a while but will ultimately burnout. This is not a matter of if but when.

How to Practice Self-Care

An icon of a person meditating with their hands up.

Perhaps the single most common reason people give for not participating in self-care is due to a lack of time. While many of us have a lot going on, it’s imperative that we take time out every day for ourselves, even if minimally. And it doesn't have to cost a thing. You can even accomplish it in the convenience of your own home. 

Even if you only have 5-minute increments spread throughout the day to engage in self-care, that is certainly better than nothing. Over time, you may significantly enhance your overall health and well-being. Even if you are just beginning, there are results that may be realized almost immediately.

▸ What are Examples of Self-Care?

Examples of self-care do differ, even if minimally from person-to-person, but generally satisfy one or multiple of the national Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) eight dimensions of wellness (SAMHSA pdf source).

Though developed by substance use professionals, these dimensions conceptualize the domains of wellness that make all of us whole. 

Here are some suggestions to consider among each of the eight domains. Feel free to modify, replace, or consider your own as you go along. Remember, this is about you.

  • Emotional: Talk to someone, reflect, journal, read, do something artistic, listen to music, work out, take a walk, watch something that suits the mood (or does the opposite and changes it), cry it out, hug someone, cuddle, laugh, take a nap.

  • Environmental: Take a walk somewhere nice, breathe in fresh air, enjoy the sun, enjoy the night sky, avoid littering, pick up litter, reduce waste, use reusable products, recycle, clean your house, redesign a room.

  • Financial: Develop a practical financial plan, open a savings account, start saving (even if $1 per day), try saving even more if you are already saving, invest, cut back on unnecessary purchases, consider where you can cut corners, avoid credit cards, ask for a raise.

  • Intellectual: Read, listen to audiobooks, watch documentaries, complete puzzles, be mindful of the world around you, become curious, try something new, tap into your creative/artistic side, take a class, complete a program, graduate.

  • Occupational: Learn a trade, get your degree, train for a promotion, accept the promotion, put together your resume, polish your resume, apply for your dream job, take on a task you enjoy, open your own business.

  • Physical: Work out daily, take a walk, eat healthy, get your annual checkup, see the dentist, take medications as prescribed, avoid drugs and alcohol, get 7-9 hours of sleep, see the physician when you do not feel well.

  • Social: Meet up with friends and family, keep in contact with old friends, volunteer, go out, have fun, engage in healthy social media use, stay positive, utilize technology when distance is a factor, have a big laugh.

  • Spiritual: Meditate, pray, reflect, engage in yoga, visit a meaningful site, do right by others, practice mindfulness, consider your higher purpose and meaning, look to your higher power for support, love one another, help those in need.

Self-care is an important activity to do every day. Doing so will lead toward a better balance among your dimensions of wellness and lead toward improved overall health and wellness. Life is precious, and it is meant to be enjoyed.

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Dr. Matt Glowiak, a clinical faculty member at SNHUDr. Matt Glowiak is a clinical faculty member at Southern New Hampshire University with over a decade of experience working in mental health counseling.

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