What Is Self-Care and Why Is It Important?

While many people may view self-care as a form of selfish indulgence, the act of caring for oneself is actually an important part of a person's overall well-being.

Self-care has been a trendy term in recent years, but many people do not fully understand what it means. Read on to find out more about self-care and why it’s an important part of your mental and physical health.

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What Is Self-Care?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), self-care is “the ability of individuals, families, and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and to cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a healthcare provider.”

The Goal of Self-Care

The main goal of self-care is to prevent or control disease and preserve overall well-being through the consistent act of taking care of various verticals of one's own health.

The WHO also mentions that self-care is a broad term and there are many facets of a person’s life that come into play, including:

  • Hygiene (general and personal)
  • Nutrition
  • Lifestyle factors such as exercise level and leisure activities
  • Environmental factors such as a person’s living conditions or social habits
  • Socioeconomic factors such as a person’s income level or cultural beliefs
  • Self-medication and following treatment plans for current illnesses

For a person to practice true self-care, they must utilize personal responsibility and self-reliance in a way that positively impacts their health in the current moment and in the future.

What People Think Self-Care Is
  • Overindulgence in spending

  • Binge-eating your favorite but bad-for-you foods

  • Participating in activities that provide instant gratification

  • Going on expensive and lavish vacations

  • Perfecting oneself by any means necessary

  • Numbing bad feelings using alcohol or illicit substances

  • Binge-watching television

What Self-Care Actually Is
  • Prioritizing one's physical and mental health

  • Adopting healthy lifestyle habits that can be maintained long-term

  • Eating a healthy diet

  • Finding exercise activities that you enjoy and participating in them regularly

  • Getting an adequate amount of good-quality sleep

  • Following treatment plans for existing conditions accordingly

  • Taking time out for yourself to participate in healthy activities you enjoy

What Are the Barriers to Self-Care?

While self-care may seem straightforward and easy, there are many barriers that could limit or prevent someone from practicing it on a regular basis. Some such barriers to self-care can include:

  • Low self-worth: According to research, people overly critical of themselves or those with a low sense of self-worth often avoid self-care or don’t see it as a priority.
  • Feeling guilty: Putting others first is common for many people, especially those with children or those who are used to taking care of people because of their life or work situation. When they are tasked with taking care of themselves, there is an air of guilt because they feel as though they are being selfish.
  • Time constraints: Life gets busy, and practicing self-care is often put on the bottom of the priority list when things that are seemingly more important are still left unfinished. 
  • Making change isn’t easy: To adopt self-care practices, you will have to make some changes to your life. This is not an easy thing to do.
  • A lack of understanding: Many people see self-care as frivolous spending or the like; however, that is not the case. If people don’t understand the best and most beneficial forms of self-care, they are less likely to practice them regularly. 
  • Workplace culture surrounding self-care: In some workplaces, there is a stigma surrounding self-care, as if practicing it is somehow selfish. While that is not the case, it often leads people to see self-care as a stressor because of the way it is viewed by their colleagues.
  • A lack of planning: Most people practice self-care only when it is necessary, which leads to less effective self-care activities.

Self-Worth and Self-Care

While there is no number one barrier to self-care, many people experience a lack of self-worth that leads to a lack of self-care. This is because people don’t feel as though they deserve to put themselves and their health first or don’t see themselves as being worthy of self-care practices. 

What Types of Self-Care Are There?

There are various forms of self-care that involve different activities or actions. Each form is as important as the other and drives optimal health and well-being.

Physical Health

Taking care of your physical health is a form of self-care. This could include getting the proper amount of exercise, eating a diet that is full of nutrients and whole foods, or engaging in relaxing activities that can help to manage stress levels. Physical self-care also involves getting enough sleep.

Mental Health

Mental self-care is designed to drive a healthy mind by practicing brain-stimulating activities and healthy mental behaviors. When it comes to mental health, self-care is crucial for:

  • Recovery from mental health disorders
  • Being able to self-manage mental health disorders while undergoing treatments
  • Encouraging those with mental health disorders to seek help when they need it

While no two people are the same, there are some strategies that people with mental disorders can use to practice self-care. They include:

  • Participating in creative activities they enjoy
  • Exercising
  • Practicing spirituality
  • Getting a job or furthering education
  • Seeking help from a professional

Getting Help and Self-Care

The Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) is a planning and educational tool that can be used to help guide people recovering from mental disorders through the use of self-care techniques.

Relationships

Having healthy relationships is a form of self-care all its own. Research has shown that different forms of relationships, whether they be romantic, platonic, or familial, can all benefit overall health and well-being.

When looking at married couples specifically, studies have found that they are more likely to be in good physical and mental health than their unmarried counterparts. Married couples are also less likely to become ill or die of certain health conditions such as cancer, heart attacks, or surgery.

Unhappy Relationships and Health

While good marriages are associated with good overall health, the opposite is true for bad relationships and marriages. Research shows that the quality of a romantic relationship is directly related to the quality of a person’s health.

Good social relationships are also tied to better overall health, and studies have found that having a good network of friends can improve a person’s physical and mental health significantly. When people lack platonic relationships, they are more likely to be subject to psychological distress and engage in unhealthy behaviors. 

Finally, having strong familial relationships is also a form of self-care because of the way it can drive good health. For example, having a good family support system when dealing with a chronic illness has been associated with better disease outcomes.

What Are the Benefits of Self-Care?

Practicing self-care on a regular basis can bring about both short- and long-term benefits that lead to improved well-being and an improved health status.

Short-Term

In the short term, people who practice self-care can see positive changes such as:

  • Reduced stress levels: Putting your health and needs first along with giving yourself a bit of rest can significantly reduce stress levels.
  • Increasing self-worth: The more you take care of yourself, the better you will feel about who you are as a person. This is because more of your core needs will be met on a regular basis.
  • Feelings of belonging: In the example of good relationships, a short-term benefit of spending time with loved ones will provide you with feelings of belonging and love, which is good for your overall mental health.

Long-Term

While the short-term benefits of self-care are good, the long-term benefits are what self-care is more focused on. Some long-term benefits include:

  • Better management of disease and chronic illness (both physical and mental)
  • Prevention of disease in the future
  • Can reduce chronic stress that can lead to chronic disease
  • Healthier relationships because of an increase in self-esteem and self-worth
  • An improvement in job satisfaction
  • A reduction in burnout caused by the busyness of life
  • Overall improved quality of life and well-being

Recap

The many benefits of self-care involve better work and social relationships, a reduction in chronic disease risk or symptoms, and an improved quality of life.

How to Build a Self-Care Plan

Building your perfect self-care plan will depend entirely on your own personal health and lifestyle. To create a plan to encourage better health and well-being, you will:

  • Determine your overall level of health: Once you know where your starting point is health-wise, you can begin adding or subtracting certain activities or stressors in your life.
  • Identify your stressors: Make a list of things that cause you stress in all aspects of your life. Once you do that, you can do your best to avoid certain stressors. If they are unavoidable, you can teach yourself coping techniques that can help you lessen your stress reaction to certain situations.
  • Identify your coping strategies: Everyone develops strategies to cope with health issues, stress, and other life problems. Make a list of your coping strategies and see which ones are healthy and which ones aren’t. The ones that are not doing you a service because they are not healthy will need to be swapped out for healthier coping mechanisms.

Once you have done that, you can begin to formulate a plan from your lists that you can truly commit to.

Self-Care Strategies for People With Chronic Disease

If you have a chronic disease, your self-care plan may look a little different than that of someone who does not. This is only because you will have to incorporate certain activities that will benefit you. For example, if you have diabetes, you will want to ensure that coping strategies and activities you utilize as self-care help you manage your condition while you follow your treatment plan.

Summary

Self-care has been a trendy buzzword in recent years, but many people are not aware of what it truly means. While indulging in retail therapy or spending your savings on a vacation may seem like forms of self-care because they make you feel better in the moment, those are not examples of the practice.

Self-care is more of a lifestyle change that enables a person to set aside time for their health to ensure their overall well-being now and for years to come.

If you do adopt the right techniques to care for yourself, you will be able to reap the benefits, such as better physical and mental health, the prevention or better management of disease, and better personal and workplace relationships.

A Word From Verywell 

It can be difficult to make self-care a priority, especially if you are busy and have always put yourself last. The important thing to remember about self-care is that it is not selfish.

It is a necessary tool that encourages overall health and should be a top priority on everyone’s list. After all, if you don’t take care of yourself now, it will be a lot harder to do so in the future.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why is it important to take care of yourself?

    Taking care of yourself in a meaningful way is important because it helps to protect you against various chronic diseases. If you already have a chronic ailment, taking care of yourself can ensure that your condition is well managed to the best of your ability. Overall, self-care is a way to maintain a good quality of life.

  • Can self-care help prevent illness or disease?

    According to research, self-care practices such as eating healthy foods or exercising regularly have the ability to prevent illness or disease. In fact, some studies have found that serious conditions such as heart attack and stroke can be managed or prevented with the adoption of self-care techniques.

  • What are some examples of self-care?

    Some good examples of self-care include:

     

    • Exercising regularly
    • Eating healthy foods
    • Fostering and maintaining healthy relationships
    • Getting good-quality sleep
    • Seeking professional help when you need it
    • Following treatment plans for current ailments or diseases
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11 Sources
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