When you hear someone talk about self-care, what comes to mind? Is it, relaxing in a spa, sitting in a quiet space journaling, meditating peacefully for hours on end…? That it is expensive and time consuming? Well, then you my friend may be stuck in the commercialized awareness of self-care! This picturesque imagery of a calm environment, getting pampered, or having some huge chunk of time available has become one of the more common thoughts when people consider self-care. Sure, some of these items MAY WORK and be available for some people, but the majority of us aren’t going to have the time or resources for that type of investment. To set ourselves up for failure can lead us to having a negative relationship with self-care.
There are also a lot of myths out there about self-care …
So, what is the true definition of self-care? Lucky for us, that’s a gray area as well (facepalm). There are a lot of definitions out there because of the amount of commercial attention that it brings. However, in 1998 [old!] the World Health Organization defines Self-Care as; “Self-Care is what people do for themselves to establish and maintain health, and to prevent and deal with illness. It is a broad concept encompassing hygiene (general and personal), nutrition (type and quality of food eaten), lifestyle (sporting activities, leisure etc), environmental factors (living conditions, social habits, etc.) socio-economic factors (income level, cultural beliefs, etc.) and self-medication.’ isfglobal.org (international self-care foundation)”. To me, that list sounds a lot like a welfare protocol, as animal welfare experts, transitioning to personal welfare from thinking of it as self-care could be a helpful concept, but what’s the criteria for interpretation? Cue another rabbit hole!
Another, slightly less old definition comes from the UK Department of Health Steering Group 2003 “Self-care is a part of daily living. It is the care taken by individuals towards their own health and well-being, and includes the care extended to their children, family, friends and others in neighborhoods and local communities. Self-Care includes the actions individuals and carers take for themselves, their children, their families and others to stay fit and maintain good physical and mental health; meet social and psychological needs; prevent illness or accidents; care for minor ailments and long-term conditions; and maintain health and wellbeing after acute illness or discharge from hospital.” Nice and vague, helpful!
Maybe instead of thinking of self-care as this indefinable vague concept, we start to look at it as a generalized component of our lives, like daily welfare. I have met and also personally identified as someone who thought if I wasn’t active in my self-care then I wasn’t showing up for myself, but the way I was looking at it was the commercialized self-care! I needed to be using my journal EVERY day, meditating for long periods of time, yoga a few days a week, and so on! Very unattainable as a busy zookeeper and there was another component missing, giving my big emotions time and space! Those dark and heavy emotions weigh on us and impact our ability to provide ourselves with that basic welfare. When we think we are someone who has poor self-care, if we reframe and challenge the thought of what self-care really is, we can support ourselves with more positive self-talk and therefor see that we are already investing in ourselves. Let’s start our self-care journey together, by taking it a little easy on ourselves and giving ourselves some grace while we learn.
The National Institute of Mental Health suggests that, “Mental health is more than the absence of a mental illness—it’s essential to your overall health and quality of life. Self-care can play a role in maintaining your mental health and help support your treatment and recovery if you have a mental illness.” https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/caring-for-your-mental-health It goes on to explain that small steps and small investments can have long lasting impacts on ones’ health. There are also different examples of criteria categories to consider when looking at our investment strategies.
I really love the idea of self-care as pillars within our day to day lives, and when we are mindful of those moments and celebrate the small wins, over time those approximations will help us recognize how well we are doing for ourselves. Pillars can support us the way they do a building.
The seven pillars, according to The International Self-Care Foundation, (https://isfglobal.org/practise-self-care/the-seven-pillars-of-self-care/) the seven pillars are:
Self-care is also usually the first treatment response to everyday health conditions and common ailments. Overall, an estimated 70% to 95% of all illnesses are managed without the intervention of a doctor. Knowing when to consult a healthcare professional is a self-care skill under pillar 1 (health literacy) and pillar 2 (self-awareness). Self-care is therefore the fundamental level of health care in all societies and should be seen as a major public health resource. Yet self-care is often unrecognized and underappreciated.
I see self-care not only as preventative care for self, but also recovery care! Allowing some of those deeper, potentially more difficult areas their time keep the iceberg floating enough so that the more positive, restorative care can occur.
Self-care is NOT SELFISH, unless you have a handy dandy acronym waiting …
Setting Essential Limits For Introspection where Self-Care is Honored
Now self-care is pillars, it’s a welfare program, it’s SELFISH, it’s indefinable… some helpful blog, huh? The point that I’m trying to get to with all of this is that self-care, at its core, is going to be unique to YOU. It’s about searching and seeking what works for YOU. And recognize that the strategy will change over time. Just as welfare is observed over a continuum, so must self-care. At different points in our life, there will be different needs. Sometimes we need to spend time with some heavy emotions, sometimes we may be able to go get that mani/pedi, or take that hike with our dogs, sometimes it may be acknowledging that we need rest and giving ourselves permission to take it. At moments of strength, test out some tools, do some research, see what resonates with you and build on it when you have the energy available. This is where resiliency is given the opportunity to grow within us.