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Self-care? Yeah, yeah...!

Updated: May 3, 2022

In recent years, the term self-care has gone from being a serious and important concept related to physical and mental health, to becoming a catch-all term adopted by researchers, journalists and marketers alike to push projects, products and experiences. If we get back to the bones of what self-care actually is, it’s a crucial part of looking after yourself, but it can often feel like just another thing to do. Self-care? Yeah, yeah…!

Self-care fundamentally means taking care of yourself. That is, doing things that maintain or enhance your physical and mental health. Ideally they may also contribute to your growth and development. It sounds so obvious, but it’s often the first thing to fall off the radar when we are under stress and pressure. We prioritise the work deadlines, the unwell parents, the crisis-ridden friends, the children’s homework, the laundry, the food shop, the housework, the bills, and then, and only then, do we pay ourselves some attention…if we have time.

The problem with this approach to life? We cannot take care of everything else in our lives well if we don’t take care of ourselves, too. Think of the jug analogy: a jug full of water can only fill a certain number of cups before it runs out of water itself. Does your jug runneth full or empty? If you are running on empty, how long can you keep looking after everything and everyone else in your life before you hit the wall?

There’s a reason airlines tell you to sort out your own oxygen mask first before attending to your child. You are no good to anyone if you cannot breathe yourself!

So, how to fill your jug?

Remember, self-care means doing things that maintain or enhance your physical and mental health. It is purposeful activity that works best when it is designed to help you to rest, relax or rejuvenate. You want to feel refreshed and renewed afterwards, and that maybe you have developed or grown in some capacity. Knowing this, we can start to pick apart what does and doesn’t count. Painting your nails isn’t really self-care – it’s nice to do, of course, but it doesn’t really make a significant contribution to your wellbeing or help you to grow as a person. Having a shower certainly doesn’t cut it – this is basic hygiene. A once-a-year or so spa day is great, but not enough. Self-care needs to be regular, so try to schedule it in on a weekly basis: you cannot put off looking after yourself.

The good news is that, contrary to what some adverts try to suggest, self-care doesn’t have to cost much (or any) money. Think about what you need at the moment – rest or rejuvenation – and see if any of the following ideas appeal.

For rest and relaxation, try:

  • A bath with a good book, magazine or podcast (if you are prone to rumination having something to occupy your mind is crucial)

  • Meditation

  • Walk around the block listening to relaxing music

  • Massage

  • Yoga (you could try using music to help ensure you are breathing deeply while moving)

For rejuvenation, try:

  • Working on a skill, be it painting, learning a language, bricklaying… it can of course be dance but if dancing is tied very closely to your studies or work, try a different genre so that it feels sufficiently separate from the pressures and demands of your daily life