So what is self-care?
Self-care at its most simplistic definition is behaviors, activities and skills used to take care of oneself. Within every individual, there are many different dimensions; physical, emotional, mental/cognitive, social and spiritual.
Each of these dimensions within a person requires care, attention, and behaviors to optimize overall health and well-being.
Well-Being is a broad definition to assess happiness, health, stability, purpose and meaning in one’s life. I’ll talk more about well-being in later episodes, but for now, I want to stay focused on the components of self-care.
I want you to visualize a circle. And within the circle are slices, much like a pie, and each slice represents one aspect of a person; for example, physical, emotional, mental/cognitive, social and spiritual. And the health of each slice of the pie, influences and impacts to the overall well-being.
So if a person is out of balance in physical health, this will take away a from a person’s overall well-being. And if a person is not caring for themselves in one or two areas, for example physical and emotional, then the result will be a reduction in overall well-being.
I know, you may be thinking, it sounds so simple and makes sense, taking care of yourself leads to healthy well-being.
But, if you are a parent, you know that taking care of children and other roles and responsibilities of raising a family is challenging. Perhaps there is not enough time for self-care or you don’t have enough support to care for yourself the way you want, or you have some habits that you know are decreasing your well-being.
Many parents place personal self-care behaviors low on the priority list, if ever at all.
And the days in parenting are often long, busy, demanding and unpredictable. And lets face it, at the end of the day, when you’ve had no time to yourself, and you’ve been at work or running around caring for your children or a combination of both, there is not a lot of time at the end of the day for self-care. It can be more appealing to stay up watching television or surfing social media or trying to catch up on the laundry rather than caring for yourself.
Ok, the five dimensions of self-care I want to focus on are:
The first component is Physical Self-Care.
Our physical health is the foundation from which all else is built upon. How we treat and care for our body directly correlates to well-being and how we cope with the stress and demands of everyday life.
When I meet with a client for the first time, I ask a series of questions related to their physical health. I want to know how much sleep they get daily, do they exercise, what are their eating habits, do they have a libido and are they sexually active. Physical habits and behaviors will affect how a person functions in their life.
For example, I often have clients come into session complaining of anxiety, restlessness and irritability. And more times than not, the client will share the following details about their physical health.
For starters, they are only sleeping four hours a night, using caffeine to “wake-up” in the morning and to give a boost in afternoon energy lulls, and sedentary throughout the day. And they want to know how to address the presenting problem: anxiety. My first recommendation is always going to start with aiming to increase physical well-being. I’m going to encourage them get more sleep, decrease caffeine intake, and start exercising to improve functioning.
Examples of Physical Self-Care include:
- Awareness of family history of medical issues, conditions and disease
- Getting enough sleep each night (recommended 7-8 hours for most people)
- Regular exercise
- Balanced nutrition and eating habits
- Maintaining healthy weight as recommended by your physician
- Regular sexual activity
- Routine medical exams
- Limited use of alcohol
- No use of illicit drugs
These are some examples of physical self-care, because:
Taking care of your body, matters.
The second component I want to talk about is Emotional Self-Care.
Our emotions or feelings, can be complex and change throughout the day. Many researchers have spent time debating and studying the impact of emotions on behaviors. Do our emotions guide our behaviors or do our behaviors guide our emotions? In other words, what comes first? There is no one easy answer; it’s the interaction of both.
Our behaviors influence our emotions and our emotions influence our behaviors.
But what we all know, is emotions guide us and help us interact and respond to our environment. When we pay attention our feelings we can then determine what we need to do to improve or manage our emotional state.
For example, in a given day, I may feel irritable and angry, because I didn’t get enough sleep, my teens are giving me major attitude and the dinner I was planning to have with my girlfriends wont happen because I just learned my husband has to work late and I have no sitter and need to pick up my daughter from dance. Makes sense I would feel irritable and angry. But what happens if no matter what is going on, even in times of calm and harmony where everything seems to be ok, I am irritable and angry without an identifiable trigger? This would be a pattern I would need to pay attention to.
Being angry or irritable every day is not healthy. Anger in and of itself is not ‘bad’, rather it is the proportion, intensity and duration of the feeling which can signal a problem.
People who are emotionally healthy experience a variety of positive, neutral and negative feelings and are able to manage their feelings, thoughts and behaviors.
Examples of Emotional Self-Care:
- Being aware of your family of origin, mental health issues and concerns can help you to understand how similar mental health concerns can present in your life.
- Being aware of your feelings and noticing patterns or trends in emotions
- Talking about and managing your feelings
- Maintaining social relationships with family, friends and partner when you need support or to share in the good things in life
- Using coping skills to manage your feelings
- Journaling on a regular basis to monitor emotions, challenges and/or expressing gratitude
- Working with a therapist as needed to increase support and self-awareness
- Being aware about how current stress and your personal history has an impact on emotional well-being
- Using deep breathing as a way to manage and control feelings and stressful situations
- Increasing self-compassion, we are often more understanding of others than we are of ourselves
These are some examples of emotional self-care, because:
Taking care of your feelings, matters.
The third component I want to describe is Mental or Cognitive Self-Care.
At the most simplistic level, mental or cognitive functioning is all about our thinking brain. This component includes the thoughts we have and include the statements we make to our self, as well as our values, morals and principles. This component includes our core intelligence but encompasses so much more.
A persons Mental/Cognitive functioning includes how a person thinks about oneself, others, the world and the future. And mental functioning also includes what we think about, the activities we engage in that foster thinking, the process of learning, our judgement, reasoning, and impulse control to name a few.
And here is the big take away between our mind-emotions and behaviors: Our thoughts impact and influence our feelings which then impacts our behaviors. So our mental, emotional and physical dimensions influence every part of our lives, at home, work and in our relationships with family, friends, and the world.
Some examples of Mental/Cognitive Self-Care:
• Being aware of our thoughts and noticing patterns in our thinking
• Changing the problematic ways of thinking (e.g., negative self-talk about body)
• Managing negative thinking through active coping skills
• Recognizing your personal strengths and abilities
• Adopting flexible thinking and approaches to situations and problems
• Engaging in intellectually stimulating pursuits (e.g., reading, crossword puzzles, painting, or learning anything new
• Engaging in creative pursuits and hobbies
• Meditation, focused activity to slow down and quiet constant thinking or worrying
These are some examples of mental/cognitive self-care, because:
Taking care of your thoughts, matters.
And the fourth component is Social Self-Care
Social support is critical for well-being. Social support is a term used to describe the people in your life that you count on in times of stress, celebration and day-to day living. A social support network can include family, spouse or partner, friends, co-workers, members within a social group, organization or congregation.
And it’s important to understand with social support, its less about the number of people in your social network and more about the quality of those relationships. If you are on social media I am sure you understand, you can have hundreds of followers and friends, which is much different than the people who are there for you.
And, not every person has the same needs regarding social support. Some people may only need one good friend and have family, while others have ten close friends. There is no judgement or comparison when it comes to social support, the key is to knowing your needs and preferences and measuring this with your actual social support.
Some examples of Social Self-Care:
- Spending time with supportive people
- Reaching out to friends and family in times of stress when you need support
- Providing support to others you can about is an important part of friendship and relationships
- Accepting yourself and others and appreciating differences
- Being able to identify relationships which are beneficial and contribute to your health and well-being
- Understanding the relationships that take away from well-being and increase stress in your life, and being able to make the needed adjustments. An important point here, Hardly am I saying to end relationships during time of stress, but negativity, verbal and physical abuse, lack of trust, poor boundaries are not healthy components in a relationship.
- Laughing with friends and family
- Expressing appreciation and gratitude with friends and family
- Regardless of how busy you may become, making the efforts to reach out and maintain important relationships.
These are some examples of social self-care, because:
Taking care of your relationships, matters.
And finally, the fifth is Spiritual Self-Care.
Spirituality is a general term referring to the non-physical part of our being. Often described as our soul or spirit, it is a part within us that makes us unique. Many people hear the word ‘spirituality’ and immediately think of religion. Spirituality is a broader concept. It can be defined as the connection we feel to other people, nature, all living beings and the world. Spiritual connection includes having a sense of gratitude, compassion, empathy and happiness towards people, nature and the world. If a person is religious and participating in religious services and traditions, then spirituality can be experienced through one’s connection and participation within their religion. But its important to know, that a person can be spiritual without ever being religious.
When we see suffering whether, within our home, neighborhood or in the world, and we want to help, that is an example of spiritual connection. Spirituality includes finding meaning in life and having a sense of purpose for our life. Spirituality can also include practicing religion. Attending religious services, engaging in religious traditions and prayer, are spiritual experiences.
Some examples of Spiritual Self-Care:
- Being aware of our connection to nature, other people, all living beings and the world
- Finding meaning in your life
- Finding purpose in your life
- Engaging in religious services, traditions and rituals
- Spending time in nature
- Expressing gratitude
These are some examples of spiritual self-care, because:
Taking care of your spirituality, matters.
© Copyright Dr. Claire Nicogossian 2016