What IS self-care? And why does it seem so hard to commit to?

Many people prioritise others above themselves. This is particularly normal behaviour when we have young children to look after. However, using an airplane analogy, perhaps we would be better equipped by putting the oxygen mask on ourselves before trying to help others. And this is particularly true of self-care. If we don’t look after ourselves, how can we hope to look after anyone else? How many of us find ourselves rushing from one commitment to another; meetings, children, social commitments, elderly parents, relationship stresses, shopping, cleaning, washing, cooking…the list seems endless. And we usually do all this without taking a break or the time out just for ourselves. Running on a continual treadmill means that eventually something’s got to give – and it is more than likely going to manifest itself in ill-health. And how do we then continue to function, and maintain this hectic lifestyle, when dealing with our own illness? Is driving ourselves into the ground a worthwhile activity?

We often equate self-care with being selfish and therefore shy away from it. We perceive that we are somehow less deserving than everyone else, and experience guilt if we take time out for ourselves. And to be brutally honest, sometimes we use our “busy-ness” as an excuse not to follow through on something that we feel may be difficult. We can also put so much onto our plates that failure is almost certainly bound to happen. This provides us with the excuse that we are not in control. Avoidance of making a change means you don’t allow yourself the opportunities to try to reach your goals and to do something for yourself. And this can limit the experience of personal growth that can actually come from making mistakes.

I regularly deal with clients who are enthusiastic about starting a program, only to drop out after a couple of weeks, or lose that first flush of excitement, when the going gets tough. Achieving change is hard and it takes time to see results, whether you are embarking on a health regime, addressing issues in a relationship, or studying for a new career. But when you give up on your goals are you just settling for the status quo because it is easier than taking action? Or are you unclear why you are trying to change? Are the excuses of “not having enough time” really true? Or is it a question of prioritising?

Living with chronic stress can often go undiagnosed or unrecognized as we carry on our daily tasks and endeavor to meet all our deadlines, whatever the cost to ourselves. Oftentimes we create obstacles and make excuses as ways to avoid actually having to commit to changing our habits or environment. But the consequences of ignoring our own health and well-being are becoming more apparent. In 2014/15, stress accounted for 35% of all work related ill-health issues, and 43% of all working days lost. Stress impacts us on so many levels and can be a quiet, insidious intruder, building up inside us until something has to give, affecting our relationships, our family life, our work life and putting us at risk of developing chronic diseases.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the economic downturn has increased the likelihood of developing anxiety disorders and it has been reported that anti-depressant prescriptions in 2015 had doubled in a decade across the UK. Statistics show that women are more likely than men to suffer from a mental health problem and twice as likely to be diagnosed with anxiety disorders. In addition, many women suffer undiagnosed chronic stress.

Why is it so easy to say “yes” to others and yet so hard to say it to ourselves? Habitually taking on more than you can realistically handle can leave you feeling frustrated, pressurised and anxious. Learning to say “no” to requests made of you is an important part of taking control of your life. Equally, learning to say “yes” to yourself allows you to explore new and exciting chapters of your life – free from the self-imposed guilt you would previously have experienced. We can be our own worst enemy when it comes to moving forward to achieving the life we want. We put up roadblocks and self-sabotage through negative self-talk, lack of self-confidence or because we believe we are being selfish. There is also the notion that if we don’t try then we can’t fail.

Taking time for regular self-care practices, and placing your physical and mental health high on your to-do list, will breathe new life not only into you but your whole world, improving relationships and giving a new perspective to the way you live your life. Scheduling regular diary appointments just for you; for exercise, for a massage, taking up a new hobby or studying for a new career, sends a clear message to yourself, and those around you, that you are just as important as anyone else, and that you need time to re-energise and re-focus.

So how can we do this? Identifying where changes need to take place can often be the hardest step. Do you need to improve your nutritional habits, start an exercise program, go to bed earlier, learn how to implement relaxation techniques?

Taking action can be done in small steps – and each step brings us nearer to success.

Small Steps to Self-Care:

  • Simple mindfulness. Taking time throughout the day to simply stop, breathe and take stock.
  • Take time to prepare and enjoy healthy food. This doesn’t have to be time-consuming, but making sure to prioritise real, whole, unprocessed foods will really provide your body with the nutrients it requires.
  • Schedule your diary for regular exercise, whether at home or joining a class or gym, or simply adding more movement into your day.
  • Make time for relaxation e.g.  a massage, reading a book, listening to music, soak in a hot bath.
  • Take a lunch break away from your desk every single day – making the most of that time.
  • Do one thing every day that makes you happy.
  • Set some new goals: work on those “bucket list” dreams, study for a new career or start a new hobby.
  • Go for an early morning walk every day to help re-set your circadian clock, give you an energy boost and help you focus on the day ahead.
  • Spend quality time with family & friends.

Committing to regular appointments with ourselves for self-care is paramount to ensuring that we are healthy, fully functioning individuals, able to carry out any tasks that are required of us and capable of saying “no” without feeling guilty.

Self-care should be a normal, regular (and necessary) part of your life, bringing a deeper joy and fulfillment to both yourself and everyone around you.

What are YOUR self-care practices?