SELF CARE – IS IT JUST A CATCHPHRASE?

Exercise, eat and sleep are good self care practices

It seems that since Covid-19 has been in our lives the term ‘self-care’ has been in our faces every day on social media. Did you know that the concept of self-care has been around for a long time? The World Health Organisation (WHO) defined self-care back in 1998, and this is what was said:

‘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)

Since this dastardly virus has caused widespread physical isolation, feelings of anxiety, loss and grief, helplessness and loss of control have increased globally. I feel that the self-care messages have become such a background hum that I can feel a collective eye roll when we see posts urging us to ‘do’ some self-care activities. Let’s pick apart what could affect how we view self-care and why and how we might choose to participate in some selfcare activities.

Self-care practices can be very broad in scope and can be about every aspect of health for a person. I would like to focus on our mental health within the WHO definition. So if we take the first sentence in the above excerpt, and apply it to optimising our mental health and preventing mental illness, what would that look like for you? Taking time out to think about how we could care for ourselves right now is so very important. If you now take 5 minutes to think…. ‘what AM I doing for myself to keep my mental health on the straight and narrow?’ If you struggle to list some actions (if any), then let’s take a look at what your self-care list could look like.  We all are different and so what would appeal to you would not necessarily appeal to me, and so here are ideas for simple self-care steps according to interests:

Simple Self-Care Tips

For More Active People

  • Making time for a yoga class or a virtual yoga class
  • Going for a walk where it is suitable to have some space from others
  • Walking or swimming at the beach
  • Going to the gym (with antibacterial wipes, mask etc.)
  • Virtual exercise classes
  • Taking a break outside on your lunch break
  • Walk up the stairs instead of the lift
  • Dance!
A calm setting is beneficial

For More Sedentary People

  • Read a good book
  • Watch a series on TV and discuss it with others
  • Online game playing whilst connected to other players
  • Going for a stroll in the fresh air
  • Sitting in the garden, then weeding the garden!
  • Cooking a nice meal
  • Partaking in spiritual activities like going to church (if feasible for your location) or finding a podcast or live video stream service that aligns with your beliefs
  • Meditating or listening to some short mindfulness apps
  • Sing!

At Work

  1. If, like me, you are deskbound and do not interact with others constantly, take your earphones and listen to music, podcasts or relaxation apps as you work.
  2. Breathing in and out through your nose to the count of 4, 6 or 8 seconds and doing a few repetitions of this will calm the mind and relax the body. 
  3. Rolling your shoulders and moving your neck side to side and forward and backwards every half hour or so will help relieve static muscle tension, especially if you are desk-bound. This can be done in conjunction with your conscious breathing exercise and will only take a minute or so.
  4. Go outside for 5 minute breaks every now and then to have a different perspective than your usual 4 walled office.
  5. Some planning in what to pack for lunch is great too (if you can get to it). That way, if you have healthy lunches 4 out of 5 days, one of the days can be take away or a treat lunch such as nachos.
  6. If you can find a quiet enough spot, e.g. sitting in your car, then close your eyes for 5 minutes and see if you can have a power nap. Even if you don’t sleep, closing your eyes channels your senses through your ears, nose and body. This different perspective is a mindfulness exercise, as you listen to the sounds around you, feel the air on your skin and smell the fragrances surrounding you.
  7. If you are working physically, try to leave the worksite and eat your lunch somewhere more peaceful, or if you eat with colleagues, go for a walk around the block after your food.
At home self care

At Home

  • Enjoy healthy snacks such as a banana or a few almonds, but eat them slowly and mindfully and outside if the weather is nice enough. Notice the smell of the food and the taste and texture on your tongue. Feel how the food goes down your throat. Does it take a long time or a short time? Simply paying attention to these sensations changes a mundane task into a self care experience.
  • Change your routine. If you normally have a coffee at 10 am, go for a short walk instead and have your coffee after lunch. Switching up your set routines may enable further changes such as making time for short creative activities, exercise or meditation.
  • Bake a cake or try a new recipe
  • Do that job you have been ‘getting to’ for years, such as sorting out your old photographs (this is a personal one of mine – yikes!)
  • Give everyone you live with a hug and tell them you love them
  • If you live alone (and are not in lockdown) visit the person who you want to have a hug with, or talk to someone on the phone. Be brave and tell them you love them if this is true for you
  • Do some cleaning if this floats your boat
  • Read a book if it doesn’t!
  • Taking your vitamins and medications as prescribed
  • Playing an instrument or making time for that hobby
Alone time is healthy

Self-care is really about giving yourself permission to do small things for yourself that you enjoy doing. There are many reasons to dismiss self-care as an important part of your life. Usually, we have a mental job list of things which would be prioritised over any self-care activities we would schedule for ourselves. Blocks to making what could be ‘normal’ activities self-care activities are many! 

Some anti-self care myths include:

Self-care is selfish.

Self-care may be seen as selfish, especially if a person feels that others may frown upon them for taking the time or monetary resources just for themselves. An example may be a busy mum going for a walk on her own and her partner may be thinking… “why doesn’t she take the kids with her?” Often, these feelings are not spoken out loud, simply implied or spoken indirectly with statements like… “Oh, I thought you might have taken the kids with you” which then puts feelings of guilt upon the mum, who wanted some peaceful, non-carer time to herself.  Consequently, the next time she goes out she will take the kids to the park instead. 

Alternately, one partner may work long hours and when they come home from work they may want to sit down and watch TV for 10 minutes but are jumped on by the kids, or are required to take the dog for a walk and so do not get the downtime they badly crave. Clear and heartfelt communication in both of these examples is the key to removing potential resentments and having each partner’s individual needs met and understood.

Self-care is self-indulgent or irrelevant.

Self-care may be seen as self-indulgent especially for men. Males in particular may see self-care as irrelevant. According to the International Self Care Foundation, whilst men are generally more active than women, men’s gender norms and lower prevalence for seeking out health and medical assistance is a barrier to proactively managing self-care. Recognising and allowing ‘me’ time and ‘me’ tasks in your schedule enables you to recharge your mental energy batteries and therefore you have more to give others in the long run. Self-care is not self-indulgent nor irrelevant.

Self-care must be expensive

As you can see in the lists above, the majority of self-care ideas and activities can be free or virtually so. Sure, you could go on a holiday (lockdowns permitting) and sit by a pool and switch off, and this would be classed as self-care too. You could buy new clothes or eat out in restaurants, and this can be categorised as self-care. So, we could spend lots of money if we chose to, but this doesn’t have to be your parameters for self-care. Libraries have free books and audiovisual material to loan, podcasts can be downloaded, TV can be watched and a plethora of enjoyable activities can be enjoyed without much cost.

Eating well is self care

Self-care is a fad.

The concept of self-care in the whole body sense has been around for a few decades now, and in 2020 the mental health focus for self-care has been fine-tuned as a result of world events and the toll that Covid-19 has had on us all. This is a positive step and I hope that we continue to prioritise our mental wellbeing in the community, in the media and in Government policies. I certainly hope this is not a fad!

Self-care IS important for us all, and we need to permit ourselves to do ‘stuff’ for ourselves whatever that stuff maybe. Should we find ourselves struggling to cope and our self-care strategies are not working, then contacting a counselling service may help. Listed on my website http://breathingspacecounselling.com.au/crisis-care-helplines/ are several free Australian resources for counselling and crisis support, some of which operate 24 hours a day.  The Australian Government have also increased the sessions for GP Mental Health Care Plans from 10 to 20 sessions per annum, which means that Counsellors, Psychologists and Social Workers are able to provide up to 20 subsidised counselling sessions – wonderful!

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Janice White

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