The World Health Organization defines self-care as: "the ability of individuals, families and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and to cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a healthcare provider."
According to this definition, self-care consists of anything related to staying physically, emotionally and mentally healthy. It can include any step an individual can take to manage stressors in his, her or their life and take care of his, her or their own health and well-being.
Self-care can be a difficult concept to actually implement. Often there are voices telling us that we don't have time in our busy days; that it can only be a reward once we have pushed through the various tasks we have set ourselves; that we're not worthy or somehow we just don't deserve it.
Those are powerful and difficult thoughts to acknowledge and sort through. We often put ourselves last, at our own peril. I know many caregivers who ignore their own aches and pains because they are needed by others.
But how can we take care of others if we don't take care of ourselves first? Intellectually we can all nod in agreement with this idea, but again,allowing ourselves to put it into practice can be very challenging.
Self-care is not about being self-indulgent or being selfish. It is an important part of our ability to maintain our health in order to live as fully as we are able to.
One of my favourite stories is about a mother who told a Buddhist monk that she actually had no time to meditate in her busy life, even though she really wanted to. The monk asked if he could come and watch her on a typical day and she consented. At day's end he agreed that her busy life as a homemaker and mother left her with no time for a formal meditation practice. So his suggestion was that every time she went through a doorway she could pause for a moment just to feel her own breath or close her eyes for a moment.
Often it is just implementing simple habits in our life that can have positive outcomes over time. It can be as simple as pausing to observe your breath, or resting your eyes for a moment, or just looking out the window at clouds passing by to give ourselves a bit of a break. Our nervous systems absolutely require it.
Self-care can also involve scheduling longer breaks, getting out into nature, or booking an appointment with a complimentary health care professional. Self-care should not be anxiety provoking and it should fit in with your needs at the present moment.
This all starts with self compassion. We need to start treating ourselves like we would treat a good friend.
Often a few simple steps towards self-care will impact other aspects of your life. Eating a nutritious meal can impact your energy levels, which can then positively affect you psychologically. We are an integrated system and like a spider on a web, any small change will be felt throughout and can influence both various aspects of ourselves and possible future choices.