Self-care techniques and general lifestyle changes can help manage symptoms of many mental health problems, as well as help maintain and improve overall well-being. You may be yelling, ‘I’m too busy to focus on self-care!’ But making time to look after yourself is very important in managing your overall health - mentally and physically.
Self-care is not a selfish thing to focus on. It’s easy to feel guilty when spending time to ourselves, doing something we love or simply relaxing, but it is essential. Working all day, studying, looking after children and all our other daily tasks and stressors, it’s OK to feel like you need a break. We can get so wrapped up in life, caring for others, that many of us forget to care for ourselves.
Below we explore self-care in more detail, how it can help and our tips for incorporating it into your daily life. We also explore mental health and when further support may be needed.
What is self-care?
Self-care is the act of caring for yourself and making a conscious effort to do things you enjoy and will benefit from, in order to improve mental and physical well-being. It’s about being aware of your own health, identifying your own needs and taking steps to meet them.
It sounds simple, looking after yourself. After all, don’t you do that every day? But self-care can be more than eating, drinking and having a social life. While keeping busy and socialising may work for some people, others may benefit from some much-needed alone time. Self-care really can be whatever you need it to be, but you need to listen to your body to really understand what it wants.
The modern world asks a lot of us, with our careers, family and responsibilities, and it demands much of our time and energy to do and care for these things. Somehow, this is expected of us and we may be criticised for saying no to opportunities - we may even criticise ourselves.
However, it’s important to know it’s not selfish to say no. Learning to say no without the guilt can be empowering. This ability and confidence can give you the time and energy you need to rest, recharge and live a happy life, while also caring for your loved ones and succeeding in other areas.
Never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.
Knowing when to say no, and not being wracked with guilt after is not easy. You may worry you’ve let people down and chances are, your inner critic is cursing you for it. Yet, an important part of self-care is also knowing when you need an extra hand. Counselling may be able to help you work through these difficulties, teaching you how to overcome the inner critic and know when your mind and body needs a break.
While self-care can be totally individual, there are many methods that seem to fall under the self-care category, such as meditation, diet and exercise, and maybe a night in with your favourite film. It really depends on what you need. You might be able to relax and recharge short-term through spending a weekend with friends and family, or taking a short holiday from work to explore a new city. Other times, you may need a complete lifestyle overhaul where your mental and physical well-being needs a bit of TLC. You may make long-term plans involving a more balanced diet and a more active lifestyle, and consider seeking professional help, through counselling or speaking to a nutritionist.
It can be difficult to know what falls under ‘self-care’ and whether you really are caring for yourself, or thinking it’s what you should be doing. Take time to think about what may help you - what do you really want to do? What will give you the opportunity to rest and refocus?
Here are some tips that you may find helpful:
Spend time alone
Not all of us like it, but spending time alone often gives you much-needed quiet time. It’s often the only time you can really hear your own thoughts, and reflect on your feelings. You may know what helps you to relax, like sitting down with a cup of tea and your favourite book, going for a dog walk or having a long, warm bath. It’s important you schedule some downtime, we’re in a busy world and spending a day simply to switch off can leave you motivated, inspired and more productive later on.
Nourish your social life
Socialising with others is just as important as alone time. Feeling connected to other people can help you feel confident and valued, and help you gain a different perspective on certain situations. Try to spend time with your friends and family if you can - whether it be a big day out, a coffee date or a phone call. You’ll be surprised at how it can make you feel.
If you don’t have a supportive network around you, being alone can grow very lonely. Without an active social life, you can feel incredibly isolated, but there are other ways you can make connections. Look in your local area for organisations, such as book clubs, workout classes, or even volunteering to meet new people.
Look after your physical health
Your physical health is just as important as mental health, and often the two go hand-in-hand. If you’re looking to introduce self-care into your lifestyle, take some time to look into your diet and activity levels, and sleeping pattern. When we’re swamped with work, feeling stressed or unwell, our physical health can often be the first to dwindle. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep. If you’re going through a difficult time, sleep gives your body the chance to rest and your mind the time to process feelings. However, too much sleep can be just as detrimental. Aim for seven to eight hours per night.
What and when you eat can also affect how you feel. Eating a balanced diet and staying active keeps you physically healthy and can make a big difference to your mental well-being too. Make sure you speak to a professional before any big lifestyle changes, diet is very misunderstood and what you need may differ to someone else.
Talk to others
If you’re finding it hard to cope, talking to others can offer a sense of relief. As alone as you may feel, there are people who care about you and support is available. Perhaps ask a friend to join you on a walk, and ask if they’re OK to talk. It’s so easy to keep your worries to yourself, and a part of self-care is not allowing yourself to go through the journey alone. Self-care is about you and your health - if you need a helping hand, that’s OK.
If you’re going through a difficult time but don’t feel comfortable talking to a friend or family member, consider joining a local support group and speaking to people who understand how you’re feeling, or try online support. Alternatively, you can talk to someone trained to simply listen - Samaritans are available 24/7 and you can call them for free on 116 123.
Consider further help
While self-care is about caring for yourself, accepting help when it’s needed is a big part of self-management. If you’re stressed, unwell or experiencing a mental health problem, going through it alone makes the journey all the more difficult. Counselling can really help us understand how to take care of ourselves. A counsellor can help you learn how to cope with your stressors, and show you how caring for yourself is nothing to feel guilty about.
As children, we’re taught to look after ourselves, from physical actions, like brushing our teeth daily and to going to bed early, to learning how to talk about our feelings and resting when unwell. As adults, why should this be any different? If you feel you’re getting too wrapped up in life, but aren’t prioritising your health, remember that change is possible. Giving yourself time isn’t selfish in any way - it’s caring for your mind and body.
Take a look at our PDF guides for more self-care tips: