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What self-care really means and why it's so important for your well-being

The word ‘self-care’ is thrown around so often these days and too often it’s misunderstood. Self-care is fundamental to the work we do with all our clients, but we often find they start from a belief that self-care is self-indulgent, when actually that’s far from true.

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What self-care is and what it's not

While a spot of pampering definitely helps, self-care isn’t all about bubble baths and manicures! In fact it’s not always about what’s easy and enjoyable – it can be downright frustrating and uncomfortable.

The actions, habits and mindset that are best for your health and wellbeing often take effort, or require you to evolve beyond your ingrained way of thinking and behaving.

Self-soothing and self-care are not the same thing.

True self-care means tapping into your own needs, understanding yourself better and setting clear expectations and boundaries for yourself and others. Because if you keep putting yourself last, it will undoubtedly have an impact at some stage of your life.

You can start with the basics:

  • Are you getting enough sleep?
  • Are you nourishing your bodies?
  • Are you exercising, and making time for rest and recuperation?

What self-care is to you, will be different to what it is for your friend, or your sister

It could look like regularly cooking yourself simple, healthy meals from scratch instead of buying ready meals. Working out a debt payment plan instead of burying your head in the sand. Or finally booking the doctor’s appointment you’ve been putting off for months.

It means being able to stop and calibrate your needs and how you are feeling as opposed to simply pushing on through.

Consciously bringing awareness to how you feel, either in yourself or about how someone else’s behaviour has impacted you, means you can really start to tune in to what aligns and what doesn’t and then take action to address it.

In turn, this helps you make better decisions. You can respond rather than react, based on your own wants and needs, helping you to transform your relationship with yourself.

Self-care, self-talk and setting boundaries for yourself and others

What self-care really means - hands holding a pink mug
More fundamentally self-care is how you communicate with yourself and others. How do you respond to adversity? What do you do when you make a mistake or when other people overstep your boundaries? Self-compassion leads to true self-care. But as women we punish ourselves more than we realise.

  • Putting ourselves last because we’ve been taught that’s what we need to do to be liked or loved.
  • Pressuring ourselves to be perfect and berate ourselves when we inevitably fail to be.
  • Attaching our self-worth to how busy and productive we are
  • Working out because we feel guilty about the piece of cake we ate earlier
  • Feeling guilty for taking any time for ourselves.

Self-care is choosing to nourish yourself instead. It isn’t something we resort to when we’re fatigued, exhausted and unwell. It’s about creating a life we don’t need to escape from. It also means dealing with what can be uncomfortable truths, in both our relationships with others, and with ourselves.

This may mean:

  • Setting boundaries with yourself and others.
  • Saying ‘no’ when you want to even if it displeases those around you
  • Ending relationships that make you feel bad about yourself
  • Doing uncomfortable things to improve your long-term wellbeing
  • Making yourself do things you’ve been putting off or asking yourself why you are doing them in the first place if you find yourself constantly avoiding

These actions can be challenging, but they are the essence of self-nourishment.

Why non-negotiable self-care habits are good for your health

Even after all my training, when I was struggling to cope after an accident and I couldn’t move my neck, my default response was a dutiful one. I pressured myself to just carry on, to keep going. But my body was screaming at me to stop. So I listened. 

It wasn’t easy, but I decided to stop pretending everything was OK and communicated how I really felt. I asked for help and support around the house. I focused on what made me feel good, the things that brought me moments of joy. I rested when I needed to and very slowly and gently started to move gradually each day. 

I gave myself some compassion and love, reminding myself this was a moment in time, by practising breathing and mindfulness exercises which gradually started to make a positive difference to my pain. 

I accepted that I wasn’t able to do what I’ve always done, and that’s ok. My body needed my attention to heal and recover. It is amazing and I respected it!

You’ll have heard your body and mind screaming at you as mine did. Desperately asking you to listen. What I teach my clients, and what I want you to do, is to take the time to nourish yourself long before it gets to that.

It’s no secret that chronic stress is bad for your physical and mental health. Regular self-care practice helps us lower our stress levels and improves our health – it’s one of the most positive things you can do for yourself.

We need to build nourishment into our everyday lives. Because if we let it, life will always get in the way. We need to make caring for ourselves a priority just like we would caring for a child or our pets.

Establish self-care habits that improve your long-term wellbeing

Try to find something that you can do regularly that improves your long-term wellbeing. This could be:

  • bringing awareness to your automatic patterns of behaviour- are they supporting you or having negative impacts on your health and wellbeing?
  • a daily walk, with or without the dog, even if you’re busy,
  • regularly decluttering your workspace or your inbox,
  • writing a gratitude list before you go to bed.
  • putting your phone away at least an hour before you go to bed every night.
  • pausing and checking in with yourself before you say ‘yes’ and feeling into what’s right for you and saying ‘no’ more.

Want more like this? Sign up to our email list and get our Five Steps to Emotional Healing After Cancer to kick-start the self-compassion you need to make self-care a priority. 

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