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Defining Self Care: What Qualifies?

Heather Lyons, Ph.D.

Self-care has acquired many different definitions as more and more people and organizations become aware of its importance to overall health and wellbeing. The American Psychological Association (APA) defines self-care as “providing adequate attention to one’s own physical and psychological wellness” and believes the practice so crucial that it is considered an “ethical imperative” of mental health professionals. The National Institute of Health (NIH) also promotes self-care from a physical health standpoint, defining it as “a person’s attempts to promote optimal health, prevent illness, detect symptoms at an early date, and manage chronic illness.” 

There are many more definitions for self-care out there, but in a nutshell, self-care is anything you do on your own to maintain or improve your physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional health. An effective self-care regimen is highly personalized and based exclusively on your individual needs. It’s just as important to understand what does NOT qualify as a self-care practice as it is to know what does.

defining self care

Physical Self-Care

As the NIH’s definition implies, a crucial component of self-care is to know and address your body’s physical needs, like getting adequate rest and sleep. A minimum level of physical activity is imperative to keep your body’s systems functioning optimally, as is a well-balanced diet of healthy meals. You should also include regular check-ups with health care providers to keep tabs on every aspect of your physical health.

However, some people take these self-care suggestions a little too far. For example, you might exercise excessively in the hopes of achieving an unattainable body shape or blow off your appointment with your dentist to spend the day on the couch binging on Netflix with a gallon of ice cream. True self-care means knowing and respecting your body’s limits and understanding the difference between rest and laziness or over-indulgence.

The best way to practice physical self-care is to create a balanced, long-term wellness plan that includes manageable levels of physical activity, regular health care check-ups, time for productive rest and relaxation, and a balanced diet. Occasional indulgences (enjoying a dessert at dinner or an extra hour of sleep on a weekend morning) are great, but never at the expense of your other needs. True self-care will mentally and physically refuel and re-energize you, not deplete you or make you feel worse about your quality of life.

Psychological Self-Care

Like physical self-care, psychological self-care encompasses self-care behaviors that keep your thoughts and emotions in an optimal state of wellbeing so you can live your best life. Your mental health and physical health are intertwined, and both are crucial to any self-care practice. Self-care activities like meditation, yoga, and deep breathing do double duty in refreshing and relaxing both your body and your mind.

Mental and emotional self-care includes maintaining a healthy emotional state. Find ways to eliminate sadness, loneliness, and negativity from your life. Maybe you find peace and happiness through solo endeavors like listening to uplifting podcasts, practicing a hobby, or journaling. Or perhaps you enjoy activities with others like participating in a book club or religious group or spending quality time with your friends and family members. Maybe self care means taking a mental health day.

Effective emotional, mental, and spiritual self-care will boost your self-image and self-esteem. When you’re paying attention to your own needs, you’re more productive, less stressed, and more confident. You recognize when your work and your life are out of balance and quickly take steps to get things back on track to prevent burnout. You also make better decisions without sacrificing your wellbeing.

Getting Help With a Self-Care Regimen

Self-care is not an indulgence; it’s a requirement. It’s not a short-term fix; it’s a long-term, comprehensive practice. Self-care is also not a selfish act. When you take better care of your own mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical needs, you’re in a better position to care for others. For many people, this is the most challenging hurdle to practicing self-care.

If you need help overcoming your objections to self-care, or creating a personalized plan to tend to your own needs, consider reaching out to a mental health professional through With Therapy. With Therapy’s unique service will match you with a counselor or therapist with whom you’re comfortable, no matter what your personal preferences or requirements. One of our qualified and caring therapists will help you explore your current thoughts and behaviors and create a self-care plan to achieve your best life.

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