Self-Care: What is it?

Orthopaedic & Spine Center
Image of Dr. Robinson talking to a patient

“Self-care is not selfish. You cannot serve others from an empty vessel.” – Eleanor Brown

This is the first article in a series about self-care. In the series, we will cover the various areas in life that require self-care. I will also provide suggestions on how to create your own self-care plan. In this article, I will explain what self-care is and why it is important.

In the United States, we live in a society of immediate gratification and excess. We want more, more, more and we want it now. We work too hard, don’t play enough, and are constantly comparing ourselves to others in a quest for “success.” We overbook and hyper-extend ourselves and our children. At what price? When we are this busy, self-care is the first thing that we sacrifice.

Self-care refers to the activities and practices that we deliberately choose to engage in on a regular basis to maintain and enhance our health and well-being. Looking after yourself is an integral part of living a healthy and fulfilling life. You may think that taking time for yourself seems selfish and indulgent, but it is not. It is necessary and vital to your emotional and physical well-being. It can be extremely detrimental to overlook self-care, and doing so takes a toll on our energy levels, patience, social skills, and productivity at work.

As a medical psychologist who focuses on helping people living with chronic pain, I believe we need to practice and embrace self-care much more than we currently do. One major problem is that we do not talk about self-care enough in our society. Some people may think it is a sign of weakness to opt out of something or take a break. I disagree with this: we need to be comfortable enough and know our needs well enough to take the necessary steps to meet those needs.

First, I think it is important to tell you what self-care is NOT. It is not is anything that’s an overindulgence likely to cause you long-term issues. That doesn’t mean if you eat three donuts or drink a bottle of wine, you should feel ashamed, but it’s not really accurate to call that self-care. Some examples of things that make people feel better in the short-term, but worse in the long-term, are substance use (including drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, caffeine, and energy drinks), bingeing on anything (unhealthy food, television, shopping), withdrawing socially, gossiping, and self-injury. These things have a high likelihood of causing long-term pain or creating problems that will need to be solved later.

Now that I’ve told you what self-care is NOT, I will tell you what it is. Self-care is care provided “for you, by you.” It’s about identifying your own needs and taking steps to meet them. It is taking the time to do some of the activities that nurture you. Self-care is about taking proper care of yourself and treating yourself as kindly as you treat others. In later articles, I will cover more in-depth about activities specific to feeding various needs, but for now, here are examples of some self-care activities. Each person’s needs are different, so take time to explore what feeds your soul:

  • Talk openly with a trusted friend
  • Sit outside and listen to the birds
  • Practice breathing exercises
  • Make sure you are eating a well-balanced diet
  • Get enough sleep
  • Make room in your life for a nap. Rest a while and “recharge”
  • Make exercise a regular part of your routine
  • Take a warm bath/shower
  • Listen to music you enjoy
  • Try a yoga class
  • Journal

There is more to come in the self-care series, so please stay tuned!