Mental Health Month: Creating a Self-Care Practice

Updated: Jun 15, 2021

Image credit: Paru Ramesh

What does self-care actually mean?

We’ve all heard about self-care, and we probably know that self-care is important for our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. But what does self-care actually mean? Is it bubble baths and a massage? A week at a retreat? A minute to ourselves? Does it mean meditating, going for a run, calling a friend, or watching Netflix on the couch? The answer is that self-care can include any of these things, or none of them. Self-care is any activity or behaviour that we consciously incorporate into our lives to enhance our own health and wellbeing. Self-care looks different for everybody, and our own self-care needs change over time as our circumstances fluctuate. Self-care includes what we say yes to, what we say no to, the way we treat ourselves, the priorities we set, and the behaviours that we cultivate. At it’s core, self-care asks us to actively tend to our relationship with ourselves with as much care, kindness, generosity and attention as we pour into our relationships with our loved ones.

Simply put, self-care is:

  • Any activity or behaviour that we do to enhance our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing;

  • deliberate & intentional;

  • different for everybody;

  • & constantly evolving as our needs and circumstances change.

Why should I practice self-care?

There are lots of reasons to practice self-care! Self-care is profoundly beneficial for our physical, mental and emotional health. Self-care practices can increase our physical longevity and improve our immune function, reduce the symptoms and severity of our mental health challenges, benefit our relationships with others, allow us to be more effective at work, and greatly improve our quality of life. Crucially, self-care can also make us more resilient and able to more effectively cope with the periods of stress, challenge and change that come our way.

OK, but how can I actually practice self-care in real life (especially when I’ve got no time!)?

Even when we know how important and beneficial self-care is, it is often one of the first things that we abandon when life gets busy and stressful (as it inevitably does!). Maybe we feel as though we don’t have time to practice self-care when we’re overwhelmed and our schedule is packed. Or we may even think that self-care is just too indulgent and selfish – after all, who are we to spend time looking after ourselves when there are so many other people in our lives who need our time and attention? The reality is that when we make our self-care a priority (and especially when we feel time poor and under the pump) we are actually able to function more efficiently and effectively in all aspects of our lives. We feel better within ourselves, we are able to be more present and helpful for the people in our lives, and we can fulfil our chosen roles more productively. The times when we feel the least able to practice self-care are almost always the times in which our self-care is the most important – not only for us, but for the people around us.

Practical steps for building your own self-care practice:

The Black Dog Institute identifies 6 different components of a self-care practice: body, mind spirit, emotions, relationships and work. A great place to start when designing your self-care practice is to ask yourself:

  • What do I need in each of these areas?

  • How can I meet these needs in a practical, realistic way?

You can find a link to Black Dog’s self-care practice template here.

Our tips for incorporating a regular self-care practice into the actual mess and fuss of everyday life:

  • Make it happen now: if you wait for the perfect time to introduce a regular self-care practice into your life, you’ll be waiting forever. It’s important to create a realistic self-care practice that you can start implementing today – no matter how tired, busy, stressed or overwhelmed you are;

  • Make it accessible: if your self-care practice relies on spending an amount of time or money that doesn’t seem realistic, it’s time to make some practical adjustments. If you can’t spend an hour meditating, could you try 10 minutes? If exercising every day isn’t happening, how about 3 or 4 days a week? If you don’t have the pocket money for a week-long health retreat, could you book a massage instead? What’s feasible, realistic and achievable?

  • Make it flexible, but also make it non-negotiable: rigid plans are almost always doomed to failure. How can you make your self-care practice flexible and resilient enough to adapt to changing circumstances, but also important enough to be non-negotiable?

What does self-care mean for you?

Self-care is an ongoing, ever-evolving project - we would love to hear.

Self-care resources:

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