Self-care could be translated as “self-compassion in action” (See blog  All about Self- Love: Self Compassion)

The term “self-care” describes the actions an individual might take in order to recover, maintain, and improve his or her physical and mental health. Self-care is needed to meet both physical and mental needs. Examples of self-care that satisfy physical needs include exercise, sleep, and attending to medical concerns. Examples of self-care that satisfy mental needs include meditating, emotional expression and journaling

Self-care results naturally from a compassionate stance towards the self. Because a self-compassionate individual has the genuine intention to be free from suffering and meet the self’s need at this moment, he or she will act in line with this intention. Rather than primarily focusing on ways to fix what is “wrong”, self-compassion shifts attention to taking care of personal needs. It allows the individual to meet his or her most important personal needs in a given moment of suffering. After being confronted with a weakness, self-compassionate thoughts help to initiate self-care.

Reactive and Proactive self-care

Reactive self-care involves responses to symptoms of ill health. Reactive self-care is an attempt to take care of the self as soon as any form of physical or mental suffering is detected.

Proactive self-care, on the other hand, involves everyday practices that people engage in to maintain or improve their own health. Proactive self-care involves preventive action, aimed at keeping the self-healthy in the long run. Note, however, that in practice it is often difficult to make a clear distinction between reactive and proactive self-care, as many people try to stay healthy (proactively) and deal with symptoms (reactively) at the same time.

Increasing Self-Care

Countless research findings demonstrate the importance of one’s ability to attend to and meet personal needs. For instance, self-care has been found to increase empathy, immunologic functioning, and has been associated with lower levels of anxiety and depression.

Self-care is sometimes mistaken for selfishness, however, self-care allows people to take better care of others. It is argued that it is a lack of self-care during times of distress that has a negative effect on one’s ability to provide care and compassion to others. Because self-care ensures that we have taken care of our needs, we operate from a state of inner balance, which renders us better equipped to meet others’ needs.

For some people, increasing self-care may require lifestyle changes such as eating healthily, exercising more, and practising yoga

For others, self-care strategies may not require lifestyle changes but rather a conscious decision to create a more healthy balance between different life domains ( eg- work and play)

Some general guidelines that can help to increase self-care :

Examine your Self- Care Actions

Some self-care actions may fulfil certain needs immediately but not promote well-being in the long run. For example, drinking alcohol may satisfy your need for relaxation in the short term, but if used excessively and over a long time will likely negatively impact your well-being.

Likewise, consuming palatable food may offer an immediate comforting experience, but may also be indicative of a problematic relationship with food. You need to review your current self-care actions and where necessary, replace unhealthy ones with better alternatives.

Having a Mindful relationship with your Emotions

Your ability to listen to your needs at any given moment is important for self-care. If we are unable to connect to what we truly need, we cannot give it to ourselves. There are different reasons why people fail to attend to their own needs.

  1. Focusing on meeting the needs of others before their own.        Pleasing people at the expense of personal needs is often driven by an urge to be accepted and liked by others (a need for self-esteem) and/or by an urge to meet the desired self-image of a “helping person”
  2.   Focusing on the future can lead one to neglect personal needs. Constantly striving towards the next goal means that one is living in the future, whereas needs are always connected to and met in the present moment. Tuning in to personal needs means tuning in to what the individual needs right now.
  3. The perceived importance of goals can cause people to convince themselves that they have to sacrifice their current needs. The perceived importance may be determined by an external demand (e.g., work deadline), or by an anticipated reward resulting from goal accomplishment (e.g., working to excess for that moment of financial independence).
  4. Inability or unwillingness to approach their emotions. Emotions are arguably one of the most direct gateways to personal needs. In general, negative emotions indicate that a certain need(s) is not being satisfied, and positive emotions indicate need fulfilment. Negative emotions signal to a person that it is necessary to pause and attend to this need. eg- a person who is unexpectedly not invited to a dinner party may feel excluded. This feeling is a signal that a need for connectedness is thwarted. Likewise, a high level of stress may indicate a need for rest and relaxation. Positive emotions, on the other hand, signal that one’s needs have been met and that an activity ought to be continued. eg- a person who is able to complete a complex task without help from others may experience pride. The pride signals that one’s need for autonomy and competence are being satisfied. Obviously, in order to extract information about personal needs from emotions, one must be willing to approach emotions and allow them to be present. After all, if one is unwilling to experience emotions and keeps avoiding them, the opportunity to learn from the emotion is blocked. As such, in order for self-care to develop, a mindful relationship with emotions (i.e., based on acceptance and tolerance, rather than on avoidance) is required.

Asking for Social Support

The word “self” in “self-care” may falsely imply that one does not rely on others to take care of the self. It is important to realize that the word “self” relates to the fact that it is the individual himself who is taking action to satisfy his needs. Thus, the word “self” stresses the key role of autonomy and personal responsibility in self-care. In some cases, self-care requires the assistance of others. Not all personal struggles can be solved alone. Not all needs can be met in solitude. There are many ways in which connections with other people facilitate self-care. Others may help to satisfy the self’s need for social connectedness, provide a source of positive distraction, and may offer support directly by taking care of mental or physical complaints. A large body of research has stressed the importance of social support, showing that others help individuals cope with major life events and smaller, everyday hassles It is not uncommon, however, for people to struggle to ask for support. They may not want to be a burden to others, are afraid of appearing helpless, or feel ashamed of exposing their vulnerability. Effective self-care requires individuals to overcome barriers to seeking contact with or help from others.

Distancing oneself from unsupportive relationships

Although other people can be a great source of support, they can also be a major source of distress and misery. Negative relationships are the greatest cause of dissatisfaction with life. Indeed, past research has shown that relationships characterized by conflict and negativity are associated with deterioration in immune and cardiovascular function. It is however important to examine the causes of  negative social encounters

Examine the cause of ending negative relationships

Rather than blindly ending relationships that make you feel bad about yourself, it is advisable to first investigate where these negative feelings are coming from. Though your negative feelings may be the result of the other’s attempt to bring you down, they may also be caused by your self-view and interpretation of these social encounters.

People who suffer from insecurity and feelings of low self-worth may perceive others and their reactions through a lens of self-doubt. Consequently, non-threatening responses from others may be misinterpreted as attempts to attack or devalue the client.

Moreover, because your way of responding is influenced by your lack of confidence, you may unwillingly elicit responses from others that confirm your negative self-view, making your interactions a painful self-fulfilling prophecy. In these cases, your negative feelings do not arise as a result of the social encounter but reflect a general stance towards the self.

For instance, say if you were insecure about your physical appearance may experience great discomfort when among people that he perceives as physically attractive. Although avoiding these people may reduce discomfort in the short term, it will not help to resolve the deeper problem at hand (i.e., conditional self-acceptance). In these cases, it is important to investigate your self-image (including your conditions for worth) and help yourself to cultivate a more accepting stance towards your “self.”