By Niraj Shah
Especially at a time where taking care of our mental health is extremely important, self-care is a term that has been mentioned a lot. There is a strong link between self-care and mental health, as self-care is something that is vital in order to ensure good mental health. Self-care is an extremely broad term and as a result self-care means different things to different people. In this article I aim to address the main misconceptions that people have about self-care.
One vague and broad definition that I have seen refers to self-care as any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional and physical health. From first glance this definition implies that self-care refers to an actual activity and something we actually set aside time to do in order to improve our wellbeing. Taking a bath, going for a walk, or even treating yourself to good food are all examples of self-care activities that you would set aside some time to do. However, in my opinion, self-care is not just about setting aside time to do certain activities. For example, in this exam period, one thing that I did which I consider as self-care is that I would stop revising past 1am, just so that I don’t burn out. This isn’t something that I have physically set aside any time to do, but I still consider it as self-care, as it has helped my mental health. Knowing that self-care doesn’t have to involve setting aside time for something is extremely crucial, as one of the reasons why people don’t feel that they can practice self-care is because they don’t have time due to their busy schedules. However, you can still practice self-care even no matter how busy your schedule is. For example, if you have an extremely busy schedule because of your job, one method that you can practice self-care without it taking time away from your busy schedule is by turning off your work phone or emails outside work hours.
One massive misconception about self-care, is that in some cases, people think that people who are practicing self-care are being selfish. Self-care is when people try and do things for their own wellbeing and mental health, however sometimes people think that for someone who is practicing self-care their ONLY priority is their wellbeing. Consider the following example. A friend asks you to take him to the airport to catch an 7:50 a.m. flight which means you need to get him there by at least 6:30. You get up early for work every day in spite of not being a morning person and this is taking a toll on both your mental and physical health. You want to prioritise your mental and physical health, and say no so you can have a lie in for once, but feel badly because your friend doesn’t have extra money to spend on a cab ride. Examples like this is why the terms self-care and selfish get so easily confused, and the difference between the two terms is actually quite subtle. However, being selfish is choosing to consistently only think of your own needs and wants, whereas the other hand, self-care is choosing to honour your inner wants and needs in order to help you serve others well. And sometimes that requires putting yourself ahead of someone else.
Another term that self-care often gets confused with is self-improvement. These are two terms that are really important to distinguish between, as sometimes most people approach self-care with the thought, ‘I’m going to make myself better,’ and that doesn’t work. However, having said that, my opinion is that self-care can lay the foundations for someone to make themselves better by engaging in self-improvement. An example is if someone wants to enjoy career success in the next 2 years. This should be approached as a self-improvement goal by doing things such as taking advantage of any personal development opportunities or ensuring that high quality work is produced in a consistent basis. However, self-care can provide the foundations for this by doing things such as getting a good night sleep every day, exercising at the start of each day and ensuring a healthy diet. Considering self-care as something that can lay the stepping stones for self-improvement rather than directly lead to it is something that is crucial to keep in mind when practicing self-care.
Furthermore, self-care is such a broad term that there are different categories of self-care. These different categories include emotional self-care, physical self-care, mental self-care, practical self-care, social self-care and spiritual self-care. These different types of self-care seem obvious, but something that is still vital to bring up. The fact that there are different categories of self-care strengthens the argument that there is no such thing as a one size fits all method when it comes to practicing self-care, and self-care methods will vary from person to person.
As well as knowing the main misconceptions of self-care, there are two further things that I want you to take away from reading this article. The first is that there is no precise definition of self-care and that things you may consider as self-care may not be considered as self-care by someone else, and that’s completely fine. As mentioned in the beginning of the second paragraph, self-care is something that we do in order to take care of our mental, emotional and physical health, so as long as self-care methods that you implement work for you then that’s perfectly fine. The second and more important takeaway is that self-care is something you need to actively spend time thinking about and reflecting upon. More precisely, it is vital that before one engages in self-care, thought is given into the self-care strategies that are put in place, as well as regularly reflecting on whether these self-care strategies are effective in improving your wellbeing.
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