What is self-care? Self-care is a broad term that encompasses just about anything you to do be good to yourself. In a nutshell, it is about being as kind to yourself as you would be to others. It is also partly about knowing when your resources are running low, and stepping back to replenish them rather than letting them all drain away.
However, it’s important to note that not everything that feels good is self-care. We can all be tempted to use unhealthy coping mechanisms like drugs, alcohol, over-eating, and risk-taking. These self-destructive activities help us to regulate challenging emotions, but the relief is temporary. The difference between unhealthy coping mechanisms and self-care activities is that the latter is uncontroversially good for you. When practiced correctly, self-care has long-term benefit for the mind, the body, or both.
Why is self-care important? There are many benefits of self-care. The most obvious relates to mood and energy levels. Research shows wider ranging benefits as well including:
- Better productivity: when you learn how to say “no” to things that over-extend you and start making time for things that matter more, you slow life down in a wonderful way. This brings your goals into sharper focus and helps you to concentrate on what you’re doing.
- Improved resistance to disease: there is evidence that most self-care activities activate your parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). What this means is that your body goes into a restful, rejuvenating mode, helping it to fortify its immune system
- Better physical health: similarly to the previous point, with better self-care often come fewer colds, cases of flu and upset stomachs. Less stress and a better immune system can surely help you feel more physically able and strong inside and out.
- Enhanced self-esteem: when you regularly carve out time that is only about being good to yourself and meeting your own needs, you send a positive message to your subconscious. Specifically, you treat yourself like you matter and have intrinsic value. This can go a long way toward discouraging negative self-talk and your critical inner voice.
- Increased self-knowledge: practicing self-care requires thinking about what you really love to do. The exercise of figuring out what makes you feel passionate and inspired can help you understand yourself a lot better. Sometimes, this can even spark a change in career or a reprioritisation of previously abandoned hobbies.
- More to give: when you are good to yourself, you might think you are being selfish. In truth, self-care gives you the resources you need to be compassionate to others as well. Giving compassion is a bit like filling a bucket; you cannot fill someone else’s if you don’t have enough of your own!
Staying healthy is important for everyone. This means eating healthily, exercising regularly, quitting smoking and drinking in moderation. The good news is that self-care can help you manage most of these problems. It may mean you do not have to spend time waiting to see a clinician and can get on with tackling your symptoms. Self-care for common conditions can also help free up some of your practice’s time, making it easier to get an appointment when you have a more serious condition. If you are not sure what changes you can make to help improve your health, try some of these websites:
- The Self Care Forum has produced a series of fact sheets to help you take care of the most common conditions. These provide useful facts about your condition, what you can expect to happen, how to help yourself, when you should see your GP and where to find out more information.
- Public Health England have designed a “How are you?” quiz designed to point you in the right direction
- “Mind”, the mental health charity, have provided self-care techniques and general lifestyle tips available online that can help you manage the symptoms of many mental health problems
- NHS England – are working with 15 new care models across the country to test how we can deliver support for self-care, systematically and at scale. Find out more about self-care in health as a social movement
Research shows people using these fact sheets felt more able to manage their common condition. You can also find information on other common conditions by visiting the NHS Online A-Z Health website. If you need more advice or you are unsure what the right thing for you to do is, ask your pharmacist for advice or call the surgery to speak to a team member or make an appointment to discuss your problem further.
Lots of people visiting GPs feel isolated or lonely, or they may be stressed by work, money or housing problems. Sometimes it’s the stress of managing different long-term conditions. There are new schemes (often referred to as “Social Prescribing”) being developed that are designed to support people with a wide range of social, emotional or practical needs, and many schemes are focused on improving mental health and physical well-being.
Those who might particularly benefit from these schemes include people with mild or long-term mental health problems, vulnerable groups, people who are socially isolated, and those who frequently attend either primary or secondary health care. The Practice is currently working with a number of other GP surgeries in the region to develop Social Prescribing schemes. Watch this space…