What is Self-Care, and Why Does It Matter?

Posted by Nicole on September 8

Over the past few years, “self-care” has become something of a buzzword. In particular, the pandemic led to more conversations around the topic of self-care.

In our frenzied, fast-paced society, we are urged to pour ourselves completely into work and other obligations, putting ourselves in a perpetual back seat.

Indeed, some people may even have a hard time slowing down to take care of their own needs because they worry that doing so is selfish, or that they have not “earned” it.

But self-care it’s not something that you earn, nor is it selfish. In fact, it is of vital importance for your physical and mental health.

In this post, we will explain exactly what self-care is and why it matters. We will also give you some ideas for how you can practice self-care in your own life.

What is Self-Care?

The World Health Organization defines self-care as “he ability of individuals, families and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and to cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a healthcare provider”.

The International Self-Care Foundation (ISF) lays out these basic pillars of self-care:

  • Health literacy 
  • Mental Wellbeing 
  • Physical 
  • Healthy eating 
  • Risk avoidance or mitigation
  • Good hygiene
  • Rational and responsible use of products, services, diagnostics and medicines

In short, self-care is everything you do to take care of your own health on your own outside of appointments with health care practitioners. Instead of thinking of self-care as “selfish,” you should look at it as a practice in self-reliance and autonomy.

Psych Central points out some useful things to keep in mind about self-care. The site states, “Self-care should not be viewed as something you only do if you have time. Neither is self-care something that should only be a reward that can be gained once other tasks are completed.”

The site adds, “A 2009 research article notes that self-care is not an indulgence. Rather, it’s an essential component of prevention for distress, burnout, and impairment.”

The point is that you are intrinsically worth it. Practicing self-care just means being responsible for yourself and loving yourself—it is not something “extra” you can only do if you have taken care of other “more important” things. It is just as important as your work or taking care of family or friends.

Why Does Self-Care Matter?

The overwhelming majority of healthcare in your life will be the care that you provide for yourself at home, not something you received from a physician.

Practicing appropriate self-care is one of the most important things you can do to protect and enhance your well being over your lifetime.

Not only that, but when everybody practices self-care, it can mean a healthier society as a whole and less of a burden on the healthcare system.

Some Simple Self-Care Ideas

You are probably wondering what, on a practical level, everyday self-care looks like. The answer is different from person to person, and there are literally hundreds of examples we could give. But here are a few ideas you could consider:

  • Eat a healthy diet, even if it means that you need to take a little extra time free food preparation some days.
  • Work out on a regular basis each week, even if you can only do brief, mild exercises.
  • Research health issues that concern you and educate yourself about your options for dealing with various conditions.
  • Take healthy supplements if you find them beneficial.
  • Get a full night of sleep every night if possible. Do not sacrifice sleep for work.
  • Have a go-to plan if your stress becomes overwhelming to you. This could be something as simple as taking 10 minutes to yourself somewhere secluded where you can decompress.
  • Practice good hygiene, and be willing to invest in healthy products for your body.
  • Make appointments for services like massage, chiropractic care, or acupuncture.
  • Take time each week for a hobby. If you do not currently have any hobbies, either take up an old one again or discover a new one.
  • Take a long, relaxing bath or shower.
  • Consider practicing some form of meditation.
  • Find a way to improve the space you live in. This could mean decluttering, moving your furnishings, or upgrading your space in some way.
  • Spend more time outdoors, especially if you have access to green spaces.
  • Take breaks when you need them (this is easier for a lot of people now than it was in the past, thanks to increased work-at-home prevalence).
  • Take a moment to do something nice for someone else. You could donate money, pay someone a compliment, give a customer an extra discount if you run a business, or anything else you can think of that might make somebody happy.
  • Spend extra time on your appearance if you enjoy that kind of thing, even if you have nowhere “important” to go.
  • If you have a difficult time balancing obligations and saying “no” when you need to, practice establishing boundaries and enforcing them with others. Learn ways to do this assertively, not aggressively.
  • Consider keeping a journal, or doing some other form of writing that helps you express yourself and sort through your thoughts.

Those are just a few examples. Some of the basics apply universally, like eating a healthy diet and getting plenty of nightly sleep. But for many of the others, there is infinite variation.

One person might find it soothing, for example, to style their hair. But another could find it stressful.

The most important thing is just to make sure that you are structuring your self-care around your needs and personality.

Practiced regularly, self-care not only will help you maintain your health, but will also serve as a daily reminder that you respect and value yourself unconditionally.

The more you send yourself that positive message, the better you will feel about yourself and your life.

Make Self-Care a Regular Part of Your Daily Life

Now you know what self-care is and why it is so important. You also have a number of easy ideas for incorporating more self-care into your own life.

When you turn self-care into an ongoing healthy habit, you bolster your physical and psychological well-being, and become a more self-reliant person.