Why is Self-Care So Important?
By: Paul Paris, Ph.D. | April 19, 2019
Forgetting to take care of ourselves, be it physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually, is easy to do. In periods of preoccupation, our increased responsibility or stress often puts our healthy behaviors “on the back burner” while we focus on more pressing matters. Research, in fact, shows that lowering or neglecting care of ourselves decreases stress tolerance, increases emotional sensitivity, and can even create physical problems.
Common thoughts during such times include “I’m too busy to go to the gym this week” or “I don’t have time to meditate today…I have too much to do!” Ironically, during these times of increased stress is when we need self-care the most.
What is self-care and how do we do it? For clarity on specific suggestions, I’ve created some areas to focus on by using the SELF-CARE acronym (we psychologists love acronyms!) to remember and try out:
S = Soothe
E = Exercise
L = Levity
F = Fun
C = Creativity
A = Accept
R = Relax
E = Express
Self-soothing is using one or more of the five senses to help induce a feeling of contentment and comfort. In my opinion, smell is one of the best senses to use for this. Perhaps I wake up groggy and in a bad mood in the morning, so I’ll put on my favorite cologne to boost my mood. If touch makes me feel better, I’ll wrap myself up in my favorite furry blanket after a hard day. Anything you prefer to do is fine.
Regular exercise is a cornerstone of well-being but does not need to be strenuous or unenjoyable. Examples include taking a 15-minute walk outside in the afternoon or some sit ups or push ups to enhance core strength. Aim for at least 3-5 times per week for at least 15 minutes of physical activity. It can work wonders![i]
A few laughs a day keeps the doctor away. Okay, I made that up, but in my experience it is true. Laughter and humor are possibly the best medicines as they help us through life in both good times and bad. Enjoy watching or reading comedic material regularly. How about trying ‘laugh yoga?’
Similar to laughing, letting your hair down and having some fun really adds to the quality of life. Go to an amusement park or the movies. Spend time hanging out with friends. These things contribute to making our lives more pleasurable.
You don’t have to be a Picasso to be creative! So many ways exist to express creativity, such as music, collage-work, painting, or building models, as examples. Whatever the endeavor, creativity stimulates the brain and integrates its parts with the result that simply engaging in the act can create meaning and fulfillment.
Stress sometimes makes life feel overwhelming. This is the time to distinguish between the things we can control and those we cannot. When we learn to accept the things we cannot control, take it a step further and also accept the stress, thoughts, and feelings associated with it. Doing so reduces anxiety. Resentment diminishes. We gain space in our lives to move around more, to move forward; even if we carry our discomfort gremlins in a Radio Flyer behind us…we are moving forward!
Relaxing joins exercising as the topmost components of self-care and should be a regular practice in our life experience. Be it meditation, a hot bath, a massage…anything that activates our relaxation response proves tremendously helpful, particularly in difficult times or simply when we need to rest and recharge before the next day.
Expressing how we feel can have a cathartic, releasing effect. Be it talking with a loved one, journaling thoughts and feelings, or using art or music to express how we feel, research has shown that effectively expressing emotion in a grounded, centered way reduces the activation in the part of the brain responsible for our emotional arousal. Anger caveat: Yelling, throwing things, and the like actually increase anger. So, remember: Effective, centered, grounded expression is key!
I hope these nuggets of self-care suggestions are helpful. I encourage you to give them a try. See whether they make a positive difference for you. I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes on self-care by author and life coach Eleanor Brownn:
“Rest and self-care are so important. When you take time to replenish your spirit, it allows you to serve others from the overflow. You cannot serve from an empty vessel.”
[i] Disclaimer: Always consult with your physician if you have any health problems and/or are starting a new exercise regimen.