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  • Writer's pictureStudent Wellbeing Service

What is self-care and why is self-care important?

Updated: Nov 13, 2020

Self-care is a popular topic these days, but it is often poorly explained. Perhaps you keep seeing it mentioned in self-help books or magazine articles and yet don’t have a clear sense of how you’re supposed to add it to your life. It may seem wishy-washy or vague to you. Alternatively, maybe you aren’t convinced that you should practice regular self-care. Maybe you think your resources are better saved for working and for looking after others.

So, what is self-care, and why is it so important? As it turns out, there are many different self-care practices, and not all of them suit everyone. This guide will take you through the reasons why you need at least some sort of self-care in your routine, and will help you understand the specific changes you may need to make.

What Is Self-Care? The Definition Of Self Care

Self-care is a broad term that encompasses just about anything you to do be good to yourself. In a nutshell, it’s about being as kind to yourself as you would be to others. It’s partly about knowing when your resources are running low and stepping back to replenish them rather than letting them all drain away. It also involves integrating self-compassion into your life in a way to help prevent the possibility of burnout.

However, it is 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 practised correctly, self-care has long-term benefit for the mind, the body, or both.

Benefits Of Self Care

So, why is self-care important? There are many benefits of self-care although the most obvious relates to mood and energy levels. However, research shows that there are also wider-ranging benefits:

Top 6 Benefits Of Self Care

  • 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 helpful 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, with better self-care often comes fewer colds, cases of flu and upset stomachs. Less stress and a better immune system can help you feel more physically able and strong inside and out.

  • Enhanced self-esteem. When you regularly carve out time that’s 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. Practising 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 help you reprioritise previously abandoned hobbies.

  • More to give. When you’re good to yourself, you might think you’re 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 can’t fill someone else’s if you don’t have enough of your own!

Types Of Self Care

One of the main excuses we make for ignoring our self-care is that we just don’t have the time. There are many self-care practices that are easy to adopt and require little planning. The trick is to find something that you genuinely enjoy and that fits with your life and values. Once you start adding emotional self-care to your life, you’re likely to become fiercely protective of that time and wonder how you ever managed without it!

Here are the five main categories of self-care, along with explanations of how they can help you and specific examples:

1. Sensory

Sensory self-care is all about helping to calm your mind. When you are able to tune into the details of the sensations all around you, it is easier to live in the present moment. Being more present can help you to let go of resentments related to the past or anxieties about the future.

When you think about practising sensory self-care, consider all of your senses: touch, smell, sound, and sight. Most of us are more responsive to one particular sense, so ask yourself what that sense might be for you.

Sensory Self-Care Ideas

The following examples of sensory self-care involve at least one sense, but often more.

  • Cuddling up under a soft blanket.

  • Going to the countryside and focusing on the smell of the air.

  • Watching the flames of a candle or a fire.

  • Feeling the water on your skin during a hot bath or shower.

  • Focusing on the movements of your own breathing.

  • Lying down and listening to music with your eyes closed.

  • Sitting in the heat of the afternoon sun.

  • Walking barefoot in the grass.

  • Holding a pet in your arms.

2. Emotional

When it comes to your emotional health, one of the best self-care tips is to make sure you fully engage with your emotions. When you face them head-on, this actually helps with stress.

You may feel tempted to ignore difficult feelings like sadness or anger, but it is much healthier to feel them, accept them, and then move on from them. It can help to remember that emotions are neither "good" or "bad" they are just signals, what is important is how you behave in response to them.

Emotional Self-Care Ideas

  • Keep a daily journal, and be totally honest about your feelings.

  • Talk about how you feel, it's healthy to put your feelings into words. Putting feelings into words helps us to use self-control when we feel mad or upset.

  • Write a list of “feeling words” to expand your emotional vocabulary.

  • Make time to be with a friend or family member who truly understands you.

  • Let yourself cry when you need to.

  • Deliberately encourage yourself to laugh with old memories or funny videos.

  • Sing along to the song that best expresses your current emotions.

3. Spiritual

Spiritual self-care is the activity we engage in to find and nurture a sense of connection and meaning for our lives. Spiritual self-care is about getting in touch with your values and what really matters to you.

Self-care tips for depression often stress that developing a sense of purpose is vital to your recovery. Below are some versatile examples that can help you with this. Spiritual Self-Care Ideas

  • Keep up a daily meditation or mindfulness practice.

  • Read poetry.

  • Walk-in nature and reflect on the beauty around you.

  • Make a list of 5-10 things that make you feel grateful.

  • Be creative, whether through art, music, writing or something else entirely.

  • Make a list of 5-10 things that make you feel alive, then ask yourself how you can better incorporate these things into your life.

  • Say affirmations that ground your sense of self and purpose.

  • Go on a trip with the sole purpose of photographing things that inspire you.

4. Physical

The importance of self-care definitely extends to the physical aspects of your health. Physical activity is not only vital for your physical wellbeing but it can also support you emotionally by helping you to process your feelings and let off steam.

Physical Self-Care Ideas

  • Dance to your favourite songs

  • Do yoga. Even if you’ve never tried it, there are poses that are perfect for beginners.

  • Join a class and learn a new sport.

  • Go running with your dog (or a friend’s)!

  • Cycle through the countryside.

  • Simply go for a walk.

It is important to remember that physical self-care is also about rest:

  1. Nap when you need to. Just 20 minutes can make you feel mentally and physically refreshed.

  2. Say “no” to invitations when you’re simply too tired to enjoy them.

  3. Don’t push yourself to do your exercise routine when you’re run down or unwell.

  4. Commit to 7-9 hours of sleep per night, barring exceptional circumstances.

5. Social

Connecting with others is more important than you might think, whether you are an introvert or extrovert we are all social beings. Studies have shown that people who feel more connected to others have lower rates of anxiety and depression, have higher self-esteem, are more empathic to others, more trusting and cooperative and, as a consequence, others are more open to trusting and cooperating with them. Social connectedness generates a positive feedback loop of social, emotional and physical well-being.

Social self-care isn’t about just doing things with others for the sake of it, but about choosing to do things with people who really make you feel good.

Social Self-Care Ideas

  • Make arrangements to have lunch or dinner with a friend.

  • Write an email to someone who lives far away, but who you miss.

  • Reach out to someone you like but haven’t seen in a while.

  • Consider joining a group of people who share your interests.

  • Strike up a conversation with someone you don't know.

  • Join a support group for people who struggle with the same things you do.

  • Sign up for a class to learn something new and meet new people at the same time.

(Taken from an article by Katherine Hurst -

Steve Race

Manager - Student Wellbeing Service

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