Self-Care: A Foundation for Everything
What really matters to you in your life? Perhaps it’s being the best parent/friend that you can be? Or maybe excelling at sporting endeavors or in your work role? Having a clear sense of what matters to us in our lives is helpful, but bringing those imperatives into being requires the right foundations and support. I want to make a (maybe radical) proposal here: Self-care is an essential foundation for all of life, and especially for what matters.
What is self-care?
Simply put, self-care is the practice of taking action, in order to support or improve our health and well-being. For some, the focus on ‘self’ raises concerns about it being selfish, but it is far from that. Engaging in regular self-care supports us in having the energy and capacity to be with and help others. Think of it as keeping your ‘gas tank’ full so that you have fuel for others.
Regular self-care offers beneficial physiologic outcomes. It decreases sympathetic nervous system activation, and the associated fight, flight or freeze responses. This decrease in physiological stress responses translates into lower heart rate, blood pressure and more. Regular self-care has also been linked to increased resilience and the ability to recover from difficulties more quickly. Therefore, self-care can both decrease our stress experience and help us ‘deal with’ stress when it occurs. Finally, self-care has been proposed as a foundation for self-compassion, compassion for others, as well as increased creativity, productivity and joy.
How’s your self-care?
What are your habits with respect to self-care? Is it built into your day-to-day life or an occasional instance? Perhaps self-care is not something you have thought about. We all have established patterns of self-care. These are like well-worn paths: we follow them without really thinking where we are going. One way of becoming more aware of our ‘well-worn paths’ related to self-care, is through a gentle self-inquiry.
Reflecting on our self-care in the context of our (1) internal world (2) physical selves (3) relationships with others (4) and our relationship with the surrounding environment, will give us insight into our current self-care practices – and set the stage for creating desired changes.
Our internal world includes our thoughts, emotions, beliefs and values. While none of these are physically tangible, they exert a strong influence on our daily experiences. Our daily inner dialogue provides a window into our internal world. The words we use in conversation with ourselves create the ‘flavor’ or feeling of our internal world – and, just as when others speak to us, we have physical and emotional responses to those words. In this way, our inner dialogue shapes our predominant mood: have you been aware of this?
Recall your inner dialogue from the last few hours and consider these questions:
- What phrases and predominant messages are evident in your inner dialogue? Is that inner voice critical and judgmental? Or is it encouraging and kind?
- What physical sensations and emotional responses did you notice?
- What is the overall effect of your inner dialogue on you?
Self-care strategy: Being a friend to yourself
Most of us are a better friend to others than we are to ourselves. We tend to be tough and self-doubting with ourselves, while we find it easier to speak kindly and be supportive to others. What would your daily experiences ‘look like’ if you were to be a good friend to yourself?
Recall the predominant phrases you discovered earlier, and pick one that you would like to change. Consider how you might respond to ‘a friend’ if they were in that situation. What phrases would provide support and care? Now use these for yourself.
Let’s explore habits related to our physical body, including sleep, food, movement and exercise. Each of these has potential to influence health and well-being: how well do your habits in these areas contribute to your self-care? The familiarity of these areas might suggest they are a ‘slam-dunk’ for healthful decisions, but my experience indicates that that is not always so.
Rate the accuracy of these statements as the relate to your physical self-care. Options: yes/ frequently, sometimes, no/ rarely
- I eat regular meals and healthy food
- I stay well hydrated
- I engage in some form of exercise each day
- I choose physical activities that are suitable for my physical capacity
- I pay attention to energy levels and rest when I need to.
- I undertake regular preventive medical care
- I get sufficient, high quality sleep
Self-care strategies: Choosing and using information
Did you notice areas where you would like to change your habits? There is little dispute that we need a healthy, well balanced diet, adequate hydration, sufficient high-quality sleep, and regular physical activity. When choosing self-care strategies to support physical self needs, remember that the body is a dynamic, living organism, and so its specific needs will vary from day to day. This means it’s important to check in with our body regularly and tailor strategies to daily needs.
Relationships with others
The quality and nature of our relationships, our capacity to ask for and receive what we need, as well as ability to maintain healthy boundaries, all contribute to our health and wellbeing. What are your ‘well-worn paths’ in these areas?
Consider the frequency of these relationship-related actions in your life:
- I have relationships in which I feel energised and nurtured
- I minimise time in relationships in which I feel drained
- I say no when I need to
- I ask for help when needed
- I make time to see/ talk with friends
- I spend time regularly with my children/significant other (if applicable)
- I have someone in my life who I can trust with my innermost thoughts/ feelings
Self-care strategies: being in relationship
Anything that builds capacity to be in authentic relationships with others, and to communicate effectively will support effective self-care in this part of our lives. A starting spot, here are some reflective questions and links to other resources:
- If you answered ‘no/ rarely’ above, reflect on why this area is neglected. What makes it challenging? What could change that? Do you need to ask for help with this?
- Plan a nurturing conversation each day. This could be a 30 second interchange, but make a point of providing yourself with this support each day.
- Check out these videos about being in relationship, building trust, and taking care of ourselves.
Relationship with the environment
Have you noticed how different places and spaces impact you in different ways? Some are restful and nurturing, others seem to sap our energy. As we become more aware of environmental factors that support or deplete us, we have more opportunity to create or choose healthful environments.
- Identify the environments you are in during your ‘average week’. For each environment, determine if you experience it as renewing or depleting. (Don’t judge this; just notice). Or perhaps, is there a particular area in the environment that feels more nurturing?
- Now identify specific factors that contribute to that experience for you. What is it that makes that space or place renewing or depleting?
- Finally, consider sources of beauty that you encounter in your life: This might be something in nature, an art form, music, a particular scent. When you experience these, what is the effect on your sense of ease and well-being?
Self-care strategies: creating spaces of renewal
What did you learn about the impact of environments on your health and well-being? Did you find some spaces and places or forms of beauty that are sources of renewal? If so, plan ways to strengthen your self-care by increasing your time in that space, or your contact with that form of beauty.
Does lack of time feel like a barrier to being in renewing spaces? Don’t despair – just choose a time- effective action. For example, if being in nature is a source of self-renewal, create some ‘mini-moments’ when you can connect with nature e.g. when you get out of your car, stop and look at the sky/ clouds and take a few slow breaths. Or schedule a 5 minute break ‘outside’ during your day. Or bring nature inside as flowers or plants. Even small amounts of self-care can make a big difference!
I’m hoping that this exploration has helped you become more aware of your ‘well-worn paths’ related to self-care – and opened up some new possibilities for strengthening your daily self-care. Please choose one new strategy that will support your health and well-being and put it into action today!
Mary Gillespie is an Integral (Life) Coach and Nursing Education Consultant. She is deeply committed to helping people build self-awareness, discover their true potential, and expand into new possibilities for living.
She is learning more about the value of self-care as she settles into her new home in New Zealand.
For personal communication or for more information about coaching possibilities, message her via MG Coaching and Consulting Facebook Page.
If you enjoyed this article, read more from Mary Gillespie: In Support of New Beginnings