Content by Sara Dalrymple, RSW MSW BA Psych., BANA Clinical Therapist
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SELF-CARE: BEYOND BUBBLE BATHS

Self-care is something we hear about all the time; however, many of us have very little insight in regards to what self-care entails. One very important reality about self-care – that tends to go overlooked – is that it’s not just bubble baths, chocolate treats, or foot massages. Sometimes that’s exactly what self-care can look like; other times, not so much. Sometimes self-care is making difficult decisions to improve the quality of your life – setting boundaries with loved ones; ending historical relationships; cancelling exciting plans to rest when sick; sacrificing pay to take a mental health day; down-sizing in order to be able to better afford life necessities. It can be hard to take these initiatives, it can be nerve-wracking, and it can be stressful. But some things bubble baths won’t fix, even if you scrub-a-dub-dub three times a day.  Some things require you to get down in the dirt and dig with your hands in order to build a stronger foundation.

Why is Self-Care So Important?

We all know physical health is important for us in order to maintain the physical vessel we live within – our body. However, did you know much of our physical health is affected by our mental wellness? Mental health problems can often come with symptoms that influence your physical body – this is because many of our bodies’ hormones can be altered by our mental state (for example: cortisol our stress hormone, and dopamine our pleasure hormone).  Stress alone can have detrimental effects on physical health (directly and indirectly), including high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, fatigue, lowered immune system functioning, hypertension, and more.

If we don’t slow down and take care of ourselves – physically, mentally, and spiritually – we run the risk of deteriorating our overall wellness. When you are unwell, you may experience secondary consequences; your performance at work or school could decrease, you may not have the energy to put forth into important relationships, and you may have less to give overall. They say you can’t fill from an empty cup, and this could not be more true.

Regularly practicing self-care can improve your health, self-esteem, compassion and empathy towards others, relaxation abilities, productivity, self-awareness… the list goes on and on. Self-care is saying to yourself, “I’m a priority”. And contrary to popular belief, self-care does not make you selfish. It makes you human, and as a human you have needs. When you start to prioritize yourself, many positive outcomes can follow.

Positive Activities:

It’s likely that you already have a list of positive activities you can engage in to perk yourself up. If not, it may be a good idea to develop one. Positive activities are either things you enjoy/get pleasure out of, or things that make you feel as though you’ve accomplished something.

It may be helpful to categorize these activities so you have a good idea of what activities are most appropriate for your physical wellbeing (example: sleep hygiene or exercise), your mental wellbeing (example: relaxing or crafting), and your spiritual wellbeing (example: engaging in your faith, volunteering or giving back), depending on your needs of the day.  Whenever you need a pick-me-up, turn to this list and tell yourself that you have to follow through with whichever activity you select.

It is important that you schedule time into your day for self-care, similarly as you would for an appointment or a meeting. Scheduling self-care can help keep you accountable, and can make it easier for you to schedule your other demands around your much needed self time.  And it does not have to be a large block of time; in some cases, self-care can be a quick 5-15 minutes of your day.

The Not-So-Pretty Self-Care:

As aforementioned, self-care can entail some difficult decisions and nerve-wracking initiatives. It may be important to look for discrepancies between your values/goals, and your day-to-day reality. These discrepancies may be responsible for your problems with stress, depression, anxiety, or overall discontentment.

The World Health Organization defines quality of life as: “an individual’s perception of their position in life in the context of the culture and value systems in which they live and in relation to their goals, expectations, standards and concerns” (World Health Organization, 2014).

What this means is that if you do not perceive your day-to-day reality as progressing towards your values, goals, passions and purpose, it is likely that you will not have the quality of life that you want for yourself. It is important to identify which areas of your life you are unsatisfied with, and make changes to these areas so that they better align with your values and goals.

If you find yourself in a relationship with someone who is critical of you, does not support you and/or your dreams, or takes advantage of you, self-care could look like attending counseling on your own or with this individual; ending the relationship; working on changing your expectations; or developing new boundaries.

If you are at a job that exhausts you, squeezes more out of you than what’s worth the pay, or does not feel purposeful to you, it may be time to look for another job. Finding a work environment that supports you, values you, and allows you to practice your passions is very much self-care.

If you were pressured to enter college/university because it’s the societal expectation, and you’re in a program you can’t stand, self-care may be taking some time away from academics for self-exploration and reflection.

If you worked very hard to buy that shiny new car or expensive condo, and one day your finances take a turn for the worst, self-care may look like downgrading temporarily until you find financial stability once again.

All of these examples may come with uncomfortable conversations, added things on your to-do list, or terminated relationships. However, the idea is that you bite the bullet now in order to improve the quality of your life long-term. After all, that’s exactly what self-care is: improving the quality of your life.

Self-Care and Eating Disorder Recovery:

Self-care is very much relevant to eating disorder recovery. In the physical sense, self-care can help you to focus on your nutritional needs, normative/”healthy” physical activity, and sleeping patterns. Mentally, self-care can help you to manage your moods and stressors so that you do not turn to disordered eating habits to cope.

In terms of body image, self-care is a vital tool for helping to create positive body experiences. For those that struggle with a negative body image, it may be worthwhile to combat negative memories of your body by introducing more positive memories into the mix. A positive body image is not just the absence of negativity; it also entails appreciating your body on all levels, beyond just appearance. You can do this by enjoying your body through body-focused self-care activities – AKA positive body experiences. To read more about this topic specifically, explore “Step 7: Treating Your Body Well” in the Body Image Workbook (2nd edition) by Thomas F Cash, PhD.

For more information on self-care, please visit the sources listed in the references below.

References:

Healthline. (2019). The effects of stress on your body. Retrieved August 08, 2019, from
https://www.healthline.com/health/stress/effects-on-body#1

Raniga, N. (2017, March 06). How to Make Self-Care a Priority. Retrieved August 08, 2019,from https://chopra.com/articles/how-to-make-self-care-a-priority

Reach Out Australia. (2019). Developing a self-care plan. Retrieved August 08, 2019, from https://schools.au.reachout.com/articles/developing-a-self-care-plan

T., Davis. (2018, December 28). Self-Care: 12 Ways to Take Better Care of Yourself. Retrieved August 08, 2019, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/click-here-happiness/201812/self-care-12-ways-take-better-care-yourself

World Health Organization. (2014, March 11). WHOQOL: Measuring Quality of Life. Retrieved August 06, 2019, from https://www.who.int/healthinfo/survey/whoqol-qualityoflife/en/