Written by: Mayte Parada, MSc(A), PhD
July 24th is International Self-Care Day. It’s a day that reminds us that taking care of ourselves is incredibly important to our physical and mental well-being. The concept of self-care has become increasingly popular but not everyone understands what self-care means and why it is important.
Self-care goes beyond taking a bubble bath when you’re feeling stressed out. Yes, a relaxing activity may help in the moment, however, doing things when you’re already reached a point of stress is only half of the remedy. Self-care is a much broader concept that covers what people do for themselves to help establish and maintain their health but also to prevent illness. Self-care includes things such as general and personal hygiene, the quality and types of food you eat, the kind of lifestyle you lead, the environment that you live and work in regularly, socioeconomic conditions, and self-medication. The definitions of self-care proposed by the World Health Organization covers all areas of a person’s life but is missing a more practical description that everyone can use in managing their self-care routines every day.
The International self-care foundation has proposed a practical guide which addresses all of the important elements or “pillars” of self-care.
The Seven Pillars of Self-Care
- Health literacy – this is your competence or knowledge of basic health information. It is your capacity to obtain health information when they need it, process the information and understand it. This also includes knowing how to navigate health services to be able to make basic health decisions for yourself.
- Self-awareness of your own physical and mental condition – This includes your knowledge of your cholesterol levels, blood pressure, your weight or body mass index, which means you are visiting your doctor for regular check-ups. It also includes knowing what physical and/or mental health concerns are in your family that may make you susceptible to certain conditions.
- Physical activity – This involves regularly practicing moderate intensity physical activity like walking, cycling, and/or participating in other sports that get your heart rate up.
- Healthy eating – this includes having a nutritious and balanced diet and avoiding excess intake of sugars, fats and processed foods.
- Risk avoidance or mitigation – This includes avoiding risky habits like smoking, drinking heavily, using drugs and engaging in prevention like using sunscreen, practicing safe sex, sleeping enough at night, and getting vaccinated.
- Good hygiene – this includes washing hands regularly, brushing teeth regularly, washing your food, taking showers regularly, and wearing clean clothing.
- Rational and responsible use of products, services, diagnostics, and medicine – this includes being aware of harmful products in your home or at work and using appropriate precautions when necessary, taking medicine at the prescribed frequency and time, and attending medical or therapy appointments.
Why Don’t We Practice Self-Care?
You may not find these pillars surprising. In fact, you may find them quite obvious. The truth is that many people find these pillars difficult to adopt and follow. According to the International Self-Care Foundation some of the reasons behind people not adopting these good habits include, the belief that disease or illness won’t happen to them (that the risk is exaggerated), procrastination and problems with committing to change, the belief that these changes take too much time, money, and energy, and finally the belief that it is a doctor’s job to treat people when they are sick and not the individual’s responsibility.
The Benefits of Committing to Better Self-Care
Whether you’ve been using one or more of these excuses or not, the fact is that following the self-care principles is important for maintaining our health and well-being well into old age. By following these principles we can help ourselves to delay or even prevent diseases like heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, depression, and anxiety. This will keep us from more than the usual number of visits to the doctor and frees up medical professionals to be able to focus on very serious problems only. So, not only does it benefit you but the healthcare system in general as well.
Tips to Bring More Self-Care into Your Daily routine
There are other things you can do to bring self-care into your daily life. This includes, taking short breaks throughout your busy day to help reduce stress. Going outdoors helps to lower your blood pressure, fatigue and can help fight the symptoms of depression and burnout, especially if you engage in a little walking, hiking, or other physical activity outdoors. Organizing yourself better is also a good way to start taking better care of yourself if you find this to be an issue in your life. Even a small change, like keeping a simple planner or a calendar will help you organize your responsibilities. Cooking at home is also a good way to eat healthier, stay active, and even socialize if you cook with family or friends. Consider looking up healthy recipes that you can create for your lunches throughout the week. Finally, whatever self-care activities you try, schedule them and protect this time with everything you have! It can be hard to find extra time for yourself but it is extremely important to plan it and practice it regularly.
The International Self-Care Foundation: http://isfglobal.org/