International Self-Care Day takes place this month on July 24th. Self-care often gets mentioned as being an important part of looking after our physical and emotional health. But, what exactly is self-care? What might get in the way of looking after ourselves? And how can we best start to practice self-care? This article explores what self-care is and looks at some barriers we might encounter when putting self-care in place. It also provides some helpful tips for ways to start your self-care routine this summer.

What Is Self-Care?

Self-care is often portrayed by the media as being about treating ourselves to something indulgent such as a favourite food or a massage. For example, we might see images of someone relaxing with candles around them or in an exotic location. Self-care portrayed in this way can seem expensive and like it doesn’t really get the root of our problems. This can sometimes be off-putting and lead people to dismiss the idea of self-care.

However, self-care doesn’t have to look this way (although it might do). Self-care means different things for different people. For instance, some people may enjoy relaxing with candles and a massage. Whereas other people might feel that self-care is about maintaining boundaries, listening to their feelings even though it can seem difficult to do so, or giving themselves time out when they notice they’re starting to struggle. Self-care doesn’t look the same for everyone and it can also look different to us at different points in our lives.

Overcoming Obstacles To Self-Care

1. Making Time

Time is one obstacle to self-care.  When we’re busy it’s easy to forget to do the things that help support us and we can start to overlook our own needs. Remember that being busy can be stressful and overwhelming. Therefore, it’s a time we really need to look after ourselves. Try booking appointments with yourself and treating them as being equally as important as a work meeting or medical appointment might be. Use the time you’ve booked to do something to care for yourself. By having it in the diary as an appointment with yourself, you’ll be more likely to stick to it.

2. Feeling Selfish

Feeling selfish can also get in the way of self-care. Sometimes it can feel indulgent to take some time for ourselves or pay attention to our own needs. However, looking after ourselves helps the people around us too. If we’re running on empty then we can’t be there to support others when they’re struggling. Following this, taking some time to care for ourselves is good for us and it’s good for other people too.

3. Mental Health

Sometimes when we’re experiencing difficulties with our mental health, self-care can feel impossible. For example, it can feel difficult to motivate ourselves to engage in self-care activities when we feel low. Or if we’re struggling with self-esteem we may not feel worthy of self-care. At these times, try to re-frame your ideas of what self-care is. For instance, self-care might just be sitting with your difficult emotions. Or it could be writing how you feel in your journal. It might also be reaching out for support. Being kind to yourself is self-care too.

Three Top Tips For Self-Care

As mentioned, self-care looks different for everyone. It looks different to us according to our needs at a particular time too. The trick to self-care is to work out what feels right for you and then make sure that you schedule that into your life. Self-care doesn’t have to be a big occasion or be expensive. To figure out what kind of self-care you might need, ask yourself what small thing you can do right now to help yourself feel better. Or explore with yourself what usually helps you to relax. Here are some ideas to get your self-care started with self-care.  However, the most important thing is to find out what works for you.

1. Practice Self-Compassion

Learning to be kind to ourselves is an important way to engage in self-care. Gently pay attention to your thoughts. If you notice yourself saying critical or unkind things to yourself ask yourself if you’d say these things to a good friend or to someone you love. If you wouldn’t say these things to a loved one, then what would you say to them instead? Now see if you can now practice saying these kinder things to yourself. Remind yourself that you’re just as worthy of compassion as your loved ones are.

2. Move Your Body

Movement can improve our mood and help us to manage stress. When we think about movement, some people might enjoy going for a run. For others, walking in nature is relaxing and accessible. If these kinds of movements aren’t right for you then think about some alternatives. For example, you could put on some music and dance around the room. Or do some gentle stretching. Perhaps you’d prefer to join in with a team sport. Any movement that you enjoy and that makes you feel good is a way of looking after yourself.

3. Focus On The Basics

Massages and trips away can be nice. However, it’s important to focus on the basics too. Try to make sure that you’re eating regular, healthy meals and maintaining a good sleep schedule. Take some time to connect with friends or be part of a community. Develop a routine for paying any bills your need to pay or taking care of medical appointments. You don’t need to make all of these changes to your life at once. At first, concentrate on one area and when that feels good, you can move on to the next.

How Can Help?

If you’ve already tried some of these techniques and would like to explore what self-care means for you further then can help. By signing up with our CBT program you can choose a therapist who will work with you to develop a personalized toolkit to support you with the changes you want to make and to help you work on creating an effective self-care toolkit. You can choose to have your therapy sessions by video, phone or text chat (couple counseling will be video only), making a flexible, accessible and convenient option.