It's so easy for us to put off engaging in regular self-care practices when we have to juggle caring for so many other aspects of our lives. Family, friends, work, school, household chores, pets, and the list goes on. We often feel pressure to take on more and more, unable to say "no" when asked if we can help with a task, even when we have exceeded our limits. We may find ourselves exhausted, feeling drained before the end of a normal workday, yet struggling to get a good night's sleep. We may struggle to comprehend why we feel so irritated or anxious at seemingly insignificant triggers, or maybe even for no apparent reason at all.
Self-care is a topic so large that a single article cannot scratch the surface. The information below, provided by experts in the field from Positive Psychology, is intended to be an introduction to self-care: what it is, why it's important, and how to begin an intentional self-care practice.
Why dedicate precious time to self-care?
If we do not practice basic self-care, we may quite simply burn out. We will be unable to decompress and to find outlets for our stressors. The less good care we take of ourselves, the less we will have to give; from an empty cup, we cannot pour. The true essence of self-care is two-fold: it involves self-knowledge and positive self-talk.
First and foremost, we need to understand our true needs. What restores us and what does not differs substantially from person to person, depending on our tastes and preferences. Our energy sources are tied up with our basic human needs, and encompass the mind, body, emotions, and spirit. A lack of energy may be the result of simple and easy-to-fix habits such as skipping breakfast or not taking enough breaks during the day. It may also be a result of deeper causes such as not living by following our values or not engaging in activities that are truly meaningful to us.
The second core part of self-care is about managing the way we talk to ourselves. There is nothing more energy-draining and destructive than our inner critic, the bullying voice that tells us we are lacking. To take better care of ourselves, we need to work on cultivating a kinder, more compassionate voice.
Where to begin?
A solid starting point for embarking on a self-care journey is to take an inventory of how good we are at it already. The Self-Care Assessment questionnaire by TherapistAid breaks self-care down into physical, psychological, social, spiritual, and professional self-care. Checking how we score in each domain provides a good first indication for what we should prioritize.
Another excellent place to begin is by completing and reflecting on your self-care wellness wheel:
This package of self-care worksheets is another great way to increase your self-awareness:
Before you can begin to use positive self-talk, you first need to identify how often and what type of negative thinking/self-talk you engage in. Once you understand this, you can make a start on retraining your thoughts.
Negative self-talk tends to fall into one of four categories:
Personalizing – Meaning you blame yourself when things go wrong.
Polarizing – Meaning you see things only as good or bad, no gray areas or room for middle ground.
Magnifying – Meaning you only focus on the bad or negative in every scenario and dismiss anything good or positive.
Catastrophizing – Meaning you always expect the worst.
You might identify with only one of these categories or multiple. The point is once you start categorizing your thoughts like this, you can then begin to work on switching them for more positive frames.
Some strategies you might use to achieve this could include:
1. Identifying Self-Talk Traps
Some situations may cause us to indulge in more negative self-talk than others. For example, an introvert might find negative self-talk crops up when they have to attend social events or networking.
Identifying these traps can help you put in more preparation to address and switch your negative to positive self-talk.
2. Utilize Positive Affirmations
Positive affirmations are a great way to switch up our self-talk chatter. Before a situation even arises that might incite negative self-talk, practice saying positive affirmations in the mirror to encourage your positive approach to yourself.
Visual cues are also excellent reminders to adopt a more positive approach. Little notes, posters or post-its around the house with positive expressions can make a huge difference to your daily mindset.
3. Check-In With Your Emotions Regularly
Switching to positive self-talk takes effort. We’re so attuned to negative self-talk that it might only take one or two minor setbacks to put you back down that path.
When challenges do arise, make sure you check in with how you’re feeling and that your self-talk hasn’t gotten negative. Bring it back with some positive phrases.
4. Don’t Be Afraid to Create Boundaries
Sometimes there are people in our lives who don’t bring out the best in us. Identifying self-talk traps might also mean identifying a person or two who encourages you to think negatively about yourself. It’s okay to create boundaries and remove these people.
Focus on surrounding yourself with people who talk positively about you, and encourage you to do the same.
Examples of Positive Self-Talk
If positive self-talk seems like foreign territory to you, it might be difficult to know where to begin in terms of effective positive statements and phrases to try. It’s important to know that not everyone’s positive self-talk will be the same, and you should try a few different approaches to find the ones that ultimately work for you.
Here are ten to get you started:
I have the power to change my mind.
Attempting to do this took courage and I am proud of myself for trying.
Even though it wasn’t the outcome I hoped for, I learned a lot about myself.
I might still have a way to go, but I am proud of how far I have already come.
I am capable and strong, I can get through this.
Tomorrow is a chance to try again, with the lessons learned from today.
I will give it my all to make this work.
I can’t control what other people think, say or do. I can only control me.
This is an opportunity for me to try something new.
I can learn from this situation and grow as a person.
Enhancing our emotional intelligence is another key facet of self-care. To understand what drains and what replenishes us, we also need to have a basic understanding of our dominant emotional patterns. Insights into our emotional habits yield greater self-mastery.
The keystone of emotional intelligence – and a crucial prerequisite both to self-understanding and the ability to care well for ourselves – is knowing our emotions. Truly understanding what drains us and what restores us is crucial in this process. Self-knowledge, including emotional intelligence, is a crucial precondition for self-care. It may be that yoga or knitting will help us to refuel, but it can just as well be kick-boxing or kite-surfing. Introverts will cherish alone-time activities, while extroverts may re-energize by being with others. Quality self-care relies upon understanding your unique needs and how to meet them – whatever those may be.
Recommended Ted Talk Videos
Brene Brown – Listening to Shame
Alison Ledgerwood – A Simple Trick to Improve Positive Thinking
Guy Winch – Why We All Need to Practice Emotional First Aid
Meaghan Ramsay – Why Thinking You’re Ugly is Bad For You
Michael Shermer – The Pattern Behind Self-Deception