Self-care is to take care of oneself, one’s mental health and protecting one’s overall wellbeing. Commonly, we think of self-care as bubble baths or meditating, and it is all of these. Though self-care is largely doing things that are in the best interest of who we are at our core. To surround ourselves with those who make us feel good about who we are, and to be in an environment that encourages our best selves to shine through. It doesn’t mean that everything will be perfect and positive. In fact, the practice of self-care helps us to manage difficult times with more resilience and confidence. It assists us to make healthier and conducive decisions in times when very little seems to be working for us. Not only in the sense of turning lemons into lemonade, but accepting that the sourness of lemons are just as good for us as the sweetness of peaches. It is through self-care that we are able to overcome obstacles and build our confidence at the same time.
How Can We Achieve This?
There are an endless amount of self-care practices that are available to us, all of which are effective and fun. There are only two rules to a particular self-care practice: one, if you are not enjoying it, then that particular practice is not for you; two, your practice has to be consistent. This could mean once a week or once a month, but it has to be regular enough in order to gain the benefits. You can incorporate as many practices as you wish, or just one, but it is very important to do something, whether an activity or hobby, that is entirely your own. This does not mean that you cannot have community involvement, or that you have to work on a practice alone. It just means that if no one else is around, you will still work on the activity. It feels great to go to a yoga session with a friend. But the practice is not as effective if you won’t go to class without your friend. In this example, the activity has become more about community, or company than it is about you and your practice.
Here are some examples of self-care routines:
Workout routines, let it be yoga, dance (my personal favourite), going to the gym, or hiking. Physical activity releases endorphins in our brains that make us feel great, and of course it is good for our physical health too.
Art. Such a broad field, but colouring in, drawing, painting, basket weaving, are just a few examples of artwork one could incorporate into their practice.
Journaling has been proven to have powerful effects on building healthy self-esteem. It is a way to release frustrations, emotional tension, and self-expression. It is in this release that our minds can then clear up to make room for other things. But writing is not the only form of journaling, even though it is the most well-known. One could also use audio journaling, that is speaking into some kind of recording device, or drawing is another form of journaling, where one can visually express how they are feeling or what they are thinking.
Reading is another form of self-care and one has the benefit of expanding their knowledge base at the same time. Reading is a great way to take a break from the dreariness of ordinary day-to-day living, or escape from the stresses of everyday life.
Being in nature. It has been found that spending time outdoors is hugely beneficial to our mental health.
How Does Having A Self-Care Practice Benefit You?
A few ways these practices are beneficial is that it puts our minds into auto mode, where we allow our thoughts to naturally wonder while focusing on something else. Driving is an example of our minds going into autopilot, which is why (when not stuck in traffic) driving can feel relaxing. We are somewhat focused on the task at hand, but our subconscious thoughts can do their job of quietly processing information and solving problems without our attention being aware. There is a saying “just sleep on it” which is used when we need to make a big decision. When we are sleeping, our prefrontal cortex or the conscious, rational side of our brain is also asleep. While the rest of our mind takes us to the seemingly irrational dreamland. But our dreams are our mind's way of processing information and so when we wake we have a ‘clearer’ mind and can make a choice from a calmer perspective. The same thing happens, minus the crazy dreams, when we are working on a task, a hobby, an activity, or in a workout routine. In these times our concentration is on the task in front of us while our brains figure out all the stresses in life in the background.
The more we work on our chosen practice, the more our brains can do their work without adding more stress onto our minds and bodies. All while we are having fun while learning a new activity, or improving on our habits. When we are stressed we release cortisol, which is designed to protect our minds and bodies from harm. But when we get too much cortisol, our mental and physical health begin to decline as our body's energy is too focused on fear or threat instead of working quietly to heal and repair itself. Doing things we love and enjoy releases tension and lowers our cortisol levels.
The second benefit of self-care practices is that it builds confidence, and our self-worth. Because the more we practice a task, the better we get at it, which leads to us feeling more at ease doing the task. This in turn, builds our self-esteem and our confidence grows. Every single activity you do now, at one point you could not, but as soon as you know how to do the activity, the more comfortable you feel completing it, and then naturally you get better and more certain that you are good at said task. No one can take this away from you, you can’t unlearn a task, you can only be out of practice. And with growing confidence, your self-worth will surely elevate.
Confidence is not only about being assertive and having inner assuredness to succeed, or to be good at something. Confidence is having the self-awareness that we will not always be our best selves and knowing where this stems from. That is, knowing yourself well enough that you are aware of when and why your confidence is lacking. Some days we show up to work and forget where a document is. Some days we are giving a killer presentation. Our confidence has an ebb and flow just like everything in life. Someone lacks confidence when they are lacking an inner awareness of how they are feeling and why they are feeling a certain way.
Self-Care Practice Also Teaches Us More About Ourselves
When we get into a regular practice of some kind of activity, we do not only learn about the activity, we learn more about ourselves and how our minds work. This is also done on a subconscious level. For example, Susie is painting a picture. She accidentally paints green over the blue, but has discovered a new colour. She then begins to mix colours to find new hues, and uses this to paint different pictures. Through this process she learns more about what she likes, what she doesn’t, and her brain is using this information to process all the other complex stresses she has swirling around the back of her mind. Physical practices do the same thing, where it also teaches our bodies how to move, what our weaknesses are, and how to build strength. Everything around us is interconnected. It is our brain's job to figure it all out. It is our job to have a consistent practice to feed our brains the information it needs to do its job.