Many of us have heard about “self-care” from our family, friends, coworkers, physicians, or the media. But most of us don’t fully understand its meaning, nor do many of us understand its importance in our own health.
Self-care goes by multiple different names. Perhaps you have heard some of the terms: “me time” or “my time,” “alone time,” “my space,” “zen space,” “self-help,” “personal care,” or maybe even “health maintenance.” In truth, all of these terms refer to self-care in some form or another.
Self-care has always been an essential tool in one’s health. However, over the last two years, we have begun to truly see the value, the affect, and the effect that good self-care has on overall health. And not just the health of individuals but also the overall health of families and communities. The effect of self-care can even have an impact on local, provincial, and national health metrics. The research is clear: the healthier a population’s citizens are, the healthier that population is.
What is Self-Care?
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines self-care as “The ability of individuals, families and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a health care provider.”
Many of us would consider regular follow-ups with our physicians as part of good health. Some also schedule regular appointments with specialists like chiropractors, acupuncturists or massage therapists. These forms of self-care constitute Medical Professional Assistance.
Utilizing medical professionals is an integral part of Self-Care. From seeing your family physician to seeing a personal trainer to regular visits with your dentist are all essential parts of one’s self-care routines. But they don’t constitute the entirety of self-care.
What Are the Main Areas of Self-care?
Most health professionals identify eight different areas of focus for good overall self-care: Physical, Emotional, Spiritual, Social, Personal, Work or Professional, Financial, and Environmental or Space
Physical health is the easiest area of self-care to understand for most people. Physical self-care involves any form of self-care that requires physical effort. This effort does not need to be demanding or strenuous, so long as you’re physically active.
Physical health refers to things like sleep and rest, exercise (high impact like martial arts, aerobics, contact sports and low impact like swimming, Tai Chi, yoga), physical release (stress balls, punching bags, progressive muscle relaxation), stretching, aromatherapy, massage therapy, physiotherapy, chiropractic therapy, acupuncture, and a healthy diet.
Emotional health is another area that most people understand, at least in concept. But achieving good emotional health is very difficult for a lot of people. Emotional health does not explicitly refer to mental health. Emotional health also includes aspects such as emotional maturity (not overreacting to adverse events, responding to stressful situations with a calm demeanour), stress management (developing good coping mechanisms), forgiveness, compassion, kindness.
Social Health focuses on positive social relationships and social interactions. This form of health includes setting boundaries, personal support systems, engaging in social media positively, participating in social interaction, good communication, and asking for help.
This last point can be challenging for many people. Asking others for help is not a sign of weakness or inferiority — though, even today, there is still a stigma associated with it. It takes a whole lot of courage and emotional strength to ask someone for help. Admitting you are struggling or are not alright DOES NOT make you “weak.”
Spiritual health does not refer to religion per se, although this is a way for many people to achieve or maintain good spiritual health. Spiritual health includes meditation, yoga/tai chi, exploring nature, journaling, becoming connected to something that soothes the soul. Spiritual health may consist of attending religious activities or being an active member of a church, mosque or temple. Spiritual health means connecting to yourself, to who you are and finding internal peace and serenity.
Personal health involves feeling good about yourself and your personal circumstances. Personal health involves something you love or enjoy, which brings you satisfaction, peace, feelings of self-worth, and happiness. Personal hobbies, knowing yourself, developing a strong personal identity, and good hygiene (clean clothes, personal grooming, etc) are all reflections of personal health.
Work or Professional Health
Your Professional Health is a constant work in progress. We are always learning, working on developing good interpersonal skills, communicating with our coworkers and team members, striving for a positive work environment, and being adaptive and flexible to manage the daily stresses of work. Professional Health involves honing your time management and organizational skills and knowing when to take breaks. To maintain good professional health, we must regularly rest and recharge the batteries. Professional health also involves eating smart to give our bodies the fuel it needs to be productive throughout the day.
Financial health does not refer to being “wealthy.” It refers to making healthy financial decisions. This form of health means creating and managing a budget, saving, paying the bills, and rewarding yourself. Financial health means money management that’s right for the individual.
Space or Environmental Health
This area of focus refers to our living environment. Environmental health involves meeting our basic needs, such as food, warmth, clothing, safety and security. Environmental health also means stability.
Having good environmental health includes a healthy living environment that is clean, tidy, organized, safe and secure. You should have a space for relaxation, such as a bedroom or sleeping area that promotes restful sleep.
Note that the examples included in each area of focus is not exhaustive, and you may notice that several areas overlap with others. This overlap is natural and expected. Research has shown physical exercise influences sleep and rest, mood, ability to cope with stressful situations, personal identity, weight management — the list goes on.
How you choose to focus on your self-care is as unique and individual as you are. Not everyone’s approach to self-care will be the same, and what works for one person may not work for another. We also may focus on different areas at different times in our lives. We are never finished with self-care. It is a constant and ever-changing part of our overall health and well-being. Keep striving to be a better version of yourself.