Salvi LoPiccolo, LMHC
Living in this fast paced society we quickly forget how important it is to be aware of and maintain our overall well-being. However, this is much easier said than done when we are being pulled in many different directions. Something I try to reinforce to all of my clients is the necessity of self-care. Self-care is any activity or practice that you engage in to improve your physical, mental, and emotional health. Self-care is a must in order to be effective and successful in your personal and professional life.
When many people hear “self-care” they think of activities like meditation or yoga. These can be helpful forms of self-care for some people while for others that just isn’t something they can picture themselves doing. Self-care however can encompass much more and doesn’t have to include either of those options. In fact self-care can be anything fun that you enjoy doing. It can be as simple as spending an hour a day reading your favorite novel or listening to music on the way home from work.
As mentioned previously, we often forget to take care of our basic physical, emotional and mental health needs. When individuals neglect these needs they can begin to experience negative symptoms both physical and emotionally.
Some examples include:
- Anxiety and stress
- Poor personal hygiene
- Gastrointestinal issues
- Lack of sleep or too much sleep
- Weight gain or loss
- Cognitive problems, such as poor memory and/or poor decision making
These symptoms can cause some of the simplest tasks to become strained and stressful which leads to even poorer self-care, thus perpetuating a vicious cycle.
Practicing good self-care requires a holistic approach to addressing all of your needs. It will allow you to develop a healthier lifestyle and participate in life to the fullest capacity. The ways that good self-care can positively impact our lives is nearly endless. Some of the benefits of self-care include:
- Becoming a better care-taker or parent
- Improves relationships
- Increases self-esteem
- Improves mental health
- Reduces physical ailments
- Increases sense of control and reduces stress
- Allows you to make more time for yourself
- Improves attitude, happiness and outlook on life
There are many types of self-care activities which can fit and match the needs of every person. Some quick examples of physical self-care activities include:
- Proper medication management
- Getting an annual physical
- Maintaining a healthy diet
- Getting enough sleep and sticking to a consistent sleep schedule
- Exercising 3-4 times weekly for at least 30 minutes
- Getting outside and soaking up at least 10-15 minutes of sunshine
- Limiting alcohol and avoiding use of drugs
Mental and emotional self-care needs seem to be the ones most often neglected. As humans we have an instinct to “fight-or-flight” from harmful stressors. In this modern day harmful stressors generate negative emotions such as disgust, anger, sadness, distrust, frustration, betrayal, etc. That instinctive reaction releases chemicals into our brains and bodies that are helpful in some situations, but prolonged exposures can wear away at our well-being, both physically and mentally. However, ignoring or avoiding these negative emotions is not healthy either.
Negative emotions can be difficult to manage and will not go away on their own. Understanding why we experience stress and strain, and then embracing and accepting these emotions is an important part of positive self-care. Some ways to address negative mental and emotional issues include:
- Working with a life coach
- Using a daily-planner to manage activities
- Meditation or relaxation exercises
- Starting a new activity or hobby
- Making time for contemplation and appreciation
- Volunteering and other community involvement
- Setting limits and establishing boundaries
Everyone’s needs are different. However, our need to take care of ourselves is not. It is essential to our overall well-being to find the time and participate in activities that we enjoy and that can provide us with an outlet from the challenges we face each day.