8 Types of Self-Care & Why They Matter
Self-care is doing what is necessary to achieve a healthy, well-balanced life. The World Health Organization describes self-care as “the ability of individuals, families, and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and to cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a healthcare provider.”
Did the words “to cope” jump out at you? For those in recovery, the ability to cope with various stressors and triggers is an important part of the journey. Clinicians at Eating Recovery Center work with patients early on to develop a self-care plan, recognizing these are often different for each person. “Our care is so individualized,” says Dr. Allison Chase, clinical psychologist and regional clinical director at Eating Recovery Center in Austin, Texas. “Whatever is going to work for them is the direction we’ll head towards – in order to be able to increase success.”
Categories of Self-Care
Just as one’s life is multi-faceted – filled with familial, job, school and other daily responsibilities – so too are types of self-care. One activity may nurture your physical health, while another calms your nerves. We’ve broken it down into 8 categories to provide a better understanding of why it’s important to take care of each part of your life.
This means to become aware of and identify what you are feeling, and then navigate those emotions in order to effectively manage stress. Some examples of emotional self-care are saying no, being aware of emotional boundaries, making time for reflecting on feelings and practicing self-compassion.
For family members who are supporting a loved one with an eating disorder, emotional self-care may mean seeking therapy for themselves in order to let go of any guilt they may be feeling and to develop more effective strategies for supporting their loved one, including help with setting good boundaries.
Mental Health Self-Care
Self-care activities for mental health may include personal and professional development. Focus attention on things that are in your control and take time for personal reflection. Examples of activities that strengthen mental health include journaling, meditation and coaching/counselling; these are strategies that give you the opportunity to grow, learn and reflect.
This involves movement of the body, good nutrition, sleep and rest. Suggestions include going for a walk, taking a bath, eating nourishing foods, resting and getting enough sleep (the recommendation is 7-9 hours of shut-eye per night). The latter two are often overlooked and deprioritized, but rest and sleep can have a significant effect on how you feel both emotionally and physically. Insufficient sleep can even cause major health issues.
Taking time to rest ultimately helps you reach your peak performance. It’s important to take breaks to catch your breath throughout the day, whether it’s stepping away from your desk at work or stepping off the trail during a hike up Mount Kilimanjaro. National Binge Eating Recovery Advocate Kara Richardson Whitely, who climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, states: “There are times when we do need to push ourselves to finish a tough workout or hike, but there are other times where we do need to take a breather.” And while it’s not always easy to learn the difference between the two, Kara refers to a quote by author and yoga teacher Sophia Joan Short: “You’ve got to rest if you want to keep going.”
It’s important to cultivate a supportive group and network of healthy relationships around you. Examples of social self-care include asking for help when you need it, spending time with family and friends and also honoring your commitments to other people, such as showing up for planned activities or returning calls.
Try to refrain from making social media a primary way of connecting with friends and family. Taking a break from scrolling through images on your screen fits into several categories of self-care: doing so is good for body, mind and spirit.
Spiritual self-care involves the cultivation of beliefs and values that are important to you and guide your life. Examples of spiritual self-care include meditating—which helps to mitigate the effects of stress on the body while calming the mind—reflecting in a journal, going on a retreat, walking in nature, doing a hobby you enjoy and expressing gratitude. Research indicates that being thankful increases happiness and reduces depression.
This is where you can share your strengths and gifts, and also set clear professional boundaries and live your purpose. Some examples of professional self-care include taking a lunch break each day at work, negotiating your work needs and expectations with colleagues, having clear professional boundaries and attending professional development opportunities.
Look around you. Is your space organized and clutter-free? Tidying up can go a long way to improve how you feel. The same is true for having clean clothes to wear and even a clean, well-maintained vehicle to drive. These seemingly simple actions can lead to a more organized lifestyle that reduces stress. Additionally, small changes like keeping a planner to write down your responsibilities and appointments can help keep your life a bit more organized. Consider creating an area to keep your keys, backpacks and jackets to ensure they’re ready to grab as you head out the next day.
Why Self-Care Is Important for Mental Health
Clinical experience has demonstrated that individuals with addictions who do not practice or understand self-care can become exhausted or resentful and turn to their addiction to relax or escape.
“It's really important in doing their work in recovery to set out what's going to be support for them; what are they going to need for support and to turn to,” says Dr. Chase -- who emphasizes the importance of having a self-care checklist on hand for quick reference. “We don't like to set that up once the crisis or struggle hits; it's really about how we can be prepared and proactive. If we proactively set up all these ways to take care of oneself and to engage in self-care, it’s time well spent.”
Take a moment to review the categories listed above and jot down some activities that you can turn to in times of stress, or complete on a daily basis to help minimize stress and create a healthy, well-balanced life.