Self-care Isn't Selfish; It's Necessary

Discover why self-care isn't selfish but necessary to maintain your mental and physical health. Explore actionable tips to incorporate self-care into your daily routine

Self-care Isn't Selfish; It's Necessary
Photo by Matthew Ball / Unsplash

The Absolute Imperative of Personal Well-being

We live in a world fraught with relentless demands, expectations, and stresses. Amongst the noise, there exists a term that is often misinterpreted, yet crucial for your survival and prosperity: Self-care. Far from being a self-centred act or indulgence, self-care is a non-negotiable part of our well-being. The reality of it is starkly apparent - self-care isn't selfish, it's necessary.

Decoding Self-Care: Unraveling its Core

The concept of self-care is often shrouded in misinterpretations. At its core, self-care isn't just a luxury spa visit or an extravagant shopping spree. It is the practice of taking care of our physical, emotional, and mental health. Self-care somehow got the label of selfishness and that has a negative undertone. If you are being selfish and looking after yourself, it does not automatically imply that it will adversely affect others. You have every right to look after yourself and if you do that, you will be in a better state of physical & mental health to look after others too.

“Self-care is not selfish. You cannot serve from an empty vessel.” ― Eleanor Brownn

Understanding Your Mental Health

Your mental health is important. It's about being able to handle the stresses of life, reach your full potential, learn effectively, work well and give back to your family and community. It is more than just the absence of mental illness; it is a complex spectrum that everyone experiences in their own unique ways.

Mental health can be affected by many factors. This includes your characteristics, such as emotional abilities and genetics, as well as your environment, such as your financial situation and where you live.

Through preventive measures and programs, you can identify what affects your mental health, so you can reduce risk, improve your resilience and create a positive environment around you. But this is not about you or the healthcare industry, education, law and transport etc. also have their share of actions since the Mental Health issue is reaching the crisis stage. There is currently a huge gap in treatment for common mental health problems such as depression and anxiety, so finding innovative ways to get help, such as non-professional counselling or digital self-help tools, can be crucial.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared a global mental health crisis. In 2020, an estimated 456 million people suffered from mental disorders, and suicide was the tenth leading cause of death. Mental health

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Blurring Lines: Navigating the Interplay between Personal and Professional Life

Let's talk about how your personal and work life interact. You might think you can keep the stress of your personal life from affecting your work, and vice versa. But in reality, it's not that simple. You might face challenges like family crises, caring for sick relatives, financial issues, or personal health problems like anyone else. According to research, these things can, and often do, impact your work.

And let's not forget, work stress can easily spill over into your personal life. Whether you are dealing with serious situations at work, spending hours trying to sort out payment for your services, or just feeling overwhelmed by your work, it can leave you feeling frustrated and stressed. And, it's just not realistic to think you can leave it all at work. The brain does not work that way and cannot separate your work & personal life like two different sandboxes to play.

There are other ways your personal and work life are intertwined too. For example, if you're dealing with stress by using substances, it'll likely affect both your work and personal life negatively over time. Should that be the case, please reach out to professional help at the earliest. The first step is to talk about it.

So, what's the point of all this? Well, you really can't separate the personal from the professional. Taking care of yourself in every aspect of your life is the key to achieving mental wellness. Trying to ignore or avoid your problems won't work in the long run and can actually harm both you and the people around you. Creating a Culture of Self‐Care - Barnett - 2009 - Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice - Wiley Online Library

Red Flags - Recognizing the Signs: When It's Time to Prioritize Self-Care

It's crucial to recognize when your body and mind are giving you signals that you need to prioritize self-care. Here are some red flags to watch out for:

  1. Feeling Constantly Exhausted: If you're always feeling tired, despite getting a full night's sleep, this could be a sign that you're overworked or stressed.
  2. Difficulty Concentrating: Having trouble focusing on tasks, or being easily distracted, could be an indication that your mind needs a break.
  3. Changes in Appetite: Eating much more or much less than usual can be a sign of stress or emotional upset.
  4. Increase in Illness: If you're getting sick more often than usual, it could be a sign that your immune system is compromised due to stress or lack of self-care.
  5. Feelings of Anxiety or Depression: Persistent feelings of sadness, worry, or disinterest in activities you once enjoyed can be significant red flags.
  6. Isolating Yourself Socially: Withdrawing from friends and family or losing interest in social activities can be an indication that you're not taking care of your emotional health.
  7. Lack of Patience: If you find yourself becoming easily irritated or losing your temper, this could be a sign of burnout or emotional exhaustion.
  8. Insomnia or Over-sleeping: Changes in your sleep patterns can indicate that your body and mind are under stress.
  9. Neglecting Personal Hygiene: If you find yourself skipping showers, not brushing your teeth, or neglecting other aspects of personal hygiene, this can be a major red flag that you need to focus more on self-care.
  10. Physical Symptoms of Stress: This might include headaches, stomachaches, tense muscles, or unexplained aches and pains.

Remember, it's okay to ask for help. If you notice these signs, consider seeking guidance from a mental health professional. Self-care is important, and it's okay to put yourself first.

Strangely, self-care is often seen as the enemy of productivity also, with people fearing it as a distraction or waste of time. This couldn't be further from the truth. A well-rested mind is a productive mind. Regular breaks, proper sleep, nutritious food, and physical exercise - all these components of self-care can significantly boost our productivity levels. Taking care of our bodies and minds allows us to perform at our peak potential.

“If you would like to be selfish, you should do it in a very intelligent way. The stupid way to be selfish is … seeking happiness for ourselves alone. … the intelligent way to be selfish is to work for the welfare of others.” – The Dalai Lama

Finding the Balance: Self-Care in a Fast-Paced World

We may feel guilty for taking time out for ourselves in this fast-paced world, believing that we could be doing something more "productive" or worse doing something to please others to get their approval of time well spent. However, incorporating self-care into our routine is a matter of balance. It's about weaving moments of self-care into our daily lives, whether it's a 15-minute meditation, a brisk walk in the park, or a quiet moment with a book. These practices rejuvenate us and equip us with the strength to navigate life's challenges more effectively.

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The Cascading Benefits of Self-Care

The benefits of self-care are manifold and extend beyond personal benefits. By practicing self-care, we're setting a positive example for those around us. We're teaching them the importance of emotional well-being and its pivotal role in leading a balanced life.

Moreover, self-care also benefits our relationships. When we're mentally and physically healthy, we're more capable of forming and maintaining positive relationships. We can give more of ourselves to those we care about. Remember, if you are not happy, you will never be able to make anyone around you happy.

Love yourself first and everything else falls into line. You have to love yourself to get anything done in this world - Lucille Ball

Types of self-care

In the book Understanding the Journey: A Lifespan Approach to Working with Grieving People, the author talked about 5 different types of self-care. Let us look at them as action plan points.

  • Physical self-care: Create a routine that involves balanced meals, regular exercise, and ample sleep. Regularly schedule check-ups with your doctor. Make time each day for activities that get you moving, and remember to listen to your body's needs.
  • Emotional self-care: Make a habit of acknowledging your emotions without judgment. Regularly set aside time for relaxation and stress management, which could include practices like journaling. Practice positive self-talk and compassion towards yourself.
  • Social self-care: Regularly reach out to friends and loved ones, make time for social activities, and cultivate supportive relationships. Also, consider setting boundaries with individuals who might drain your energy and commit to maintaining healthy relationships.
  • Intellectual self-care: Designate time in your schedule for intellectual growth. This could involve reading a new book, taking online courses, engaging in stimulating conversations or solving puzzles. Make continuous learning a part of your routine.
  • Spiritual self-care: Set aside time each day for practices that help you connect to a sense of purpose or larger meaning. This could include meditation, prayer, spending time in nature, or practicing mindfulness. Find what gives you a sense of peace and make it a part of your daily or weekly routine.

Embrace Self-Care: Crafting Your Personal Self-Care Plan

Creating a self-care plan is a personalized process. It should involve understanding your needs and formulating a plan that suits your unique lifestyle. The first step is to recognize that self-care isn't selfish; it's a necessity. Once you've internalized this, you can begin to identify the areas in your life where self-care can be implemented.

Remember, self-care should be a routine, a habit, not a one-time event. Create a self-care plan that is manageable and enjoyable to make it last. It could be as simple as reading daily a chapter of your favorite book, practicing yoga, or ensuring you get 8 hours of sleep. I recommend writing a journal as part of a self-care plan but you can do what works best for you.

Ultimately, the key is to understand that self-care isn't an act of self-indulgence or me-me-me. It's a necessary act of self-preservation. It's a commitment to ourselves to live healthier, happier, and more balanced lives and share positivity with our dear ones and society at large.

“Taking care of myself doesn't mean 'me first.' It means 'me, too.” ― L.R. Knost

Nurturing Your Mind

The National Institute of Mental Health has recommended some tips to get you started which include taking care of yourself and dedicating moments to activities that enhance your physical and mental well-being. Effective self-care can contribute to managing stress, reducing the possibility of sickness, and elevating your energy levels. Even the small acts of self-care can create significant changes.

Here are a few pointers to kickstart your self-care routine:
Ensure you exercise regularly. Just a daily 30-minute walk can uplift your mood and boost your health. Don't worry if you can't do it all at once - every bit counts.

Maintain a nutritious diet and drink plenty of water. A well-rounded diet coupled with sufficient hydration can keep you energized and focused throughout your day. Try to limit your consumption of caffeine-rich drinks like sodas or coffee.

Prioritize getting enough sleep. Stick to a routine and ensure you're resting adequately. Try reducing exposure to your phone or computer's blue light before bedtime as it can make falling asleep more difficult. Try not to keep your phone near your bed as an alarm. Buy an old-fashioned alarm clock.

Engage in calming activities. Explore wellness programs or apps that include meditation, muscle relaxation, or breathing exercises. Set aside regular slots for these and other activities you enjoy, like journaling.

Establish your goals and priorities. Determine what needs to be done immediately and what can be postponed. Learn to decline new tasks if you're feeling overwhelmed. Instead of focusing on unaccomplished tasks, celebrate your achievements at the end of the day. * Read about Eisenhower Matrix.

Cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Every day, remind yourself of things you're grateful for. Be precise. Jot them down in the evening or revisit them in your thoughts.

Embrace positivity. Recognize and challenge any negative or unconstructive thoughts. Include positive affirmations in your life.

Stay connected. Regularly communicate with friends or family members who can offer emotional encouragement and practical assistance. A similar article was published in Mental Health America recommending staying connected with the community by joining volunteer programs.

* Eisenhower Matrix -

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Conclusion: Make Self-Care a Priority

We must walk away from the notion that self-care is selfish or a sign of weakness. In reality, it is the strongest statement you can make about the value you place on your well-being. Everyone has a right and obligation to look after themselves and it should be non-negotiable.

Remember, your ability to take care of others is directly tied to your ability to take care of yourself. So, make self-care a priority, and you'll see the transformational impact it has on your life.

So, let's embrace self-care as a part of our lifestyle and witness the impact it has on our lives and the people around us. Remember, self-care and self-love is not to justify acts of selfishness that harm or disregard others. Healthy self-care is about maintaining your well-being so that you can effectively care for and connect with the people around you.

Book Recommendation

Here are some books that can help you in your journey toward self-care.

Books links from Goodreads