“Self-care” has become a buzzword these days — but with good reason. Self-care encompasses elements such as gratitude, exercise, and finding inner peace. These are highly personal experiences and must be approached as such to have a positive impact on your life. So how do you practice “self-care” in a way that best helps you?
In my work as a therapist, I have seen self-care practice significantly improve clients’ mental and physical health. When you take time for activities you enjoy, you are likely to experience improved mood, boosted productivity, and to be better able to engage with and show support for the people you care about.
The power of positivity
Studies have shown that optimism and positive emotions improve physical outcomes when managing a chronic physical illness such as arthritis, diabetes, or heart disease. A recent Frontiers in Psychology review of medical journals from 1998 to 2015 for terms that linked optimism and chronic disease found growing evidence that more optimistic and hopeful people tend to have healthier behaviors — these, in turn, improved their disease management and overall health.
This idea of “positive health” views mental health as inclusive of positive emotions, engagement, purpose, relationships, and positive achievements. Self-care is an important way to work towards positive emotions and therefore improve your total health.
Defining what self-care means to you
To many of my clients, engaging in self-care activities to achieve positive health seems daunting at first. They often note that positive emotions feel out of reach when dealing with issues like anxiety or depression. So we start by establishing a definition for what self-care means to that person, and what he or she aims to achieve through self-care practice. Consider how you think of self-care: do you see it as emotional? Spiritual? Professional? Balance in general?
You’re probably thinking, “All of the above! It’s all important!” You’re certainly right! However, working on everything all at once will create chaos and impede your ability to benefit from your self-care practice.
Choose one self-care practice that you value most and focus on ways to work on that — maybe it’s getting to that yoga class a couple of times a week, taking walks after dinner, or even just listening to music. Once this becomes part of your routine, you can focus on the next goal.
Setting healthy boundaries
Let’s get real for a moment. Everyone wants to take better care of themselves, but who has the time? At the end of the day, it can be difficult just to get home and make dinner — on particularly busy days, even deciding what takeout food to order can feel taxing. So what is one thing you can do starting today to prioritize and care for yourself?
Just say “no.”
It seems so simple, but in reality, it’s incredibly challenging. It means sometimes not going to an event, not giving away what little spare time you have, and learning to prioritize rather than trying to do everything. This is no small feat, and you may feel like you’re letting people down. But ultimately, you are taking care of yourself so you can be a more engaged friend, spouse, parent, child, neighbor, colleague — and that matters more in the long run.
Saying “no” once a week will give you time to do at least one self-care activity that helps you to feel centered and ready to take on the day. Dedicating that time for yourself will have positive ripple effects in how you respond to life’s demands and stressors and of course, your overall happiness.
And yes, sometimes you won’t say “no” — especially now, around the holidays, when you are balancing a hectic workweek, family, and social obligations. You may prioritize those tasks over your self-care practice. Forgive yourself. It’s ok, there’s always next week. Working towards positivity and improving your health and well-being is not an endpoint, it’s a journey.
Renée Daley is a Mental Health Strategy Manager at Quartet. She is a licensed clinical social worker in New York and has a private practice in Brooklyn, NY. Renée has extensive experience in working with teens, adults, and families struggling with substance use and behavioral health concerns. She graduated with a Master of Science in Social Work from Columbia University and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Miami University, Ohio. Renée joined Quartet due to her shared mission to ensure everyone has access to quality collaborative care.