Whether you are a student or a professional working in the field, self-care matters! In fact, self-care is duty cast upon every individual. As a student you are expected to balance your coursework, internships, work responsibilities, and home life. As a professional, you face many of the same expectations and challenges. Self-care is the practice of taking deliberate actions to maintain and improve one’s physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being. Each component of self-care is equally important in achieving overall health and balance in life.
Self-care is an essential social work survival skill. It refers to many activities and practices that we can engage in on a regular basis to reduce stress and maintain and enhance our short- and longer-term health and well-being. Self-care is necessary for your effectiveness and success in honouring your professional and personal commitments. Just like you do on a plane, you need to put on your own oxygen mask first before trying to help others. Said Jack Kornfield, “If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.”
Self-care is not simply about limiting or addressing professional stressors. It is also about enhancing your overall well-being. There are common aims to almost all self-care efforts like (i) Taking care of physical and psychological health (ii) Managing and reducing stress (iii) Honouring emotional and spiritual needs (iv) Fostering and sustaining relationships and (v) Achieving an equilibrium across one’s personal, home, and working lives. Each of us may differ in the domains we emphasize and the balance we seek among them.
We must understand that each life is unique and has its own unique demands. Consequently, each of us must determine what self-care means for each one of us and how to apply it in our life. Maintaining a healthy balance between self-care and life’s obligations can be challenging. It is essential to find ways to balance self-care with obligations such as work, school, family, and social life to avoid burnout and maintain good mental health. Let’s explore balancing self-care with life’s obligations and strategies to achieve a healthier balance.
There is no denying the fact that physical self-care takes precedence over all other all other components of self-care. This includes any actions that contribute to the physical health of an individual. This can include regular exercise, proper nutrition, and adequate sleep. Physical self-care also involves taking care of the body, such as practicing good hygiene, getting regular checkups, and engaging in activities that promote relaxation, such as massage or yoga. The Upanishadic mandate that echoes in Kalidasa’s Kumarasambhavam (5.33) “shareera madyam khalu dharmasadhanam (this body is surely the foremost instrument of doing [good] deeds)” is the recognition of the importance of being physically fit.
Exercise is a key element of physical health. Regular physical activity reduces stress and anxiety, boosts cognitive function, and improves mood. If the thought of running miles on a treadmill isn’t appealing, take time to come up with other ways to get moving. You can pick anything that is more appealing to you or you can explore and try a new activity.
Just like physical activity, what you eat influences more than just your physical health. Unhealthy eating habits can increase your risk of physical health issues and can similarly increase your risk of mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. Healthy eating habits, on the other hand, can have the opposite effect and help you feel more focused, energized and calmer. Fruits and vegetables, lean protein, low-fat dairy, and whole grains all give your body and mind essential nutrients. Try focusing on eating minimally-processed meals, and consider trying mindful eating. Mindful eating can help you stay aware of the food you’re eating, so you can make healthier choices that are better for your physical and emotional wellbeing. “Willpower is the wrong mental force to maintain any long-term behavioural change. Instead, figure out how to control your environment,” Dr. Lickerman says.
True wellness is the intersection of physical and mental health. A sound mind in a sound body is of tremendous essence. You can’t have one without the other, but today’s fast-paced lifestyles often means that mental health falls by the wayside. Mental self-care involves taking care of one’s mental health. This can include engaging in activities that promote cognitive growth, such as reading or learning a new skill. It also includes engaging in activities that reduce stress and promote relaxation, such as mindfulness meditation or deep breathing exercises. Mental self-care also involves seeking professional help, if necessary, such as therapy or medication management.
Self-care involves taking care of one’s emotional well-being. The first step in practicing self-care is learning how to be self-compassionate. “Pay attention to your self-talk and speak to yourself the way you would to someone you love. If you notice your self-talk isn’t loving, catch it and try again with care,” says marriage and family therapist Zereana Jess-Huff, Ph.D. Sometimes this can be difficult, but the key is to identify triggers and to reframe one’s approach when necessary. Jess-Huff notes that working with a therapist can help you eliminate negative self-talk if it’s a recurring habit you can’t seem to tackle on your own.
It’s easy to lose sight of positivity, especially when work and personal stress seems to be at its height. In these moments, writing down the things you’re grateful for can help you feel better. “Even in the midst of a crappy day, reminding yourself of gratitude - whether it’s the sun, a productive meeting at work, a special moment with family, or simply that your day is over and tomorrow brings a fresh start - can reframe the day,” says Jess-Huff. “The more you practice gratitude, the more it becomes a natural part of your life.” Meditation is another excellent way to practice self-care. “A consistent meditation practice can be life-changing. It’s even been scientifically proven to reduce stress, increase feelings of empathy, improve focus, boost the immune system, and slow the signs of aging,” Pink says. A “treat yourself” moment can be far simpler than spending lots of money on a full-day pampering session at the spa. Instead, you can opt for a self-administered massage, Pink says. She recommends the Abhyanga massage technique, which is part of the Ayurvedic tradition. Other options include a simple hand or foot massage given to yourself.
One powerful way to practice self-care includes acknowledging and honouring your own boundaries. Many people struggle with setting appropriate physical and emotional boundaries with others, which can lead them to commit to things even when they’d rather not. This may not seem like a big deal, but Dr. Lickerman notes that an inability to say no—even with the best intentions—often leads to resentment and even anger outbursts. It can also make you feel like you are not living your own life, or that you’re living your life according to others’ whims, which can make you lose sight of your own needs and desires. “Many voices in your head may push you to say yes when you really want to say no, and the chief among these voices is the one that tells you that you risk being disliked if you say no,” Dr. Lickerman says. “You must learn to tolerate the anxiety that saying no likely brings. Once you learn to do this, you’ll discover people don’t dislike you for it. In fact, they’ll likely respect you even more.”
Nature bathing is simply the practice of spending deliberate time outdoors to appreciate the living Earth around you. “Seek out daily opportunities to be in nature. Walk in the woods, go for a hike, walk along the beach, do some gardening, anything in nature that resonates with you will do. Expose yourself to the beauty of nature and reap the benefits,” says Pink, a Self-Care expert. “Immersing yourself in nature helps calm the central nervous system, elevate your mood, and increase energy levels. The effects of the benefits are felt for hours and days post-immersion.”
Spiritual self-care involves cultivating a sense of purpose and meaning in life. This can include engaging in activities that align with one’s values, such as volunteering or participating in religious or spiritual practices. Spiritual self-care also involves taking time for introspection and reflection, such as journaling or spending time in nature.
Practicing self-care is not always easy. Most of us are crazy busy, have stressful jobs, or are too consumed with technology to make time for ourselves. Me-time is usually last on the agenda. Worse, we can sometimes feel guilty about taking the time required to take care of ourselves. So, getting started with self-care can be challenging. Though the individual requirements may vary from person to person, here are a few tips which generally help everyone in managing one’s self-care more effectively:
1. Make sleep part of your self-care routine.
2. Take care of yourself by taking care of your gut.
3. Exercise daily as part of your self-care routine.
4. Eat right for self-care.
5. Say no to others, and say yes to your self-care.
6. Take a self-care trip.
7. Take a self-care break by getting outside.
8. Let a pet help you with your self-care.
9. Take care of yourself by getting organized.
10. Cook at home to care for yourself.
11. Read a book on self-care for self-care.
12. Schedule your self-care time, and guard that time with everything you have.
Overall, self-care is essential to maintaining good health and balance in life. Incorporating each of these components into one’s routine, individuals can achieve a healthier and more fulfilling life.
Finally, one of the most important self-care strategies is to be kind to yourself. This means treating yourself with compassion, respect, and forgiveness. It also means avoiding harsh self-criticism, unrealistic expectations, or perfectionism. Be kind to yourself by acknowledging your strengths, celebrating your achievements, learning from your mistakes, and accepting your limitations. Be kind to yourself by giving yourself permission to make mistakes, take breaks, have fun, and be yourself.
Bhushan Lal Razdan, formerly of the Indian Revenue Service, retired as Director General of Income Tax (Investigation), Chandigarh.