While it’s seen as commendable to take care of others, taking care of yourself is not always valued – both in the way you think about yourself and the way others (or how you think others) perceive you. Is self-care a positive or negative concept? Should you make it a priority? There are many opinions on the subject, and myths abound. Let’s address these myths.
It’s common for people to think that self-care is selfish. You might feel guilty or worry about other people labeling you as selfish if you put a focus on self-care. There is the idea that other people have needs that should come first. This idea is particularly relevant when you are a caregiver for children, seniors or disabled people.
But equating self-care with being selfish is a myth that’s important to overcome. Yes, it’s a positive trait to put others’ needs before your own, especially when the other person requires care. But that doesn’t mean you need to sacrifice yourself around the clock. For your own health and well-being, it’s important for you to take time for yourself.
Self-care also improves your ability to care for others at a higher level. For Psychology Today, Karyl McBride, Ph.D., brought up that self-care helps people improve themselves to the point that they are able to better love and empathize with others.
You might think you’ll need to spend money, perhaps a lot of it, to take care of yourself. Your mind might jump to expensive massages, spa visits and wellness sessions. While some of these methods could promote self-care, it’s not necessary to spend much or any money on taking care of yourself.
It's free to take a few minutes for deep breaths that reach your belly, take a walk in nature or dance in your living room. You could talk to a friend or watch a comedy on television that makes you laugh.
Also, you can learn techniques that encourage relaxation and rejuvenation, such as meditation, guided imagery, yoga or tai chi. Instead of paying for a class, make a small investment in an instructional book or video, or use free resources from the library or the internet that teach the technique. Also, it's often possible to attend the first class for free or find organizations that offer free self-care programs to caregivers.
It’s Not Necessary
Self-care might seem like a luxury rather than a necessity, but it's essential to health and well-being. It’s about taking time for yourself to reduce stress and health problems, and about becoming more in tune with yourself, having self-compassion and being in touch with your feelings and sense of expression.
Self-care brings many important benefits. It can prevent burnout, which would get in the way of your ability to care for others. Self-care cuts down on stress and its harmful effects, which can include headaches, chest pain, trouble sleeping, anxiety and more. It also improves focus. A 2015 study in Journal of Environmental Psychology found that just a 40-second micro-break that involved looking at a roof with plant life helped improve participants’ attention.
If you sacrifice yourself too much, you might sacrifice your health to the point where you’re the one who needs a caregiver. On the other hand, self-care can keep you going, helping you feel happier and healthier while improving your quality of care.
I Don’t Have Time
The myth of not having time for self-care follows another myth: Self-care needs to take a lot of time. It doesn’t. It can be as quick as a 10-minute break. The key is that you use those 10 minutes to truly focus on yourself with no distraction. Fully absorb yourself in the break. It helps to set an alarm so you don’t have to think about the time. When you find a few minutes – perhaps when your loved one falls asleep – take a few deep breaths and engage in an activity that calms your mind and refills your energy.
If you struggle with finding time, see if you can find a family member or community volunteer who could relieve you for a period of time. This person will be there for your loved one while you are there for yourself.
Finally, build self care into the time you are already spending. Consider how you speak to yourself throughout the day. Is your inner monologue helpful? If not, tap into your inner coach and encourage yourself with productive and compassionate thinking. Take time to enjoy your meals rather than mindlessly shoveling in bites or working through lunch. Allow yourself to take a few deeper, more intentional breaths from time to time. These techniques cost no extra time, and all boost mindfulness and mood.
Self-Care Includes Anything That Will Satisfy
Self-care only applies to activities that benefit your health and further your self-development. It does not include using addictive substances or engaging in risky behaviors to help you relax. These activities tend to reduce your health and well-being while not truly helping with your stress and problems.
Nonetheless, you don’t have to follow certain ideas about self-care. If someone recommends meditation but sitting quietly makes you anxious, that’s not giving you self-care. While meditation does get better with practice, start with activities that resonate with you personally.
It’s Too Difficult to Start
You might dismiss self-care because it seems complicated to start. Try one of these ideas in the beginning, and gradually add to your list of self-care options:
- Go on a date with yourself. Spend an hour alone on enjoyable activities – not on obligations. For example, read, explore the neighborhood or visit a museum or gallery.
- Praise yourself when you do something awesome.
- Express your creativity through art or another method.
- Go on a nature walk.
- Write in a journal.
- Learn something new or research an interest.
- Take a college course for fun.
- Enjoy a 20-minute nap.
- Connect with a spiritual practice that vibes with you.