7 ways to practise positive self-care

As the importance of positive mental health and wellbeing becomes recognised more widely, so are the ways we can achieve it. One way is through self-care, a concept that has become both popular and significant. Self-care is an individual, conscious commitment to think, behave, feel and relate in ways that support our mental health and wellbeing. It is both intrapersonal, i.e. mental activity and interpersonal, i.e. relating to and involving other people. Self-care is more than just a spa day but a lifelong commitment, and in this post, I share seven ways you can practise it.

1) Self-care is about the conversations we have with ourselves and others

What characterises the conversations you have with yourself – otherwise known as self-talk – and others? If you were to write down the most common words you use and have said about you, what would be on your list? Which tones of voice do you use when talking to yourself, and what tones do others adopt when addressing you? What subjects do you tackle most often in your conversations with yourself and others? And if you showed me your answers to these questions, what conclusions would I draw about whether your conversations positively or negatively contribute to your self-care? The truth is that our conversations matter. Words do build us up or bring us down. Therefore, a commitment to positive self-care is a commitment to ensuring that our conversations are consistent with it.

Activity: list all of your regular conversations and ask yourself if they positively contribute to your self-care.

2) Making sense of why we do or do not look after ourselves

For some people, practising good self-care comes naturally. However, for others, it doesn’t, and if this situation is to change, it will be essential for them to make sense of why. When we cannot make sense of why things are as they are, we limit our capacity to make crucial changes. So why do people neglect themselves in this way?

One reason is upbringing. If a child doesn’t learn about good self-care from the adult world around them, it is much more likely that they won’t practise it as adults. One example of this is obesity, where children raised by obese parents become obese adults themselves. Poor self-care can also result from adversity. When we go through difficult times, it is easy for looking after ourselves to fall down the priority list, especially if our mental health is affected. When we are fire-fighting in life, self-care can feel irrelevant, and conditions such as depression can exacerbate this.

Activity: decide whether your self-care is poor and reflect on whether past or present circumstances explain this.

3) The role of self-esteem

Self-esteem is worth a specific mention when making sense of why someone would neglect their self-care. Low self-esteem can be associated with ideas of deservability and guilt, and self-care can conflict with these because someone sees them as self-indulgent and selfish. Another reason low self-esteem undermines positive self-care is its aims and ambitions. Positive self-care is a form of personal investment, a commitment to being more and doing more in life. People with low self-esteem can find this idea challenging because of a fear of failure. To avoid disappointment, they avoid any steps that might lead to it, including self-care.

Activity: decide whether low self-esteem explains your relationship with self-care.

4) Self-care is about establishing positive patterns of thought, behaviour, feeling and relating

While many people look after aspects of their mental and physical wellbeing, they often fail to holistically. For example, they might do regular exercise while drinking too much alcohol, or they might eat well while leading a sedentary life. Effective self-care needs to harmonise all four primary areas of human functioning: thinking, behaving, feeling and relating.

Activity:

  • Are your patterns of thinking consistent with positive self-care? For example, in your imagination, are you kind and compassionate to yourself or unfair and critical? What is your self-talk like? Is it supportive or undermining?
  • Are your patterns of behaviour geared towards enhancing your health and wellbeing? For example, do you eat well and get enough sleep? Or do you overeat and stay up later than is good for you?
  • What about patterns of feeling and emotion? Do you tune in and seek to understand them to help you make healthy lifestyle decisions? Or do you ignore or suppress them to make it easier to act in unhealthy ways?
  • When it comes to patterns in your relationship, do you surround yourself with people who make you feel good about yourself? Or are you attracted to people who can’t or won’t see your value, worth and potential?

5) Finding acceptance

The premise of this post is that self-care is non-negotiable if we are to enjoy positive health and wellbeing. So are you accepting of this fact? Or are you living a fantasy where you believe positive health and wellbeing are achievable with poor self-care? When we can’t or won’t accept that self-care is vital, we open up what I call a ‘fantasy-reality gap’. An FRG is the difference between how we imagine things can be, the fantasy, and how they need to be, the reality. The bigger our FRG, the more stressed, anxious or depressed we will be because big FRGs are not a sustainable way of living. The only way to close a large FRG is through acceptance, and in this case, acceptance that positive self-care is necessary.

Activity: are you living a fantasy? Or are you living realistically?

6) Challenge yourself to prioritise yourself

Modern life can be stressful and demanding, and our capacity to take on board ideas and commit to actions understandably limited. And self-care requires us to do both. The challenge is to find a way of incorporating self-care into our already challenging lives. Here are some ways to achieve this:

  • By valuing yourself. When you do, when you make your health and wellbeing a priority, it is much easier to arrange your personal and professional lives in a way that supports this goal. When to you don’t value yourself, then persuading yourself to make room for self-care can be a youch sell.
  • By being flexible. There is no right or wrong way to practise self-care, just the way that works for you. For example, too many people believe self-care is only about significant lifestyle change and consequently never get off the starting block due to feeling overwhelmed. By being flexible, you can introduce self-care by making small changes. Once these are in place, you can then build on them over time.

Activity

  • consider whether you value yourself sufficiently or downplay your importance
  • consider whether you tend towards flexibility or rigidity when organising your life?

7) Self-care: a journey and a destination of transformation

The goal for all human beings is to achieve positive health and wellbeing, but what does achieving this goal look like (the destination), and how do we get there (the journey)? Answering these questions is vital because doing so will determine the types of self-care we need to make use of and practise. The question, therefore, is what does your destination and journey look like at this time of your life? Hopefully, my post will give you some ideas, but consider the following areas and then do the activity below:

  • yourself – self-esteem, self-worth and status
  • mental and physical health
  • emotional and physical wellbeing
  • home and family life
  • relationships
  • personal and professional, work and career
  • lifestyle
  • social and cultural life
  • environment

Activity: choose a number between 0 and 10 that indicates how you feel about these areas of your life (0= very positive, 10= very negative). Then ask yourself:

  • what forms of self-care will keep your positive areas in good shape?
  • what forms of self-care will transform your negative areas?

Getting support for your self-care

Have you reached your destination, or are you far away? Are you making progress on your journey, or are you stuck? Whatever you discover will be helpful because only by knowing what is going well and what isn’t can you choose the form of self-care that is right for you. There is no point in choosing a form of self-care that isn’t appropriate or helpful. For example, if your mental health is poor, then the correct type of self-care might be seeing a therapist or getting yourself a hobby that connects you to people. Or, if you are stuck in your career, talking to a careers coach might be the best option. Self-care is a broad category, and what works for one won’t work for another.

If you need support to practice positive self-care so you can enjoy better health and wellbeing, then I’d love to hear from you.