Make self-care a priority

The term “self-care” has taken on a greater level of significance and profundity during this day and age of the COVID-19 pandemic. And rightfully so too.

Jun 17, 2022

                                     Heart, Mind and Soul Fr Philip Chua
The term “self-care” has taken on a greater level of significance and profundity during this day and age of the COVID-19 pandemic. And rightfully so too.

Why, you ask? At the height of the pandemic, we witnessed the devastating impact from the prevalence of mental health issues on both lives and livelihoods brought about by financial insecurities, unemployment and social disconnection. In the absence of easy access to health care and social support system, self-care was, and continues to be, promoted as the “first line of defence” for the healthy functioning of the body, mind and soul. However, the concept of self-care is not a novel one. It has traditionally been recognised as a fundamental intervention for one’s wellness and it can manifest itself in numerous forms.

Let’s be clear: self-care is not synonymous with self-indulgence or being selfish. In this regard, the adage, “You must fill your own cup before you can pour for others” holds true. Whilst a day at the spa is a great way to rejuvenate and take care of oneself, self-care is actually much more than that. Self-care quite literally means caring for one’s self wholly. It includes anything that we do to care for our physical, psychological, spiritual, and emotional health. A simple way of interpreting selfcare is viewing it from the perspective of “me too”, as opposed to “me first”.

The iconic fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg once said, “It is so important to take time for yourself and find clarity, as the most important relationship is the one you have with yourself”. How unquestionably true! The practice of self-care allows one to maintain a healthy relationship with oneself so that one can better relate to others. Engaging in a selfcare routine has been clinically proven to help in alleviating anxiety and depression, reducing stress, improving concentration, minimising frustration, increasing happiness and improving energy levels.

From a physical health standpoint, self-care has been shown to reduce risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer. The benefits are indisputable, and the impact on mental health, in particular, is immense. However, how many of us actually engage in acts of self-care? The truth, however, is that the practice of self-care is not universal. We all need to pause and remind ourselves, amidst the demands of our daily lives, that we are important too, and therefore, worthy to be taken care of. Taking care of oneself is a valid goal on its own, and it helps you support the people you love.

So, how do we practise self-care? We need to first recognise that self-care is a personal matter and relies on increased self-awareness. The practice of self-awareness will not only help you recognise the stressors in life but also identify the activities or tasks necessary for your well-being, alleviate negative symptoms of a mental illness or stress, or simply bring pleasure or relaxation.

When thinking about self-care activities, start small. Consider simple changes that you can make immediately to improve your mental and physical health. This may include incorporating a simple exercise routine, eating healthier or merely getting enough sleep. Remember that the core tenet of self-care is yourself. Therefore, find and do the activities that you enjoy doing, bring serenity, and shun those that create stress. It is critical that we reframe self-care activities as an investment in ourselves, rather than a waste of time or as acts of selfishness.

Self-care does not need to be elaborate, expensive, or time-intensive to be effective. However, amidst the stresses and demands of daily work and commitment, self-care may be relegated in importance. It, therefore, takes discipline and perseverance to keep prioritising self-care. Self-care can include a myriad of activities that one can engage in promoting physical, emotional, spiritual and mental health. Here is a list of activities that you may want to consider as part of your self-care routine: 

Live healthier by consuming healthier food, getting enough sleep, and exercising regularly.

-- Try to do something you enjoy every day – a hobby or finding one if you don’t already have one.

-- Create a sense of belonging by spending more time and socialising with the people that you care about.

-- Build new social connections by joining a support group, volunteering for a social cause or making new friends.
Find ways to relax, like meditation, yoga, getting a massage, taking a bath or walking in the woods. 

-- Allocate some “me” time to prevent negative thinking or simply to unplug and unwind.

-- Talk to a counsellor, therapist or a trusted friend regularly.

Self-care also warrants a shift in our mindset and a change in our behaviour. This may include learning to say no, being less concerned with what others may think of you, being more realistic in your outlook (as opposed to striving for perfection all the time), practising gratitude, and focusing on positivity

A self-care routine is not only vital for your mental health, research suggests the more we practise self-care, the more confident, creative, and productive we become.

We also experience greater joy, make better decisions, build stronger relationships and communicate more effectively.

Go ahead, make yourself a priority. Never feel guilty about taking care of yourself. Carve out some time for self-care. You deserve it.

(Fr Philip Chua is a registered and licensed Counsellor & Clinical Supervisor under Lembaga Kaunselor Malaysia. He is also the Ecclesiastical Assistant of the Archdiocesan Mental Health Ministry.)

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