What Is Self-Care, And Why Is It Important?

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated May 16, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include suicide, substance use, or abuse which could be triggering to the reader.
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You may have heard of self-care from various forms of media and peers. However, there are many forms of self-care, and it can be challenging to create a routine if you're not sure where to start in the first place. Understanding how self-care can take place and how to ensure it is effective can allow you to start a routine unique to your needs. 

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What is self-care?

Self-care is the act of deliberately nurturing your needs, which include your physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional priorities. It can involve paying attention to what's important to you and finding ways to make time for yourself. Taking care of yourself can also have various mental and physical health benefits. 

If you struggle to practice self-care, there may be risks. Engaging in goal setting and making time for behaviors that help you feel well can ensure success. Consider finding a therapist who understands the value of self-care and engaging in the activities that promote it. 

A few examples of positive, healthy, and popular self-care activities include the following: 

  • Drinking water each day
  • Journaling 
  • Singing 
  • Playing an instrument
  • Spending time in nature
  • Going for a walk 
  • Spending time with people you love
  • Playing with your pets
  • Writing yourself a letter for the future
  • Taking a bath
  • Scheduling a day for yourself 
  • Gifting yourself an item you enjoy (within moderation) 
  • Exercising 
  • Meditating 
  • Practicing yoga 
  • Signing up for a new opportunity that could benefit your future
  • Standing up for yourself 
  • Setting boundaries
  • Going to therapy 

How to make time for self-care 

It can be challenging to take care of yourself. Often, self-care requires an active choice to engage in activities for your benefit, whether your physical health or emotional well-being. If you live with a mental illness, physical illness, or chronic pain, you may also benefit from self-care as part of your treatment regimen. However, regardless of your health, self-care can be beneficial. Set goals for your self-care routine and know what you want to accomplish within the next week, month, or year.

Setting aside ten minutes a day may be effective if you have a busy schedule. One study found that meditation still had extensive mental and physical health benefits when only practiced for ten minutes daily. Other studies have found that practices like mindfulness can be done on the go or at work. If you have a family, you might sometimes consider including them in your self-care routine. Children often enjoy spending time with their parents, and research has found that young children mimic their parent's behaviors. If you model self-care to your children, they may be more likely to partake in it as adults.
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Types of self-care

The following are several areas of life that may benefit from frequent self-care practices. 

Sleep and self-care 

Sleep plays an essential role in mind and body health. If you're considering goal setting as a part of your self-care routine, consider forming a plan to increase your sleep hygiene practices. You can start with a bedtime routine, altering the environment of the room or space in which you sleep, or looking to your doctor to provide medical guidance for sleep disorders. 

Having enough rest can help you function during the day. If you're not well-rested, it can become difficult to listen, make decisions, and care for yourself and your family. If you struggle with sleep, you might consider joining a support group or contacting a doctor. Certain mental health conditions can impact the quality of your sleep. It's okay to consult a medical health professional if you find that sleep hygiene on its own is not helping. 

Support groups as a form of self-care 

Support groups can be one way to practice self-care, make friends, and receive peer support simultaneously. Common support group topics may include substance use disorders, eating disorders, grief, trauma, or parenting. Support groups aren't the same as group therapy or seeing an individual counselor, but they are often free and may be effective if you're struggling with a mental health concern. 

Healthy eating and self-care 

Many people struggle with healthy eating due to stress, anxiety, financial instability, or limited availability of fresh produce and healthy foods. Others might experience symptoms of an eating disorder, which may be best treated through the support of a licensed therapist. 

Studies show that healthy eating habits can improve mental and physical health. When possible, drink enough clean water, keep food items in the house that make you feel well, and follow a healthy eating plan. If you're unsure what to eat, contacting a medical professional, nutritionist, or therapist for guidance can be healthy. Self-care often means advocating for yourself and finding support when you need it.  

Support system

Studies show that humans benefit mentally and physically from having a solid support system. It can be healthy and normal to require assistance, guidance, or comfort at some point in your life. A support system can provide advice, validation, and compassion when you struggle, succeed, or need a friend. You're not alone if you're having trouble finding friends, family, or a romantic partner with whom to speak. Talking to a therapist may be beneficial, and you can also sign up for support groups, clubs, or other social activities.

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Wants and needs 

Self-care may not only be focused on what you need, although prioritizing your needs can be healthy. Self-care means putting yourself first and engaging in activities that help you feel optimistic and happy. Participating in activities you enjoy can be beneficial and offer mental health benefits. Partaking in an activity only to offer yourself happiness and enjoyment can be an act of self-compassion. 

Activities that fall under the "want" category instead of "need" might include hiking, watching movies, playing sports, singing, talking on the phone with a friend, or trying new clothes. Whatever you choose, self-care can be more than necessary tasks; it also involves actions that enrich your life and improve your mood. You can discuss and discover these activities and how to engage in them safely with a therapist.

Is self-care selfish? 

Many people may experience guilt or shame after practicing self-care, especially if they haven't previously allowed themselves the time to do what they enjoy. However, caring for yourself, prioritizing your needs, and having fun are not selfish activities. If others in your life get angry or jealous when you spend time caring for yourself, it may not be a healthy situation. In these circumstances, setting boundaries can be valuable. 

How to find professional support 

One form of self-care is making your mental health a priority. If you're struggling to take care of yourself, a therapist may be able to support you in developing a self-care routine and discussing your concerns. Although there can be stigmas about seeking support, over 41.7 million US adults see a therapist, and the number is growing. You're not alone, and anyone can see a counselor, with or without a diagnosis. 

You might find online therapy effective if you haven't previously reached out to a therapist due to barriers like cost, distance, availability, or flexibility. Studies have shown that internet-based interventions can be as effective as face-to-face ones. One study found that 71% of study participants believed that online counseling was preferable to and more effective than in-person therapy. 

The counselors on online therapy platforms like BetterHelp are dedicated to helping people work through their symptoms and find self-care strategies. Online therapists can meet with you at a time convenient to you, and you can speak with your therapist from anywhere you have an electronic device and an internet connection. Mental health can be a significant part of self-care, so prioritizing your care in this area may benefit you in the long term. 

Takeaway

Self-care is a term to describe any beneficial activity that positively impacts your mental, emotional, physical, sexual, spiritual, or financial health. You can participate in self-care through activities that benefit you or those you enjoy that make you happy. If you're struggling to develop a self-care routine, consider reaching out to a licensed therapist for further guidance and support.
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