What is self-care?

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When you think of “self-care,” what do you see in your mind? Is it a bubble bath by candlelight, relaxing music playing gently? Perhaps you picture a soothing massage or spa day?

Those kinds of things are useful stress reducers, if you have access to them, but they barely scratch the surface of proper self-care.

Self-care is not something that requires access to expensive services, either. It is not a luxury. It’s an important practice for maintaining psychological and physical health, and it needs daily attention.

“Self-care requires paying attention to your emotional and physical needs,” said Cheryl Crowe, vice president of Behavioral Health, OSF HealthCare. “You have to look at all components of your health for self-care.”

Self-care involves your diet, your activity, your sleep and your social life. It’s comprehensive. So, what do you need to know to start your self-care journey? Here are some of the basics to help you understand how comprehensive self-care is.

Eat well

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Are you eating correctly? You need to take care of your body.

A well-balanced diet rich in vegetables, fruit and lean proteins provides the fuel your body needs to operate at its most effective. You want to have enough energy to lead an active lifestyle.

Be active

“Keep a healthy routine, get exercise and walk outside – nature is good for the soul,” Cheryl said.

The trick to making this work, and to getting the biggest benefit, is to find activities you like. Don’t force yourself to go to the gym if you dislike going to the gym.

Get healthy sleep

Your body and brain need rest to recover and reset after each day. Get a healthy amount of sleep to give yourself energy for the day – not too little and not too much, generally 7-9 hours.

Reduce your stress

Is your stress level manageable?

“That’s where things like a bubble bath come in. That is one tool in the toolbox for relieving stress,” Cheryl said. “Our society forges forward at all costs, but we need to take a moment to relax and assess our stress level.”

Being active and being productive can be very positive for your emotional health, but it’s also important how you spend that time.

“Make time to do things that bring you joy,” Cheryl said. “Life can’t be just about checking boxes like sleeping and eating enough.”

Reach out

Reach out to friends and family regularly and find ways to be together safely.

“Social isolation is one of the worst things for us from a mental health perspective,” Cheryl said.

Virtual interaction cannot fully replace the benefits of in-person socializing with friends and loved ones, but it still beats not speaking to your loved ones at all. Ideally, you are getting together with loved ones in person, however you can do it safely.

And if you need any help, reach out.

“Pay attention to you. What does your body need? What do you need emotionally? If you’re getting to the point that your stress is at a level you can’t manage, or you’re experiencing some depression, it’s time to reach out to a professional for some assistance,” Cheryl said. “Reach out to your primary care provider or a counselor to begin a conversation and make a plan.”

You can also use OSF SilverCloud for online programs to help improve your emotional well-being.

About Author: Ken Harris

Ken Harris is the proudest father and a writing coordinator for the Marketing & Communications division of OSF HealthCare.

He has a bachelor's in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked as a daily newspaper reporter for four years before leaving the field and eventually finding his way to OSF HealthCare.

In his free time, Ken likes reading, fly fishing, hanging out with his dog and generally pestering his lovely, patient wife.

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Categories: Mental Health