Why Self Care is a Big Deal

by Andrea M. Darcy
Reviewed by Dr Sheri Jacobson

Is your self-care slipping lately? Or have you always been the sort to put yourself last?

Poor self-care can be a sign of hidden mental health issues it’s time to address.

What is self-care, really?

Self-care is about doing our best to take care of ourselves holistically -- physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. And we make self-care decisions in all areas of our life. Our relationships, finances, career, and hobbies can all be used to care for ourselves, or alternately, to abuse ourselves.

You cannot necessarily tell someone's self-care by the way they look. A dishevelled person might eat well, meditate, and exercise. And a person who seems perfectly put together might be a workaholic who drinks too much.

And we all have our own versions of self-care. If taking care of your physical appearance makes you feel calm, organised, and happier to socialise, it can of course be self-care. But if you obsessively focus on your physical appearance because you have control issues, and it feeds your low self-esteem? Not so much.

I don’t have time for self-care

Too busy being a new mom for self-care? New job simply doesn’t allow it?

While it’s true that we all go through periods in life where we have less time for self care, it is never a good idea to put it aside entirely.

Poor self-care is a red flag we are not accepting support or are under too much stress. Too much stress, left unchecked, can lead to depression, anxiety, and burnout. And nobody can take care of others or do a good job of anything if they are running on empty.

When low self-care is a symptom not a cause

What if we’ve never actually been the sort to prioritise self-care? We’ve always felt that others are simply more important?

This tends to be a pattern that stems from childhood, where we learned that our own needs simply weren’t that relevant. It can happen because of poor parenting, where were we were taught that we had to be pleasing and good to receive love and attention.

Or it can be caused by difficult childhood experiences or trauma. A sick parent we have to take care of means there is no time for self-care. And trauma knocks our self-worth so much we simply don’t think we deserve it.

We end up adults who like to see ourselves as that ‘good, unselfish person’. But we are probably struggling with codependency, low self-esteem, unhealthy relationship patterns, and possibly complex PTSD.

Can self-care help my mental health?

Just as self-care can be a sign our mental health is suffering, it can also be a tool to improve our mental health.

Each act of self-care sends a message to our brain that we are valuable. And things like healthy eating and exercise are now linked by research to better moods.

How do I use self care to help my moods?

1. Identify your wellbeing activities.

These are things that make you personally feel good. Not what others do to feel good, or what you think you ‘should’ do. Try to integrate one or two such activities into each week.

2. Schedule in self-care.

If your self-care always falls off the list after a busy week, then write it in your diary and prioritise it as much as you would a doctor’s appointment.

3. Make self-care goals smaller.

A common way to sabotage self-care is to use an ‘all or nothing’ approach. “I can’t do an entire day at the spa so then I’ll do nothing." Fit in a bubble bath or a 10-minute manicure. If you can’t make a fitness class, dance around the living room for 15 minutes.

4. Get social about it.

If you think you don’t have time as you are busy with your family, then make self-care a family affair. Exercise together, cook together, budget finances together. If your friends are into things that are the opposite of self-care, consider expanding your social circle.

5. Seek support if it’s honestly too hard.

If you really can’t get yourself to take care of yourself, then it’s likely you have deep-rooted limiting beliefs from childhood that you need help shifting. Consider a talk therapist, who can help you identify what is holding you back and work with you to raise your self-esteem.

Time to make your biggest self-care step yet? Book a therapist you like at a price you can afford today, and make this the week you start moving forward.

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