What is Self Care?

Published on: 24 Nov 2021
Clinically Reviewed by Meaghan Rice PsyD., LPC

In many senses, self care practice is exactly what it sounds like. It’s doing the things you need to take good care of yourself. That may be reading a book, exercising, or trying online therapy. Taking the concept a step further: self care is investing time in yourself so you can truly be the best version of yourself and have the energy, confidence, and will to focus on any other aspect of life that needs your attention.  

Putting you first is one of the best ways to become your optimal self. When you step into the role of partner, mother, employee, friend, child, or any other title you take pride in having, you want to give it your all. A self care practice can help you do just that. 

Practicing self care doesn’t have to be hard, time-consuming, or expensive. You can do any of the following, sometimes in just a matter of minutes and often for free:

  • Practicing mindful meditation
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Eating healthy
  • Spending time outdoors or in nature
  • Being kind to yourself
  • Journaling
  • Expressing gratitude
  • Focusing on living in the moment
  • Taking breaks from electronic devices
  • Taking care of your physical health by going to the doctor when necessary
  • Working out

Do you have to practice self care? Technically, no. Should you? Absolutely. 

Learn more about the answer to the question: what is self care — an often neglected aspect of life — with examples of self care and a detailed explanation of how it can really help you. Physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally, self care can be the best thing you do for yourself and those around you. 

The Importance of Self Care

Self care is important for several reasons. First and foremost, as we already noted, making time for yourself gives you the energy and motivation to turn your attention to other places where you’re needed. Anything you can do to take care of yourself so your physical, mental, and emotional health are sufficiently tended to can make you stronger, healthier, and overall, more positive. 

Research shows that some types of self care, like meditation, for example, can result in positive psychological well-being and increase grey matter in the brain. Even small acts of self care can promote a sense of calm and focus that can help you get through your day with less stress and more joy — who couldn’t use more of that?

“A good friend of mine recently said, ‘self care is key to health care.’ I love this sentiment! We know, clinically, that people who take care of their emotional, spiritual, and physical needs have overall higher impressions of their own health.”

Talkspace therapist Ashley Ertel, LCSW, BCD, CDBT

What Are the Different Types of Self Care?

There are several examples of self care you can choose to engage in. Which ones work best for you is a personal choice. Remember that since the self care meaning, by definition, is doing things that make you happy, finding activities you actually enjoy is an important part of the process.

Emotional self care

One important part of emotional self care includes learning coping skills that help you deal with difficult emotions like anger or sadness. Processing our emotions is an essential part of staying mentally healthy. Finding the tools that work best for you to accomplish this can be life changing. There are other parts of emotional self care, too. 

Examples of self care on an emotional level can include: 

  • Taking a bubble bath
  • Curling up with a book
  • Taking time for a hobby you enjoy 
  • Practicing positive self-talk to combat negative thinking
  • Committing to saying no to things you don’t want to do or that are harmful to your well-being
  • Reaching out to a friend to suggest getting together 

Practical self care

Practical self care can be quick and easy things you decide to do to give yourself a little bit of time to reset. Even if you can only commit to a few minutes each day, it’s worth it. Allowing yourself the time to take care of all those practical things in your life can help you manage your stress and boost your energy levels, all while keeping your mind and body healthier. 

Practical self care ideas can include:

  • Listening to music
  • Reading your favorite book
  • Doing something creative like painting or drawing
  • Organizing a specific space in your home
  • Doing controlled breathing

Physical self care

Physical self care is simply taking the time to respect your body. When we care for our body, our mind rewards us. Studies show that physical self care can result in clearer thinking, having a more positive outlook on life, feeling less stressed, and maintaining the ability to focus and be more productive.

Ways to engage in physical self care can include:

  • Getting regular physical activity
  • Maintaining a healthy sleep habit
  • Caring for your body and health
  • Adding healthy food choices into your diet 
  • Drinking enough water

Mental self care

Mental self care has to do with how you take care of your mind. Where you allow your mind to go, and what you allow it to feel, can have a direct impact on your psychological health and well-being. Mental self care involves doing things that keep your mind active and healthy.

You can practice mental self care by:

  • Doing puzzles
  • Researching topics that are interesting or fascinating to you
  • Watching documentaries
  • Maintaining a positive and healthy inner dialogue
  • Practicing self-acceptance, self-compassion, and self-love
  • Making time for things that mentally stimulate you

Spiritual self care

Spiritual self care can include anything having to do with your beliefs, value system, religion, or the fundamental spirituality you practice. When you nurture your soul and spirit, you can foster a greater sense of purpose and meaning. You can strengthen the connection you feel with the world around you.

How Can Self Care Improve Your Mental State?

Self care can improve your mental state by helping you shift your perspective and outlook. Giving yourself time to pause and reevaluate what’s important to you is key to good mental health and leading a healthier, happier life. 

Particularly in today’s culture, we tend to burn the candle at both ends more often than not. Too many of us are in a constant state of hurry, with a to-do list that never ends. We see the impact of this, not just on our mental health, but also on our ability to perform and function well, which can be catastrophic if we’re not taking proper care of our mind and body.

Self care can help us be more focused, driven, willing, and able to give back to others. It can energize us and make us feel ready to face the world. 

“By prioritizing your self care, you are better able to free up time to become mindful of what is going on with your mental and emotional health. Making time and space to really ‘tune-in’ to ourselves is one of the first steps to identifying our own mental health needs.”

Talkspace therapist Ashley Ertel, LCSW, BCD, CDBT 

Benefits of Practicing Self Care

Practicing self care offers many benefits. Perhaps most striking is the research that shows the direct link between self care and longevity. When people put effort into taking care of themselves, through diet and regular exercise, and other aspects of living a healthy lifestyle, they can live a longer life. 

Starting a self care routine can make the process seamless and easy, so you’re not overwhelmed at the idea of trying to make a huge life change all at once and on your own. 

Investing in taking care of yourself means you might be able to:

  • Sleep better
  • Have more energy
  • Feel more at peace
  • Have more patience with friends, coworkers, children, and other family members
  • Make decisions faster and with more confidence
  • Be motivated to finish tasks you started
  • Find it easier to eat healthier
  • Become excited about working out

“Folks who practice regular self care activities note feeling healthier, having improved relationships with self and others, and finding greater work-life integration.”

Talkspace therapist Ashley Ertel, LCSW, BCD, CDBT

Self care can be rewarding and have a significantly positive impact on your life. Simple acts of self-love can remind you that you’re just as important as all those people you spend time and energy caring for in your life. 

You deserve to be as loved, nurtured, and respected as much as anyone else does. It doesn’t take a lot to get in the habit of self care. With self care, you’ll probably find that the longer you do it, the easier it becomes. You may see results almost right away, which makes all the effort more than worth it. 

Whether your self care starts with exercise or therapy, you’ll be sure to feel the difference.

Sources:

1. Hölzel B, Carmody J, Vangel M et al. Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging. 2011;191(1):36-43. doi:10.1016/j.pscychresns.2010.08.006.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3004979/.  Accessed November 4, 2021.

2. 2015 Stress in America Snapshot. https://www.apa.org. https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2015/snapshot. Published 2015. Accessed November 4, 2021.

3. Pizzo P. A Prescription for Longevity in the 21st Century. JAMA. 2020;323(5):415. doi:10.1001/jama.2019.21087. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/2758735. Accessed November 4, 2021.

Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.

Our goal at Talkspace is to provide the most up-to-date, valuable, and objective information on mental health-related topics in order to help readers make informed decisions.

Articles contain trusted third-party sources that are either directly linked to in the text or listed at the bottom to take readers directly to the source.

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