Research Paper By Sandra D´Angelo
(Self-Care Coach, ICELAND)
Many of us struggle with the idea of putting ourselves first. Most of us do.
Why is that so? Why does it seem like we care more about the well-being of our family, friends, pets than we care about our well-being? I am not sure that I can answer the “Why?” but I think we can all agree that we deserve more self-respect. We are important to others just as much they are important to us.
Self-care is a challenge that many of us face today therefore I became curious to explore that topic more in detail.
What is Self-Care?
Self-care is not only about washing our hands, taking vitamins, exercising, doing facial masks, and taking bubble baths. It is much more than that.
Self-care is a broad term that includes anything we do to treat ourselves in a good way. In a nutshell, it is about being kind to ourselves, just as we would be kind to others. Likewise, self-care is about knowing when our resources are running low and about stepping back to recharge them rather than letting them drain away.
Types of Self-Care
Whilst a lot of literature covers only three types of self-care (mental, emotional, and physical) while doing my research I came across a paper written by Katharine Hurst who divides self-care into five types, specifically: Sensory, Emotional, Spiritual, Physical and Social Self-Care.
The following text briefly reflects on each of those five types:
This type of self-care is about finding ways to calm our minds.
Literature suggests that once we are fully able to live in the present moment and utilize all our senses, only then will we be able to effectively let go of resentments related to the past and anxieties related to the future.
When practicing sensory self-care, we should make sure that all our senses are “turned on”, in particular touch, smell, sound, taste, and sight.
Below are some ideas when it comes to this kind of self-care:
- Going for a walk and focusing on the smell of the air
- Watching the flames of a candle or a fire
- Feeling the water on the skin during the bath or a shower
- Focusing on the way body moves while breathing
- Listening to your music with the eyes closed
- Walking barefoot in the grass
- Holding a pet in your arms
- Focusing on every bite while eating your food
Even if we might be tempted to push away negative feelings such as sadness and anger, we should do exactly the opposite – feel, reflect, accept, and let go of them.
When it comes to emotional self-care, one of the best advice that is out there is to fully engage with our emotions.
Emotions themselves are not “good” nor “bad”. Instead, the way we decide to respond or react to them can lead to “good” or “bad” behavior.
What are a couple of options to take into consideration when it comes to emotional self-care?
- Journaling on an everyday basis
- Coaching J
- Letting go of emotions in our way (crying, laughing…)
- Having conversations with somebody who truly understands us
Spiritual self-care is the activity we engage in sense connection with the Higher Power and find the meaning of life. There are many different spiritual paths and systems and it is very individual when it comes to which one we want to engage in if any.
On the other hand, even if we are not religious, spiritual self-care can be about getting in touch with our values and exploring our life purpose.
Here are some ways for better spiritual self-care:
- Meditation and/or mindfulness
- Reading various spiritual-related poetry
- Practicing gratitude
- Saying affirmations
This type of self-care is probably the most commonly applied. Most of us believe that physical self-care is all we need to take good care of ourselves and therefore neglecting other types. Physical self-care is indeed important, just as much as any other type. This self-care type involves any activity that contributes to our fitness, such as diet and exercising. It is widely known that physical activity and healthy diet habits not only contribute to a healthy body but also a healthy mind.
Physical self-care ideas:
- Engaging in a class such as yoga, aerobics, Pilates or similar
- Running with our dog
- Eating fruits and vegetables regularly
- Finding a partner who will keep us accountable for our exercising habits
- Making sure to have healthy sleeping habits
- Knowing our limits (we should not over-do it)
Any activity that nurtures and/or deepens our relationships with other people is considered to be a social self-care activity. Depending on if we are of introvert or extrovert personality, this type of care might look very different.
Regardless of that though, all people are social beings and therefore need connections in their lives.
A big part of social self-care is hanging out with people who make us feel good and comfortable about ourselves.
Below are some ways to self-care when it comes to the social aspect:
- Meeting a close friend for a coffee/lunch/dinner
- Writing an email or even a letter to somebody who we miss and is far away
- Stopping any “toxic” relationships
- Signing up for a class where new people can be met
What Self-Care is not?
Now that we explored what self-care is, it is important to reflect also on what self-care is not. Anything that we force ourselves to or anything that we do not truly enjoy doing is not self-care. In other words, anything that “takes from us instead of refuels us” is not considered to be self-caring.
Here are some examples of bad self-care:
- Trying to impress others by over-stretching ourselves
- Not getting enough sleep and physical activity
- Going out all the time at the expense of other things that are more important to us
- Not having any “me” time
- Retreating from positive relationships and isolating ourselves
Self-Care vs. Selfishness
Often self-care is confused with being selfish. Or in general, we think that by taking better care of ourselves we are being portrayed as selfish in the eyes of other people.
Is that perception wrong?
In her paper, McBride argues that nobody can take better care of ourselves than we can. We have all been given our own body, soul, and mind and it is solely our responsibility to take good care of it.
Once we have learned to be in touch with ourselves and our feelings, only then will we be able to be more empathetic to others and to be authentic “of better service”. In other words, if we know how to love ourselves, we will have much more to give to our friends, family, and in general people who surround us.
Finally, being selfish means that there is a desire to take from others without giving back. On the contrary, self-care is about replenishing our resources without diminishing someone else´s.
Benefits of Self-Care?
We have learned by now that self-care is of extreme importance in our lives –first and foremost, it helps us to build a healthier and stronger relationship with ourselves.
Our definition of self-care will be whatever we make it. All that matters is that we put real effort into it.
Below is the list of just some benefits that proper self-care can bring into our lives:
- More connection with ourselves
- Productivity and motivation
- Higher engagement
- Healthier relationships with others
- Improved health
Self-Care & Coaching
To start caring about ourselves more we first need to understand how much or how little we care about ourselves at the current moment. What are we currently doing for ourselves that makes us feel good? What makes us feel bad?
Also, there are some other questions we can pose to ourselves, such as:
- Where am I?
- Who am I?
- What are my values?
- Where am I going?
We need to make it a habit for ourselves to think long-term, precisely: “what will my life look like if I take good care of myself? What will challenge me? What should I be doing that will improve my health/expand my knowledge/strengthen my body/improve relationships…?”
Reflecting on the above questions will help us understand where we are currently standing. Besides, it will allow us to plan for a better self-care that will ultimately lead to a better, more fulfilled, and happier life.
Once we have learned to take good care of ourselves, it is our (coaches) job to make our clients understand that loving themselves is nobody´s job but their own. They have it in themselves – we are here to support them in exploration and become more aware of it.
As a coach, I am excited to support my clients in understanding their current self-care habits and partner with them to further explore ways and tools on how to improve it.
Only with proper self-care will clients be able to fully utilize their potential and flourish in achieving their goals.
Brzoska, M., June 2018. Self-Care Is Not Just About Yourself.
Christopher J. C., Dahlen P., September 2006. Teaching Counsellors Self-Care Through Mindfulness Practices. Article in Teachers College Record.
Herrera, T., November 2019. How To Make “Self-Care” Actually Feel Like Self-Care. Published by The New York Times.
Jones, M., September 2014. 20 Brutal Truths Your Don´t Want To Admit To Yourself.
McBride, K., February 2013. Is Self-Care Selfish? Psychology Today.
Michael, R., July 2018. What Self-Care IsAnd What It Is Not.