What is Self-Care & How Does it Benefit Health?

A Healthier Michigan

| 4 min read

Self-care can help build and maintain mental health and resilience. Mental health is not something that can be ignored until something goes wrong. Just like any other area of your personal health, it needs to be maintained and checked up on.

What is self-care?

Self-care encompasses care you give yourself to improve or maintain your health, including physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual self-care. It is an important aspect of personal and social well-being and mental health. It's not all positive thinking and giving yourself space to relax, although these can be elements of self-care. Self-care needs to be well-rounded and focus on all areas of your health.
Self-care includes regular physical exercise, a well-rounded and balanced diet, regular hydration, good sleep quality and schedule, as well as setting goals and priorities, and giving yourself time and space to relax and recuperate.

What are the benefits of self-care?

The main benefit of self-care is overall well-being and an improved quality of whole-person health. Commonly, those who practice self-care have higher levels of awareness, self-control, and self-reliance.
Self-care is increasingly important as chronic and communicable diseases and health disparities are increasing worldwide, according to a 2021 study. The benefits can be multiple, depending on how you practice self-care and the type of health benefits you are pursuing. Self-care includes getting good exercise and sleep, both of which have well-documented boosts to overall health.

What are misconceptions about self-care?

There are many misunderstandings or assumptions about self-care, including that it doesn’t really work or is a selfish pursuit. These often stem from a misunderstanding of what self-care includes. Some of the more common points of confusion can be explained and understood here.

Self-care is all about pampering yourself

Self-care can include pampering and treating yourself to things and activities you enjoy, but that is far from the actual goal of self-care. Self-care can be hard work and is not only about setting apart time or resources for enjoyment.

Self-care takes up too much time

It is up to you how much time to spend on self-care. Ideally, self-care involves adding new healthy routines and habits for yourself. It shouldn’t be a large undertaking, but a new way of approaching your own health.

People who practice self-care don’t have time or energy for other people

Self-care can include social interactions and time with friends and loved ones, or social activities like cards, pickleball, and more. Self-care is for yourself but doesn’t have to only include yourself. According to Psychology Today, socialization and time with friends is one of the most vital and overlooked elements of personal health.

How to start practicing self-care

Self-care is all about adding healthy practices that improve you and your level of health. This can be for mental health, physical health and more. Here are ways to implement self-care into your daily life that should benefit your overall health.

Improve your sleep schedule and sleep quality

Sleep deprivation and poor sleep negatively affect mental health and overall health. According to a 2021 Sleep Medicine study, up to 20% of people report symptoms of insomnia. According to Columbia University Psychiatry, poor sleep quality can also exacerbate existing mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, and even thoughts of self-harm and suicide. Learning how to track your sleep and how to improve your sleep can have many benefits on your overall health.

Improve your diet and nutrition

Stress and nutrition have a well-documented relationship. Improving your diet with heart-healthy and brain-healthy foods can have a real effect on your mental health as well as your physical health and nutrition. In general, avoiding foods high in saturated fats and added sugars is a great first step toward improving your diet as a form of self-care.

Get good exercise, especially outdoors

There is a reason the phrases “get your blood flowing” and “get a breath of fresh air” are now cliché. Getting your body moving and spending time outdoors benefits your overall health. It is important to find an exercise routine that works for you. Spending 15-20 minutes walking outdoors can have a noticeable effect on your mental health and physical stamina. Walking can also be used as a meditative practice, which can boost mental health benefits such as focus, processing through emotions, and gratitude.

Consider therapy

Therapy can be an effective interventive or preventive course of action to take care of yourself. Besides on-on-one talk therapy, you could consider group therapy or virtual therapy if you prefer. There are some myths and misunderstandings about therapy that may make some hesitant. One of the biggest possible benefits of therapy is a boost to your motivation to make changes and break bad habits, coming from an outside, objective perspective.

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