Caring for yourself may feel easier for some but is vitally important for every one of us. Regularly considering our own mental health and well-being needs to come first and is a skill which can be learned. For those who are fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to learn these skills, perhaps when they were younger, looking after yourself and knowing how to do so may seem obvious. Others may not have been taught or shown the importance of doing so, may not have given this a great deal of thought and may be at a loss to know where to start. This is an important part of valuing yourself so it may be worth starting by reflecting on why you struggle in this area.
Low self esteem and confidence or an existing mental health issue may lead you to question the importance of being well and healthy in the world. You may feel you are too busy looking after others, working or surviving to spend time looking after yourself. If you notice a pattern of continuously prioritising the needs of others over your own you may be curious about where this pattern originated. Perhaps looking after others became normalised during a much earlier part of your story.
Self care is important wherever you are on the spectrum of mental well-being. It is not just important when you are experiencing distress or crisis, but may support you to remain well and build resilience. It always deserves to take priority and can help to ensure you are better able to love and care for others. Perhaps a fear of failure and concerns about not being good enough prevent you from saying no to requests and opportunities, but understanding your motivation can be key to providing space and time to build a more healthy relationship with yourself and avoid illness and burn out.
There are many free and easy ways to bring self care in to your daily life. As a starting place, the New Economics Foundation introduced the Five Ways to Well-being, which are five simple ways to improve your well-being. The Ways are named ‘Be Active’, ‘Connect’, ‘Keep Learning’, ‘Give’ and ‘Take Notice’. These are open to interpretation and can be tailored to best suit the individual. Being active may involve committing to a daily walk, regular visits to the gym or gardening. Connecting with others and nature involves meaningful and healthy interaction and may involve contact with family, friends, pets, nature or even therapy. There are many ways to keep learning, many of which are free. There is the opportunity for every one of us to learn every day in small ways if we are willing to commit to doing so. Walk a different route to work, find a free music event or talk in your area. Visit a building you have walked past many times before or speak to someone new. Giving may be something which already dominates your day to day life, in which case you may want to concentrate instead on the other Ways. If not, giving can really involve any expression of kindness towards another. A mindfulness practice or simply slowing down and taking time to recognise feelings and better understand your thoughts will support you to take notice and develop awareness. Taking notice may be as simple as finding a patch of grass to lie on in the sun without distraction.
Some clients have found that putting together and committing to a plan to work on all Five Ways provides a framework and gentle reminder each day that being with yourself, understanding your own needs and knowing that you have the capacity to facilitate meeting them is valuable and possible.