Like many other ‘key phrases’, it is a term that you may often come across, but what does self-care actually mean?
The World Health Organization’s working definition of self care is: ‘“The ability of individuals, families and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a health-care provider”.
At its core, it is the steps that we can take as individuals to look after our own mental health. Understanding (or trying to) understand how you are feeling and needing, in order to care for ourselves.
Additionally, self-care techniques and general lifestyle changes can help manage the symptoms of many mental health problem, or even prevent them from occuring or potentially worsening.
There is a lot of information available and contrary to what is displayed in the media, these do not have to be extravagant changes.
Awareness of your mental health
This is vital for your self-care and general wellbeing.
Mind have suggested the following tips for helping to stay aware of your mental health:
- Look out for your early warning signs if you’re beginning to feel unwell. This can be extremely useful to reflect on what these may be, so you can get support as soon as possible.
- Keep a mood diary. Keeping track of your moods can help you to identify what makes you feel better or worse. You can then take steps to avoid, change or prepare for difficult situations.
- Talk – tell people what helps. Let your family and friends know what helps and how they can support you. Also let your GP if any treatment has been successful or unsuccesful for you.
- Build your self-esteem. Take the steps to increase your self-esteem can not only aid you to feel more confident, it can also help you to manage your mental health.
Nourish and nurture your social life
Human beings are social creatures and generally enjoy interaction. Feeling connected to other people is important. It can not only help you to feel valued and confident about yourself, but it also can provide you with a different perspective. If you feel able to, try to spend some time connecting with friends and family – even a text or phone call can make a difference.
However, if you do not feel like you have supportive friends and family and are feeling isolated, there are other ways to make connections with people. For example, connecting with community events where you might have some interests or experiences. There are also local sports and reading groups etc that you may wish to contact too.
Peer support/group support
A mental health problem may make you feel incredibly isolated and feel like nobody understands how you are. You are not alone – there are others who do feel the same as you and peer support is a way of connecting with others, who have similar experiences.
There are many online and face to face groups to contact. Mind has a side by side community, which enables individuals to connect.
These may not look quite the same as represented in films and TV programmes, but it is important to give yourself some R&R time. These activities are especially valuable if you are not wanting to try medication or talking treatments, or you’re having to wait a while for treatment on the NHS.
Such activities include:
- Relaxation – you may already know what helps you relax, like having a bath, listening to music or taking a dog for a walk. If you know that a certain activity helps you feel more relaxed, make sure you set aside time to do it.
- Mindfulness – mindfulness is a therapeutic technique that involves being more aware of the present moment. This can mean both outside, in the world around you, and inside, in your feelings and thoughts. Practising mindfulness can help you become more aware of your own moods and reactions.
- Ecotherapy– getting out into a green environment, such as a park or the countryside, is especially good for you. Even if you don’t have a garden or aren’t very mobile, caring for plants or animals indoors can still help you get some benefits from nature.
Looking after your physical health
Looking after your physical health will really benefit your mental health and aid the management of it too.
Sleep – easier said than done, but rest when you can. Sleeping well gives you energy, which can aid the ability to cope with difficult feelings and experiences. Extreme fatigue can heighten any emotions.
Keeping active – this does not mean running lots, unless you want to! Regular exercise does not need to be overly strenuous or sporty – the important part is to pick something you enjoy and try and keep doing it regularly. Like going for a walk, swimming or yoga. If you’re physically disabled, Disability Rights UK provides information about exercises you might be able to do.
Avoid drugs and alcohol – while you might want to use drugs or alcohol to cope with difficult feelings, in the long run they could result in making you feel a lot worse.
Turning Point has a lot of information and support available, to help stop using drugs and alcohol.
Personal care – whilst you’re experiencing a mental health problem, it’s easy for personal care to not feel like a priority and to let it slide.
But small everyday things, such as taking a shower and getting fully dressed, can make a big difference to how you feel.
Eating healthily – again, much easier said than done. What you eat, and when you eat, can make a big difference to how well you feel. Mind has a good section on food and mood (https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/food-and-mood/about-food-and-mood/), highlighting the impact that food has on our moods.
- Anxiety UK offers advice and support for people living with anxiety.
- B-eat provides information and support for people affected by eating disorders.
- Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) supports men’s mental health.
- FRANK provides confidential drugs advice and information.
- Hearing Voices Network runs an online forum and local groups across the country.
- Mind Out offers mental health advice and support for anyone who identifies as LGBTQ+.
- No Panic offers help and advice about anxiety disorders, including a helpline and recovery groups.
- StudentMinds supports students with their mental health.
- YoungMinds supports children and young people with their mental health.