Self-Care is Mental Health

Self-care is a popular term these days to refer to things you can do to take care of YOU. But what is it exactly? It is an integral part of my treatment planning in sex therapy and a focus towards self-awareness and wellness.

So how do we define it?

Self-care is anything you do to take care of your overall health and well-being including mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health. It’s more than activities and items on a to-do list. It is a willingness and commitment to feeling like your best self. It is KEY to mental health and improves mood and relationships with everyone including yourself.

Self-care is not something forced, not enjoyable, self-indulging, or selfish. We learn that self-indulging will make us feel better – food, drinks, shopping, etc. are ways we learn to numb our feelings in an attempt to feel better about ourselves. But numbing emotions is not a way to take care of your needs and listen to what your mind and body need.

Designed by you, for you: Self-care looks different for everyone. It starts with considering your needs and knowing what you need to do to take care of yourself.

What are aspects of self-care?

Biological aspects include our early programming from birth and attachment styles which shape how we identify and communicate the needs of self and others. Self-care is a learned behavior. We are not born taking care of ourselves. The environment we grow up in is a model of self-care and taking care of others. We learn to self-soothe and regulate our emotions before verbal communication. Self-care starts with learning how to soothe ourselves when experiencing a range of emotions.

Psychological aspects include the inner dialogue and belief systems that shape mood and behavior. These aspects include coping mechanisms and unconscious experiences that trigger emotions and influence meeting the needs of self and others.  

Social aspects include cultural messages that set ideals around beauty, health, and lifestyle choices. Social environment influences self-care and expectations from within our communities. Relational influences can be communication skills, expectations based on gender roles, and setting healthy boundaries. 

What are examples of self-care?

Why does self-care matter?

It’s essential for everyone. Especially women. Messages in our culture make it difficult for women to take care of self. Women are taught to self-sacrifice and avoid disappointing others. They are often nurturers and caretakers of others first before taking care of oneself. Women also struggle with saying “no” and setting boundaries with others including loved ones.

Self-care is a health necessity. Especially for stress. Stress impacts everyone, and it’s manageable. It is something you must learn to cope with to take care of yourself.

Both positive and negative life experiences can be stressful. The top most stressful events in life include getting married, divorce, the death of a loved one, moving, losing a job, and starting a career.

Even if you don’t FEEL stress, it may be that you are experiencing internal and external factors that can impact psychological and physical well-being. The long-term effects of stress can include disease and neural programming that changes physiology.

What gets in the way?

Taking care of yourself requires a degree of healthy selfishness and boundaries that practice putting yourself first. Many people are taught to rely on others to take care of them. We also learn that others are better at emotional support including partners, friends, parents, and even pets!

It’s not easy saying “no.” It is one of the best forms of self-care and can addresses feeling overwhelmed, doing too much and not relaxing, and instead choosing to engage in things in life that make you feel good.

Why is it so hard to say no? There are fears of disappointing others or feelings of guilt and the fear of criticism and letting someone down. These are all instances that we have been programmed to avoid or label as undesirable.

There is also the fear of judgment. Remember that no one has a right to judge how you take care of yourself. Feeling judged can trigger shame and the activation of negative core beliefs about self and how you view others and the world around you.

Love cannot exist without boundaries. Boundaries are not walls you put up but rather ways to let yourself know what you are ok with and what you are not.

How do boundaries impact self-care?

Boundaries are not innate. We observe and learn about them in our social environments. Watching loved ones putting others needs and feelings first may create beliefs about your responsibility to make others feel good and having a fear of impacting a relationship by stating a boundary. It is common for people to have never learned healthy boundaries. The impact of not setting boundaries leads to not knowing yourself and feeling like you don’t have rights.

Self-care starts here.

Permit yourself to put your needs first. Take care of yourself and trust your intuitive knowledge around what makes you happy and what you need. Work to make yourself comfortable and be in control of your reality. Learn to let go of the past. Shed the layers of memories and create space for present focused energy and intention. Be creative and spend time nurturing  YOU – the most critical relationship in your life. Develop a healthy practice of changing negative attitudes and beliefs and replacing them with positive affirmations, gratitude, and confidence towards health and happiness.

Develop a daily practice of self-care that focuses on pleasure, presence, and play.