Editor’s note: As we begin a new year, it is important to reflect on our goals. In this post, Audrey Demmitt discusses the concept of self-care, creating a self-care plan, and how critical it is to improving health and well-being. Audrey has developed a series of five articles about self-care, the first of which is Eating Your Way to Health and Well-being – VisionAware.
What is Self-Care?
Self-care simply means taking care of yourself in ways that promote health and well-being so you can accomplish what you want and enjoy life. It is a routine of intentional practices aimed at meeting your physical, emotional, and spiritual needs so you can function optimally. It is not indulgent or selfish to care for yourself. Our bodies and minds are complex systems that require loving care and maintenance. When you give your body what it needs, it will perform at its best.
Self-care has become a trendy concept with a surge in research demonstrating its benefits. And it is an important conversation many healthcare providers are having with patients, and for good reasons. As a result of the pandemic, many people are suffering the effects of chronic stress, depression, anxiety, and other chronic health conditions, making self-care more essential than ever before.
Life is stressful, and stress wears us down. Researchers say living with chronically-high stress levels negatively impacts our minds and bodies. It can cause or worsen many physical and mental health conditions. Studies report people with low vision experience higher rates of chronic illnesses like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and depression. Surely there are multiple factors involved, but is there a link to higher stress levels when living with blindness or low vision? It is likely.
I have heard it said, “The best healthcare is self-care,” which seems to suggest we can improve our own health through self-care, with or without the support of traditional healthcare. Think about that for a moment – that is powerful! You can take an active role in protecting and improving your physical and mental health. Through self-care, we have the power to nurture our body, mind, and spirit in transformative way.
What are the Benefits of Self-Care?
Self-care can be healing, strengthening, and pleasurable for the mind and body. A daily self-care routine has many benefits. It helps to:
- prevent disease
- manage health conditions
- improve physical and cognitive functioning
- reduce stress, anxiety, and depression
- lower blood pressure, weight, and cholesterol levels
- decrease pain and inflammation
- stabilize your mood
- boost your immune system
- foster healthy coping skills
- increase resilience
- and bring more peace, joy, and balance to your life
What Does Self-Care Look Like?
“When you recover or discover something that nourishes your soul and brings joy, care enough about yourself to make room for it in your life.”— Jean Shinoda Bolen
Self-care behaviors are usually relaxing, refreshing, restorative, and enjoyable. While self-care is for everyone, it will look different from person to person. And since our physical and emotional needs will change, depending on life circumstances, self-care practices will change. Some examples of nurturing self-care behaviors are:
- Taking a walk in the woods
- Relaxing with a good book
- Eating more nutritious foods
- Practicing mindfulness and meditation to relax your body and quiet your brain
- Doing yoga or other types of exercise
- Reducing your screen time
- Going to bed early to get more sleep
- Calling a friend for support
- Volunteering in your community
Creating a Self-Care Plan
It is important to start the self-care journey by identifying your physical, mental, and emotional needs. The next step is to set S.M.A.R.T. goals for improving your health and well-being. An attainable goal will be:
- Specific and focused on one activity or idea
- Measurable so you can track or measure your progress
- Action steps or tasks you can do to move you closer to the goal
- Realistic and within your reach
- Timely or achieved within a specific time frame.
This approach will bring clarity, focus, and greater success in accomplishing your goals. In addition, you will want to explore a variety of self-care methods and techniques to learn which will work best for you.
Let’s say you want to lose weight. Consider what actions you can take to meet that goal. Maybe you want to begin an exercise plan, use a food and fitness tracker, or join a weight loss program. If your nutrition needs an overhaul, you could make an appointment with a nutritionist. Perhaps your confidence and motivation need a lift; ask your friends and family to support you. Now let’s write a SMART goal:
I will lose 10lbs within 3 months by walking briskly for 30 minutes 4 times per week.
Getting Started on Your Wellness Journey
When designing a new self-care plan, be adventurous and flexible. Be gentle with yourself as you work toward your goals. Start small and make sustainable lifestyle choices. Small steps will add up and have a big impact! Be holistic in your approach, and remember there is a strong mind-body connection. What helps the mind will also benefit the body and vice versa. And try to address all the domains of self-care as there is a synergy and interplay among them. The whole effect will be greater than the sum of its parts, as the saying goes.
We will explore five domains of self-care in this series:
- healthy eating
- physical activity
- stress management and relaxation
- restorative sleep
- social connection
We can all benefit from evaluating how we are feeling, moving, and coping. Many of us could make changes to improve our self-care. Consistent practice is the key to achieving better health and a sense of well-being. And who doesn’t want a little more of that in their life? Give yourself the gift of loving self-care.
“The most creative act you will ever undertake is the act of creating yourself.”— Deepak Chopra