What do we mean by self-care anyway?

So what’s the big deal with self-care anyway? Isn’t it all a bit self-indulgent?  Allow me to start with a story…


When I returned to work after having my second child, I thought I was looking after myself properly. Sure, I was tired and had a lot on my plate, but I was handling it just fine. Or so I thought. A series of wake-up calls showed me that my body was telling me something quite different.


Reluctantly, I started to realise I had to make changes. I really didn’t want to, but I knew I had to for my health.


I needed to let go of some of the things I was holding on to so tightly. One of those was thinking I could do it all by myself. Being all things to all people and never giving myself any time. Going it alone.


Perhaps this is you. Maybe you’ve had a health scare. Or perhaps you’ve just had enough with never stopping. You know it’s time to do things differently.


Yet there’s that nagging voice in your head that says, “Aren’t I being a bit selfish? Don’t I just need to get on with it? Pull my socks up? 


This is the journey that most of us need to face at some point. To come to realise that self-care is far from selfish. It is, in fact, one of the best things that we can do for those who love us. Click To Tweet


In his inspirational book, Let your Life Speak, Parker J Palmer puts it this way: 


“I have become clear about at least one thing: self-care is never a selfish act – it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on this earth to offer to others. Anytime we can listen to true self and give it the care it requires, we do so not only for ourselves but for the many others whose lives we touch.”  


When we’re not looking after ourselves properly, our bodies go into a stressed out state. Stress releases adrenalin and cortisol into our bodiesWe can be very productive in this state because it’s a state of high energy and high alert.  


Only in the short term though.  


Eventually this chronic stress catches up with us in the form of illness or burnout. It also plays havoc with our hormones.  So, for both your health and long term productivity, it makes sense to make self-care a priority. 


What do we mean by self-care anyway? When I talk about self-care, I’m including the following five things.


  • Prioritising time to stop, prepare and eat real food. 


  • Getting enough sleep. 


  • Making enjoyable movement part of your day. 


  • Creating space for connection with others. 


  • Having some regular down time. 


If you struggle with all or any of those things, join the club! You’re certainly not alone. And as you read on, please be kind to yourself. None of us has this sorted. Me included.


I’d like to share some of my thoughts about why these areas are important.



1. Make time to stop, prepare and eat real food 


What we eat – and when we eat-  affects how we think and feel. Scientists call the gut our ‘second brain’ because it has so many nerve endings. Gut health directly affects the health of your whole body. Eating real food is the best way to keep your digestive system happy. A great rule of thumb is to eat from scratch and eat foods from packets as little as possible. 


One of the huge benefits of eating real food is that it regulates blood sugar more effectively, which means more stable energy and more focused attention. With fewer highs and lows you will get more things done. 


For more on how what you eat affects your stress levels, read my blog post on this topic ‘Can what you eat affect your stress levels. 


2. Get enough sleep 


Sleep has become one of the most neglected areas of health. Ambitious, driven people say “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” or “I don’t need much sleep, I can get by on 5 hours”. New parents complain about lack of sleep and wistfully remember the days of uninterrupted sleep pre-children.  I know I’m thankful every single morning that my children are past that stage and -mostly – sleep through the night.


And most of us try to squeeze more and more into our days at the expense of sleep. Our modern environment makes it increasingly difficult to switch off and give our bodies the rest it needs. 


Whatever your view, the latest research shows that getting enough sleep is absolutely essential to every single function of the body. We think better, feel better, function better, stay healthier and have more energy when we’re properly rested. 


3. Make enjoyable movement part or your day 


Notice I didn’t say the ‘e’ word. What about changing your thinking in this area to simply try and move more? As Rangan Chatterjee says, “We have outsourced our movement to machines”. Walk your children to school instead of driving, take the stairs not the escalator or lift, set a timer to go off every hour and do a few squats, star jumps or press ups.  


And find something active that you enjoy doing tooResearch shows that we’re much more likely to stick with activities we enjoy. Dancing, hiking, Zumba, Chinese martial arts, yoga, pilates, tai chi, belly dancing, running, swimming, Nordic walking, kick boxing, roller blading, cycling, plogging, on-line exercise class, gardening, Nintendo Wii Fit, military style fitness in a park, cross fit, spinning, zumba, tennis, squash, badminton, climbing. Here are just a few ideas to get you started. 


4. Create space for connection with others 


We are hard-wired for social connection, this is how we’ve evolved, to be in community not on our own. I am talking here about real face-to-face human interaction with friends and family. We thrive when we feel a sense of belonging and have that regular social contact with others.  


The reality is that although technology connects us as never before, we also feel more isolated than ever. With everything else there is to do, it can be hard to find time to spend with our partner or arrange to see friends or family. Consider this for a moment though. Lack of social support is associated with: insomnia, stress and higher incidences for infection, depression and cancer. 


If you’re struggling to create this time, a health coach can support you to make those changes you want to.  Find out how I can help you…Work with me


5. Having some regular down time 


There is a growing body of research telling us that having regular down time and cultivating pleasure and play are all vital to our wellbeing. In our switched-on world, we need to consciously create time to be ‘off’. When you’re a busy career mum it can be really hard to find time this for yourself, unless you make this an absolute priority.  


Creating some time each week to do something that you really love will reap rewards in every single area of your life. It will help to balance stress and improve the quality of your relationships. 


For me my priority is my daily meditation and prayer practice and walking in the woods a couple of times a week. Some other ideas: having a hot bath, playing piano, singing in a group, painting, reading, hiking, having a sauna, making cards, going to a comedy show, planting and growing stuff, pottery, going to a music gig, swimming, poetry or spoken word, going to the theatre or cinema. 


What do you do for down time? Download your free 5 min self-care guide for some top tips.


Which of these five areas do you find the hardest? For me it’s movement and creating time to connect with others.


If you’re just feeling too busy to even think about this, as a health coach I can support you to get motivated and committed to carving out the time you need for yourself.