6th April, 20216 min read

What is self-care and why is it important?

Medical reviewer:Dr Ann Nainan
Author:Libby Williams
Last reviewed: 02/03/2021
Medically reviewed

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At Healthily, our focus is on helping you (and a billion people around the world) be the healthiest they can be through self-care.

But why self-care?

It’s simple. You know your body best, so it only makes sense that you should be in the driving seat when it comes to looking after your own health – something that often gets neglected if you're looking after others in your family, whether as a parent or a carer.

Some people think of self-care as things like drinking herbal tea or hot chocolate, taking bubble baths or indulging in a relaxing movie night. While these are lovely things to do for yourself, and are small acts of self-care, they don’t fully explain what self-care is about.

Read on to learn more about what self-care is, how you can practise it and the potential benefits.

What is self-care?

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines self-care as “the ability of individuals, families and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health and to cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a healthcare provider”.

Self-care is a big concept that covers many different areas of your life, including:

  • hygiene
  • nutrition (diet)
  • physical activity and exercise
  • environment and living conditions
  • responsible use of medication
  • avoiding unhealthy habits like smoking
  • paying attention to your wellbeing

Two servings of a healthy dinner with sweet potato, kale, rice and avocado in ceramic bowls

How to practise self-care

Self-care can be something small, like reducing your screen time in the evening to help you sleep better. It can also be something bigger such as starting a regular exercise routine and sticking with it.

It’s important to know that self-care is different for everyone. We all have unique mental and physical needs, so we’ll all have our own approach to how we practise self-care.

Put simply, anything you do to look after or improve your mental or physical wellbeing can be classed as self-care.

Here are some examples of how to practise self-care:

Nutrition

  • eat 3 nutritious meals a day
  • follow a healthy, balanced diet
  • drink fluids to keep hydrated

Hygiene

  • brush your teeth twice a day
  • wash regularly
  • keep your home clean and tidy

Physical health

  • take regular exercise
  • stretch your muscles

Mental health

  • practise breathing exercises
  • keep a journal or diary
  • try meditation
  • spend time outside
  • socialise with friends

Sleep

  • make time for enough sleep
  • practise good sleep habits (hygiene)

Feet poking out at the end of the bed under a pink blanket

Treatment and maintenance

  • take medication from the pharmacy for minor health issues
  • try treatments such as massage or physiotherapy
  • attend regular dental, sight and hearing checks

How to make time for self-care when you don't have time

If you spend most of your time juggling family commitments, you might be wondering when you can fit in this self-care.

Here are 2 simple strategies you can try right away:

  1. Make use of early mornings. If you can start your day earlier, before the kids wake up, for example, this is great opportunity to get your 'me time'. What you do with this time is up to you – maybe you want to go for a run, write in a journal, do some meditation, or listen to your favourite playlist.
  2. Start small. It's not always possible to spend hours in the bath, or take yourself out for long, head-clearing hikes, especially when there are endless errands to run and kids to look after. So, start small and get used to practising self-care in little bursts. You could start with 3 minutes of deep breathing first thing in the morning, reading a good book on your commute, or turning off all technology for 5 minutes and checking in with yourself.

Benefits of self-care

Day-to-day self-care can have many benefits for your mind and body.

Physical benefits

Acts of self-care such as exercising regularly, eating well and getting enough sleep can help to improve your overall physical health. They can also reduce your risk of certain health conditions, including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and cancer.

Actions such as brushing your teeth, washing your body and taking medication from the pharmacy are other aspects of self-care that can help to keep you in good physical health.

Mental benefits

Many self-care actions can help your mental health, including practising breathing exercises, socialising and spending time outside. They may also help to stop mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety, from getting worse.

Research suggests that treating yourself with kindness and compassion through self-care may help to increase your self-esteem and motivation.

It’s also thought that self-care may lead to stronger relationships – when you’re feeling well and happy, you can find it easier to make connections with people.

Person laying lengthways on a sofa relaxing

Why is self-care important?

There are lots of personal benefits of self-care, and it can play a very important part in helping you to stay healthy. But self-care also has a huge role globally.

The Self Care Forum found that 80% of all care is self-care. Despite this high percentage, research also shows that people with minor health issues often give up on self-care earlier than they should and instead seek advice from a doctor within 4 to 7 days of having symptoms.

But with global healthcare systems pushed to breaking point, self-care provides a great way to take control of your health while easing pressure on healthcare systems, so they can be used more effectively.

It all begins with knowing where to look for trustworthy information and the best steps to take for your body. And that’s where we come into play. We have a wide range of health and self-care information on our website and app. You can also track any symptoms you have, using our medically-approved Self-Assessment Tool, on our app.

Key points

  • self-care covers many different areas of your life
  • anything you do to look after your wellbeing can be thought of as self-care
  • self-care has lots of physical and mental benefits
  • self-care can reduce the need to see a doctor and help to take pressure off the healthcare system

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