Taking Care: A Short Guide On Self Care

by Tanuja Babre

Self-care, as the term indicates, literally means taking caring of yourself. It is defined as any engagement with practices that promote well-being (Myers, et al., 2012). This includes looking after different aspects of your well-being like physical, social, emotional, interpersonal as well as spiritual well-being. Self-care practices can include activities like maintaining a diet, sleep, exercise, maintaining social relationships, developing emotion regulation skills, identifying triggers and drawing boundaries, seeking therapy, practising one’s faith etc. 

Self-care does not mean taking care of yourself only when in distress but that these rituals are a part of your routine, much like taking a bath every day or eating well. Remember that self-care is extremely personal and can look different for different people. While trying to keep up with the rush of everyday life, we may end up ignoring ourselves and our needs. Engaging in self-care on a regular basis can go a long way in maintaining our well-being. Let us now talk about what are some of the ways in which we can engage in self-care:

  • Taking care of yourself physically: Engage in tasks that make you feel relaxed physically. This can include taking a massage, long bath after your day ends, taking a walk, working out, running as well as eating well. Remember to have full meals at appropriate timings. Spending time in planning your meals or even cooking them especially for yourself can act as a ritual for self-care.
  • Taking care of yourself emotionally: Identify resources that make you feel better emotionally. This can include spending time with a loved one or being by yourself, journaling, eating your favourite food, listening to music etc. Dedicate time in your day where you pro-actively engage in these tasks in a mindful manner. 
  • Feeling socially connected: Many of us feel better by connecting to other people when in distress. Ensure that you include tasks in your schedule that help you feel connected to others. This can include a phone call with a friend, meeting a loved one, watching a movie with them, having your loved ones over. 
  • Sleeping well: We have read, heard and experienced the impact of insufficient sleep on our well-being. Thus, it is important to ensure that we get enough sleep, especially in difficult times. If you are well-rested, you will be able to function better. Engage in some sleep hygiene rituals like keeping your bed clean, avoiding watching TV or using the phone just before bed, putting an alarm in an alarm clock instead of your phone. If you’d like, you can read more about sleep hygiene over here.
  • Being in the present: As simple as it sounds, it is not so easy to move away from what is happening in your mind and be in the here and now. Take at least a few moments in your day to just notice your environment, yourself, your thoughts and feelings, without acting on any of it. You can try some simple grounding techniques like, when waiting at a traffic signal, bring your attention to your breathing, notice the colours that you see around you, notice the sounds that you can hear, notice any smell, notice any sensations around you, and just stay with this for a few seconds.  
  • Taking a self-compassion break: Most of us are aware of our inner nagging thoughts constantly telling us that we ought to do better, this is our inner critic. The function of the inner critic is to keep you in check and alert in order to keep you safe and healthy. However, many times, we may not even realize how the critic becomes bigger than ourselves, in criticizing the way you live, eat, act etc. A unique response to this is constantly reminding yourself to be self-compassionate. Here is how you can do the exercise called self-compassion break:
  • Find a dedicated time in your day where you can focus on yourself and your thoughts.
  • Begin by thinking about a difficult situation that you experienced in your day.
  • Remind yourself to be mindful by saying words like: “This is stress. This hurts, it is a moment of suffering”.
  • Normalize the emotions you are experiencing by saying to yourself: “I am not alone, anybody would feel the same way if they were going through this, we all struggle in our lives”.
  • Be kind to yourself by saying, “May I be kind to myself. May I learn to accept myself the way I am. May I be patient with myself”.
  • You can also use this guided audio clip for doing this exercise. 
  • You can do this exercise at any point in your day. Practicing it on a regular basis will help you find self-compassion, especially when you need it the most.  
  • Organizing your time: Another way to be mindful of your self-care is by organizing your schedule and day in advance. Identifying the difficult tasks and the challenges expected will help you prepare better. You can take some pro-active steps to address these challenges (e.g. talking to colleagues, scheduling it at a time which maximizes your capacity to responding to it, writing about it etc). Despite doing this, you may find that some tasks may take up your time in an unpredictable way. In such times, notice what is in your control and what isn’t while you process it.  
  • Drawing boundaries: Self-care doesn’t only involve doing tasks for your well-being but also includes distancing yourself from situations and/or people who impact your mental health. By choosing to distance yourself, you are not avoiding or shrugging responsibility; merely choosing your mental health. It is okay to distance yourself from people, tasks, media, issues etc., for your self-care.
  • Taking a mental health day: We feel comfortable to take an off when we are physically unwell. It is important to show the same respect to ourselves when we are emotionally unwell. It is completely okay to take time off to focus on your well-being. Surround yourself with people and things that help you feel contained. 
  • Going to therapy: Going to therapy can seem like a big step, but it need not be. A therapist can help you gain perspective over your concern and equip you with tools to respond to these concerns effectively. If you don’t feel comfortable visiting a therapist or can’t find a time in your schedule; nowadays there are, many technology-assisted counseling services which are highly accessible. iCALL is one such service which offers free of cost, professional counseling services over telephone, email and chat. You can reach out to iCALL on 022-25521111/ icall@tiss.edu/ nULTA App on play store.

Tanuja Babre is the Co-ordinator of iCALL. A project of the School of Human Ecology, TISS – Mumbai, iCALL endeavours to provide professional and free counseling through technology assisted mediums such as, telephone, email and chat to anyone in need of emotional support, irrespective of age, gender, sexual orientation or race, and transcending geographical distances while ensuring confidentiality. Know more at http://icallhelpline.org/