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How self-care benefits you and others

How self-care benefits you and others

Psychologist Rachel Ward Lilley discusses the importance of practicing self-care and how it benefits not only yourself but others.

Some dismiss self-care as self-indulgent mollycoddling, but that is an unbalanced perception of what has proven to be an effective discipline with far-reaching benefits. Within my field of work, self-care is the recognised starting point to effect positive interventions in personal welfare. Self-care is tried and tested and supported by scientific studies, but what is it exactly? Put simply, it’s the idea that by taking care to maintain yourself in good condition, you will be best placed to achieve your goals. And the corollary of that is you will have more capacity to encourage and assist others in reaching theirs. It’s about refuelling yourself in order to engage with life. 

The main elements of self-care are available to everyone without cost – unless you choose to put a monetary value on the amount of time you spend looking after yourself – in which case, you could call it an investment. Self-care can take many forms, and the ones that I engage with are mindfulness, positive affirmation, being outdoors, exercising, healthy eating, sufficient sleeping, deep breathing and spending time with supportive people. These activities are natural and, therefore, essential to a balanced and well-honed individual, yet they are so often pushed into the background by busy, hectic lifestyles. So let’s take a closer at some self-care:  

  • Mindfulness, being ‘in the moment’, concentrating on the here and now rather than dwelling on the past or fast-forwarding to the future. We all can practise mindfulness by stopping, taking some deep breaths and slowing down. This, in turn, delays hasty reactions, which is a way to achieve better-considered outcomes.

  • Positive affirmation - the opposite of self-doubt: telling yourself that you are good enough as you are and that you can achieve the things you really want to do.

  • Being outdoors doesn’t necessarily mean arduous hiking: it can be a walk in the park or a sit in the back yard, contemplating the potted plants. Either way, studies have shown that it reduces cortisol and boosts endorphins and that our stress is relieved within minutes of exposure to nature. 

  • Eating well - taking a moment each day to consider what you are putting into your body is the pathway to adopting a healthy diet, one that feels kind to your digestive system.

  • Enough sleep - the rejuvenating effect of sleep is vital to all of us. Get your full quota between 7-9 hours and, if you have trouble with insomnia, don’t be shy of taking a nap whenever you can.

What I describe above is a suggested framework. Of course, self-care is different for everyone: for example, some people are mindful by nature, so they don’t need to work on that aspect. Then some need a point of focus to maintain momentum. Such people can benefit from imagining their future self, as it helps them get into the habit of positive acts of self-care day-to-day.

And if all these forms of self-care make you feel uncomfortably selfish or self-focused, studies have shown that simply helping others can also be good for you. Having a strong sense of purpose, whatever it may be, protects us from stress in the short term and promotes long-term better health.In my life, I walk the talk by taking care of myself to take care of others. First, self-care, then people care.

Rachel Ward Lilley is a business and educational psychologist. She has worked for many years advising SMEs and her current work relates to issues of resilience, communication, personal development, team building and motivation. Over the past 12 years Rachel has extended her work into the educational field.  Find out more here.