Health journalist Helen Foster busts the self-care myths you might have fallen for – and explains how to build it into your life the easy way.
Self-care is one of the biggest buzzwords of the year, but it’s also one of the most misunderstood. Self Care Week is run by the NHS and focuses on the small changes we can make to be healthier, such as taking the stairs instead of the lift or starting the day with a healthy breakfast. Yet, many of us mistakenly believe that self-care is only about bubble baths, expensive candles and spoiling ourselves.
What does self-care mean?
“Self-care can mean different things to different people but it definitely goes beyond taking bubble baths,” says psychologist Fiona Murden. “It means checking in with yourself physically and mentally to make sure everything is okay – and taking the necessary steps when it isn’t.”
In pure NHS terms, it’s about keeping ourselves happy and healthy – eating well, exercising regularly and chilling out to prevent illness.
Is it expensive?
We seem to have linked the term self-care with treating ourselves to expensive things. Search #selfcare on Instagram and you’ll find a mix of facemasks, glowing candles and self-help books. But looking after yourself doesn’t have to mean spending lots of cash. Relaxing with a book in the bath is as much self-care as an expensive massage.
You don’t need lots of spare time
“The other myth we fall for is that we need to set aside a lot of extra time for self-care,” says Murden. “This can lead to us feeling guilty if we don’t manage to fit it in.”
When it’s things like listening to an uplifting song, making that much-needed phone call to your friend or going for a brisk walk, it can be surprisingly easy to include self-care in your routine. And it’s most effective when you do these things on a long-term basis.
How do I practice self-care?
One thing that the internet has got right is acknowledging that self-care is good for us. It can prevent disease, reduce stress, improve mental health and reduce pressure on the health services.
Here are five easy ways to integrate self-care into your life.
1. Check in with yourself
Take 5-10 minutes when you wake up, suggests life coach Michelle Zelli. “Notice how you’re feeling in your body and your mind.” Then actually listen to the answer. If you don’t think you’ve eaten enough veg this week, eat a salad for lunch. If you’ve been ignoring the nagging feeling that your mole needs checking, book the appointment.
2. Know the mental five-a-day
“These are the five things we need in order to look after our mental health and it’s good self-care to try to incorporate them,” says Murden. The five include: exercise, spending time with others, living in the moment, learning new things and giving to others. “And that doesn’t need to be as hard as it sounds,” says Murden. Small things like going for a walk at lunch or saying a genuine ‘thank you’ to your barista or bus driver go a long way for our wellbeing.”
3. Take time out
Time is our most precious commodity and it’s too easy to give it away,” says Zelli. Learn to say “no” to things that won’t add to your sense of wellbeing. “Creating and saving more time for you is self-care.”
4. Be selfish
Certain activities and sports naturally tick the self-care box, but that doesn’t mean it’s for you. So instead of yawning through your next yoga class, try to figure out if cycling, boxing or baking are more your thing instead.
5. Prioritise bedtime
Sleep is vital for all aspects of our health and depriving yourself can have a damaging effect. “If you’ve had three nights out this week, then an early night might be the self-care choice you need to make today,” says Murden.
Looking for more advice on maxing your health? Check our GP Dr Rangan Chatterjee’s four small changes you need to make.