Self care is a bit of a buzz word at the moment, with tonnes of articles about the benefits of taking time out to look after yourself. Sometimes, self care is used as another way to describe pampering, with things like bubble baths or face masks cited as a type of self care. Self care can also be more basic, for example simply eating regular, balanced meals, or getting enough sleep. This post will examine the science behind the magazine articles, to see what self care is, and whether it is really beneficial for your mental health.
Self care is really just another way of saying ‘look after yourself’ or taking time to do things you enjoy. The mental health charity Mind list different ways self care can help improve your mental health. Their suggestions include being aware of your mental health, being kind to yourself, making sure you interact and feel connected with others. They also suggest taking time to relax, either through mindfulness or getting outside, as well as keeping physically healthy. If you’d like to find out more about self care strategies, click here for further information.
But what is it about self care which improves our mental health? One hypothesis is that taking part in these activities helps people have a sense of purpose and gives life more meaning, which in turn increases self-esteem (Deegan, 2005). Some participants in this study reported that taking part in self care activities which gave life more purpose (e.g. belonging to a singing group, or volunteering) had helped them stay well, decreasing symptoms and avoiding negative outcomes such as hospitalisation. Other more routine aspects of self care, such as shopping or talking on the phone were used as strategies to reduce anxiety or other unwanted symptoms.
Meditation, or mindfulness has also been explored as a way of using self-care to reduce burnout and stress in healthcare professionals. One study by Shapiro et al taught trainee therapists a mindfulness-based stress reduction programme, and found that participants who received the training had lower stress & anxiety levels, less rumination and higher levels of self-compassion than participants who didn’t receive the training. These results suggest that mindfulness is a way of improving the mental health of professionals at a high risk of burnout.
The evidence suggests that taking the time to engage in self care activities could be something we can all do to improve our mental health. Self care is more than just bubble baths; it includes look after our physical health, changing our diet or doing something like volunteering which gives us a sense of purpose. Have you tried self care before? Let me know in the comments if you think it worked for you!
Deegan, P.E., 2005. The importance of personal medicine: A qualitative study of resilience in people with psychiatric disabilities. Scandinavian Journal of Public Health, 33(66_suppl), pp.29-35.
Shapiro, S.L., Brown, K.W. and Biegel, G.M., 2007. Teaching self-care to caregivers: Effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction on the mental health of therapists in training. Training and education in professional psychology, 1(2), p.105.
image reference: Sacha Chua via http://ryersonian.ca/a-post-election-guide-to-self-care/