Seven ways to explore self care

Me time is a necessity, not a luxury. Take time to refuel, recharge, and make yourself a priority with these seven suggestions for self care
Published July 8, 2021

The word self-care is often thrown around freely in the wellness world but it can have different definitions for different people. Overall the foundation of self care is the self and practices that nourish the self. Self-care means that you are giving yourself the permission and time to pause, prioritize yourself, fill your vessel, and give the world the best version of yourself rather than what is left of you. Self-care is not rooted in self-indulgence but rather self-preservation and restoration of oneself. The International Self-Care Foundation (ISF) defines self-care as a set of activities and repetitive behaviours that are an individual-centered way to sustain health, wellness, and wellbeing in healthy individuals, all while placing an emphasis on self-management for those with an existing disease or illness.

Self-care can feel like another point on our to-do-list. The abundance of information and misinformation some may find it difficult to adopt and sustain self-care behaviours. One approach is to look at self-care through a holistic lens. The International Self-Care Foundation defines a framework broken down into seven pillars and when all pillars are explored and adopted, they can bring a sense of wholeness and self-fulfillment to your life. Although seven can seem insurmountable, fully understanding each pillar will allow you to better understand which domain can be or needs to be integrated into your daily routine to better enhance your overall health, wellness, and wellbeing.

Pillar 1: Knowledge and health literacy

The first section focuses on theoretical knowledge and the understanding of healthcare guiding principles and chronic and lifestyle diseases as they relate to the practice of self-care. Health literacy is the extent to which individuals have health-based information readily available and the ability to understand and apply this information to make informed decisions regarding their health and the health of others. Strong health literacy skills allow an individual to recognize, interpret, and apply factual information and further use these skills to source their own credible information, leading to enhanced health and wellbeing.

Ways to incorporate this pillar into your routine:

  • Knowledge of the risk factors and causes for chronic and lifestyle diseases
  • Knowledge of food labels, ingredients, and health claims
  • Understanding the purpose and side effects of medications and vaccines
  • Understanding the instructions on prescription drug bottles
  • Understanding appointment consent forms

Pillar 2: Self-awareness

Mental wellbeing is seen as a state where people can identify and cope with their life stressors, realize their full potential, and master the feeling of being in control of their mental, physical, and emotional state. This section focuses on mental wellbeing through agency and self-awareness of an individual’s health status. Through self-awareness individuals are able to apply health literacy to better identify and understand their own health conditions. With further reflection individuals are then able to identify, monitor, and work on the areas which require improvement. Agency then allows for individuals to take action on the changes that need to be made, which can lead to more meaningful interactions with healthcare professionals.

Ways to incorporate this pillar into your routine:

  • Knowledge of your family’s medical history
  • Knowledge of body mass index, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels
  • Assess your level of physical activity
  • Assess your diet and eating patterns
  • Analyze your sleep patterns and behaviours

Pillar 3: Physical activity

At the core of physical self-care is exercise. Being physically active boosts energy levels and mental health, enhances self-esteem, sleep and mood, and aids in weight management. But when coupled with healthy eating, it can reduce the likelihood of developing certain chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, breast cancer, colon cancer, and dementia. This section focuses on the importance of being physically active and the long-term benefits gained from moderate to intense exercise.

Ways to incorporate this pillar into your routine:

  • Start your day with movement and go for a light jog or walk
  • Take a lunchtime break and go for a walk or run
  • Walk around while taking a call or meeting rather than sitting
  • Use the stairs instead of an elevator
  • Whenever you can, walk, run, or bike instead of taking a car or public transportation

All of the proceeding tips may seem daunting, especially if you lead a sedentary lifestyle, have poor health, or feel that you are not physically fit or active. However, making exercise an enjoyable part of your life can be easier than you think. Start by using tips from self-awareness and analyze the amount of sedentary time spent in front of a computer or television. From here, you can then use this time or a portion of this time to schedule exercise into your day. The initial thought of creating an exercise routine may seem overwhelming but if you are just starting off, start with 10 minutes of light activity. Set small, realistic goals that are attainable and that will help to build self-confidence as you achieve them. As a rule of thumb, low-intensity exercises are sets of activities that you can sneak into your daily life and that allow you to talk or sing in full sentences without being breathless. Some examples of low-intensity exercises can include:

  • Dancing to music as you complete household chores
  • If weather permits, going for a walk throughout the day
  • Exercising during TV commercial breaks. Jumping jacks or arm exercises with weights are a good place to start.
  • Parking further away from a building entrance rather than parking at the front
  • Getting off the bus one stop earlier

No matter the activity you choose, ensure you are picking activities that make you feel happy, confident, and fit your lifestyle and always remember every step counts no matter how big or small! After starting off small, you begin to build momentum and may start to set more challenging goals. From here, you may then wish to incorporate exercise 30 minutes a day, five times a week, ranging from low-intensity to moderate or vigorous activity.

Pillar 4: Healthy eating

Healthy eating is about the power of the plate and integrating the nutrients that your body requires for optimal functioning. This section focuses on the role that diet plays in self-care, maintenance of health, and prevention of diet-related chronic diseases. Overconsumption of energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods not only results in diabetes, heart disease, and certain forms of cancer, but it has led to an exponential increase in the rates of obesity. However, dietary lifestyle changes can be used as a way to treat and prevent the onset of these diseases.

Ways to incorporate this pillar into your routine:

  • Drink 2 litres of water per day
  • Increase fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, nuts and seeds, fibre-rich foods, and unsaturated fatty acids into your diet
  • Limit the consumption of processed foods, refined grains, added sugars, saturated and trans fats, and sodium
  • Refer to the nutrition facts table, nutrient claims, and ingredient list to make the most health conscious decision
  • Understand the importance and benefit of portion control

Pillar 5: Risk avoidance or mitigation

There are risks that are known to be detrimental to one’s physical and mental health and it is the responsibility of the individual to be educated on what these risks are and how to best avoid or limit them. This section focuses on the steps that one can take to eliminate (seen as risk avoidance) or reduce (seen as risk mitigation) the behaviours and actions that can increase or lead to injury, disease, or death.

  • Ways to incorporate this pillar into your routine:
  • Wear a helmet while riding a bike and seatbelt while in a car
  • Wear sunscreen to protect yourself from harmful UV rays
  • Stay up-to-date with essential vaccinations
  • Limit exposure to toxins
  • Schedule annual visits to your doctor to proactively monitor your health

Pillar 6: Good hygiene

The human body, particularly the skin and openings in and around the body, provide a breeding ground for germs and parasites. Good hygiene encompasses a number of day-to-day practices and habits that can not only prevent the spread of infections and diseases but lower your susceptibility to germs that could lead to a weakened immune system. This section focuses on the actions that reduce preventable illnesses that lead to optimal health and well-being.

Ways to incorporate this pillar into your routine:

  • Bathe frequently and wash your hair with shampoo and conditioner at least once a week
  • Practice good oral hygiene such as brushing twice a day and flossing once a day
  • Incorporate proper handwashing techniques and drying after you go to the bathroom, blow your nose, handle pets, animal fecal matter, or food, and before and after meals
  • Cough/sneeze into your elbow or a tissue
  • Limit exposure to others when feeling ill
Pillar 7: Rational and responsible use of self-care products and services

Health care products and services are seen as the critical tools, which are used to promote and support some people’s self-care and health journeys. Examples of these self-care tools include:

  • Prescription and nonprescription medication
  • Multivitamins and supplements
  • Blood pressure monitors
  • Blood glucose machines
  • Nicotine gum/patches
  • Nutrition planning
  • Gym memberships
  • Substance abuse counselling
  • Physiotherapy, chiropractic, and acupuncture

The final pillar of self-care focuses on incorporating health literacy to better understand which products and services provide the most relevant, safe, and effective mechanisms to delay or manage health conditions and increase quality of life.

Ways to incorporate this pillar into your routine:

  • Have a clinician explain monitoring machines such as blood glucose or blood pressure machines
  • Understand the risks and complications that may be associated with medical procedures
  • Ask a pharmacist about over-the-counter medications if you have uncertainties
  • Read the label and any additional information that comes with medication
  • Follow the instructions accordingly to avoid overuse or underuse of medications

Now what does this all mean? These seven sections are a good reminder that there is more to self-care than eating healthy and being more active. Using your mindset to be self-aware of your needs, understanding health literacy and self-care tools, practicing good hygiene and risk avoidance, are all parts of self-care that are used to create a healthier version of yourself. Understandably, all this information may seem daunting and may leave you feeling overwhelmed thinking that you need to find a balance between all seven areas. But, you may already be using some of these tools without even realizing it! Make a list of all the self-care pillars and start to check off the ones that you are already engaging in during your day-to-day activities. From there, you can better see which segments of self-care require the most attention instead of trying to conquer them all. Try focusing on one section for a few days, for a few weeks, maybe even for a few months until you feel that you are ready to move onto another area of focus. Remember, everyone’s self-care plan is tailored to meet their needs so these tips can be modified and adopted to fit your lifestyle. After all, self-care is not a race, it is about reflecting and understanding the self-care journey and the ways these steps along the journey can benefit your everyday life.