Is Self-care Important? How Caring for Yourself Helps You and Others

People ask the question, “Is self-care important?” Yes, but not just for your mental health. Let’s explore how you can take care of yourself and be a role model for others.

In a webinar I attended recently, therapist and Walden professor Dr. Maranda Griffin beautifully expressed the idea of self-care as social change. She asserted that when we are open to our need for self-care and model it to others, we participate in social change. We are paving the way to making self-care an acceptable part of wellness.

What is self-care?

Self-care is proactive steps to maintain your overall health and well-being. Simple indulgences are rarely good or healthy for us. Indulgences such as clubbing, throwing a party, drinking an entire bottle of wine, or eating a whole cake might make us feel pleasure for a short while. But this is not self-care.

As Dutch author Etty Hillesum said,

Sometimes the most important thing in a whole day is the rest we take between two deep breaths.

Self-care is anything you do on purpose to look after your physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. Work on all these areas; there must be a balance among them for self-care to be effective.

Self-care principles

Self-care is a way of achieving wellness by helping us achieve a balance in the aspects of our life. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Association (SAMHSA) Guide to Wellness focuses on eight dimensions.

  1. Physical Wellness
  2. Intellectual
  3. Financial
  4. Environmental
  5. Spiritual
  6. Social
  7. Occupational
  8. Emotional

Self-care must be practiced daily, and the results are not evident overnight. For your chosen self-care, as with any activity, it might take months for it to become a habit. Don’t give up. Keep at it.

As NAMI says about self-care in its Family-to-Family course, you must think of self-care as the instruction flight attendants give in the event of an emergency. When the oxygen masks come down, they tell you to put your mask on first before your help a child or any other person. You can’t help if you are incapacitated. — Trish Lockard, author, “Make a Difference with Mental Health Activism”

The SAMHSA guide provides guidance on balanced wellness in the eight areas and includes a worksheet to help you set goals. And don’t forget to set practical SMART goals for your wellness.

Is your self-care important to other people in your life?

Yes. Dr. Griffin asserts that self-care is essential for you and the others in your life. That includes your family, your community, and the world. Self-care is a way you refill your vessel so you can serve. By modeling self-care in our lives, we release others to do the same. It sounds simple but think about the places in your life where admitting that you are struggling is unacceptable or even stigmatized.

Your Family

If you are a parent or caregiver in your family, you may believe it is crucial to model strength and perseverance at all times.

Your Community

This category includes work and spiritual communities.

In the workplace, leaders who model self-care allow others to better care of themselves.

Sometimes, the need for self-care is viewed as a lack of ability to perform your job. And imagine how hard it must be to struggle with stress if you are a woman, person of color, and/or a member of other marginalized groups. People without privilege have to work much harder to be considered the equals of those with privilege.

In a spiritual community, the need for self-care may be viewed as flawed devotion to religious principles. Some faith leaders send the message that self-care should not be necessary. Instead, their guidance is to follow religious tenets to manage stress. And sadly, faith leaders are often the first source of solace when congregants are struggling, which may prevent them from seeking care from a therapist.

Spirituality is not to be confused with religion. Spiritually is a healthy awareness that you are a part of something bigger than just you. That “something bigger” can take many forms.

Your World

With access to the internet, the world is part of our sphere of influence.

Being vulnerable and modeling self-care is essential for those who help and for all leaders. I’ve seen many leaders in stressful times that model grit and perseverance instead of mental health. Grit and perseverance are not necessarily harmful, but they are not the answer to a positive life balance.

For example, world-class athletes have opened up on social media about their mental health struggles. In their highly competitive atmosphere, athletes are expected to be in top form all the time, even while the competition and expectations take their toll.

Author Trish Lockard sums up their impact as role models perfectly:

I’m appreciative for these high-profile individuals speaking out about their mental health challenges. Because of who they are, their words and actions receive global news coverage. Their anxiety or depression isn’t worse than mine or yours. Their episodes of bipolar disorder mood swings aren’t any more debilitating than your daughter’s or husband’s or friend’s. But if they are willing to drop their shields and embrace their vulnerability, good for them. And good for us.

Self-care signals to yourself and those around you that you are treating yourself with kindness and demonstrating a sense of self-worth and self-confidence. Speaking out about your self-care needs on social media may be just the push a friend needs to seek care. You are reducing stigma by normalizing help-seeking and prioritizing self-care.

The Role Model for Self-Care

Self-care means to think, act, and speak with respect for all. And how we think, act, and speak has an effect (or impact) outside of ourselves. Our self-care sets an example for others. It may not be easy, but it is essential to share your struggles and self-care strategies with others. Model vulnerability, so others see this as acceptable.

Here are examples of ways you can be a role model for self-care.

For Your Family

  • Talk to your family regularly about health and wellness.
  • Demonstrate to your family your forms of self-care.
  • Involve your family in self-care. Examples include exercising, nature, hobbies, and healthy cooking.
  • Model empathy to your family. For example, if a neighbor is struggling, take a casserole and ask what they need.
  • When a family member opens up and is vulnerable, praise them.

For Your Community

  • Model to others that fear and anxiety are normal reactions when things get tough.
  • Encourage others to ask questions and share concerns.
  • Admit with grace when you’ve made a mistake.
  • Model vulnerability.
  • Organize social events that can be used as self-care.

For Your World

  • Use your social media presence to open up about your self-care needs.
  • Share posts of famous roles models practicing vulnerability.
  • Teach others about self-care.
  • Mentor someone who needs to develop self-care skills.

[If you are interested in ways to make a difference for others, check out my book with Trish Lockard, Make a Difference with Mental Health Activism.]

Summary

Dr. Griffin’s seminar was both informative and an opportunity for self-care. We shared in the chat the ways we take care of ourselves, which was a lovely reminder that self-care takes many forms.

One of her tips resonated with the webinar participants:

Have a “not-to-do” list.

With her suggestion of a not-to-do list, she recommends good boundaries that maintain your balance and wellness. I’ve been incorporating this in my life and have found it much easier than expected. A simple “thank you for thinking of me, but my schedule is full” maintains the relationship and your wellness. Try it.

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Terri Lyon

Terri Lyon

The Activist For Activists. Author. Teacher. Psychologist. Animal Lover.