The phrase ‘self-care’ is thrown around these days as some super chic, of the minute, trendy buzz word that everyone just ‘has to be doing’ to be en vogue… but really what the hell is it anyway? Shouldn’t we all care for ourselves anyway?
NHS England suggests that self care is about keeping fit and healthy, being able to know when to look after yourself, and when you need to go and seek medical intervention. They go on to say that if you live with a medical condition (like MS), it is about understanding the condition and knowing how to live with it.
As someone with MS, I feel that it is one of the most important things that I do on a daily basis – caring for myself. In fact, I would say that thinking of my overall wellbeing takes up 50% of my brain space at any given time (no wonder I am less effective at my job than I used to be!!)
Anyway – I digress. I decided to dig a little deeper into what this ‘self care’ really is, and what it very much isn’t. On reading around online and listening to a few bloggers speak about their opinion on it, I found that there’s a lot of inconsistencies in opinion.
Self care can be very much confused with over-indulgence, consumerism and selfishness – and what I mean by that is that self care is not all about treating yourself to a spa day, buying expensive yoga passes and luxury bath bombs, engaging in retail therapy or having a night in with a whole tub of ice cream. Seems to me that some people’s perception of ‘self care’ is a dangerous concoction of capitalist indulgence. Self care is also not supposed to be used as a stress response or a treat – really it is about creating healthy habits that can be performed regularly to nurture yourself.
True self care is really something you should do every day, and should be a process for you to channel your energies into working on positive relationships, having a healthy body and mind, creating a beautiful and relaxing home and supportive community or developing your tenacity and personal resilience. Do not get me wrong though – bubble baths, yoga sessions and ice creams are all part of this model.
Really self care can be broken down into several different areas. I have tried to outline these and give some examples of what you can do to improve your self care routine.
Managing your emotions effectively, dealing with stress, being compassionate to yourself and others and increasing your empathy
• Create a gratitude jar
• Create a happy thoughts box
• Learn to say no
• Journal thoughts and feelings rather than bottling them up
• Write worries and negative thoughts down and ‘throw them away’ or deal with them if you can
• Make others aware of your boundaries and limitations
• Set boundaries with overly needy family/friends that you know will draw upon your emotional resilience
• Create space for thinking
Moving your body, improving your sleep and getting enough rest, having sexual encounters and being physically intimate with someone, physical contact (non intimate)
• Get into the fresh air and hear the birds
• Go out in the park/along the beach
• Do light exercise each day – stretch those muscles
• Eat wholesome foods that nourish you
• Have a good bedtime routine
• Keep yourself clean (even when you don’t feel like it)
• Dress in a way that makes you feel ‘good’
• Schedule time for exercise – when with a health condition you should get 150 minutes of some form of exercise each week (and you can do all sorts – there’s even chair yoga/zumba)
Creating a community and network of support around you, building positive relationships with others, feeling a sense of belonging, having people that you can trust and know that they trust you
• Volunteer and take part in something outside of work/home
• Commit to something and honour it (don’t always be the one that lets other people down – I know that is tough with MS but you will feel better once you get there)
• Try and meet new people
• Find a new activity you can enjoy that involves meeting others
• Ask for help when you need it, and be there for others when they need support (you never know what other people are going through in their lives)
• Allow yourself a treat when out with friends and family
• Make time for ‘friend dates’ and dates with your significant other (they’ll appreciate it)
Learning new things, being motivated to get up and carry on each day, being mindful of yourself and others and practicing wellbeing
• Teaching someone a skill that you know and can pass on (such as knitting or playing an instrument)
• Meditating or being mindful
• Learning a new skill
• Reading a book (especially before bed)
• Taking time for a digital/social media detox
Having clear professional boundaries, being able to share what you are good at with those you work with, not feeling as though your chronic condition limits you or defines you in the workplace, having your own targets and ambitions
• Negotiation of what you need from your workplace
• Defining your reasonable adjustments and ensuring that these are adapted over time as your condition changes
• Not allowing others to define you by your condition
• Knowing your role and responsibility
• Taking a break for lunch away from your work space
• Having clear professional boundaries with others
• Taking part in professional development opportunities
• Creating good working relationships so you feel part of a working community
• Going on work social events (if you can do)
Money is one of the biggest stresses in our daily lives and this involves being aware of your money needs, being responsible with your money for the present and the future
• Know where your money is coming from (whether you are working or not you should know exactly what money you have coming in and where it is coming from each month)
• Know exactly what your expenses are, who is paying them and when they are all due (I have a spreadsheet to help me manage my money Make sure that you have insurance for your home, your possessions and yourself if you can – you never know what will happen in the future (of course MS is difficult to insure but it isn’t impossible)
• Open savings accounts and save as wisely as you can – the money saving expert guy said don’t save whilst you are in debt. I am not a financial advisor but that sounds like pretty sound advice to me being that the interest on most credit cards and loans is significantly higher than that of any savings account!!
• Make sure that you receive any benefit you are entitled to – but don’t claim for something you aren’t
That’s what I have discovered about self care on my journey around various corners of the t’interweb. Although a lot of this I was already aware of, I think it does encompass more than I originally suspected.
Hi I am Zoe, I was officially diagnosed with Rapidly Evolving Severe Relapse Remitting MS in 2013 (although they think I have had it since about 2002). Since then I have been on a bumpy journey of ups and downs to where I am today. I have a background in science, and am a qualified teacher. As a former scientist, I enjoy keeping up to date with the most current research for MS, and am always keen to promote how we can use it to better educate ourselves and take ownership of our own health and wellbeing. I am an MS Reporter with Shift.MS – a charity and online community run by MSers, for MSers. I believe that although we have MS, we are not defined by it. It is but a tiny part of a much wider and picture.