Why Practicing Self-Care Isn’t Selfish

Self-care has become another buzz word of late — like wellness, all natural and holistic. But what is self-care? And why is it so important?

Almost half of Americans — 45 percent to be exact — attest to laying in bed at night, awake due to stress,  our minds going a mile a minute, according to a 2018 American Psychological Association survey.

No matter if you’re working a corporate job or chasing kids or retired and experiencing doldrums, everyone knows that feeling of burnout. Maybe a rut is more accurate. This is when self-care can be immensely helpful.

Here are some important questions about this phrase you have probably heard.

What is self-care?

If you Google “What is self-care?” you’ll get 2,260,000,000 results. The concept of self-care was actually born in the 1970s, despite it being all the rage these days. The dictionary defines it as the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one’s own health and the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress. All this said, it’s important to note that self-care does not mean selfish.

Why practice self-care?

After the 2016 election, a plethora of news articles were written on the subject and its importance because of the deep stress the election and the constant news coverage inflicted on people from both sides of the aisle. Regardless of politics, however, taking care of yourself is necessary. There’s ample evidence to support the benefits of a “mental health” day from work, a massage, or sharing a meal with a friend. Mindfulness is another method of self-care. This field has exploded in the last few years. Now there are apps like Headspace that allow users to center themselves, even for a few minutes at a time. You don’t need to take an entire day. Self-care is about doing what you can.

What are some ways to practice self-care?

Plenty of websites out there will tell you it’s necessary to buy certain products for self-care. This isn’t true. Of course, anyone would like a beach vacation at a 5-star resort but self-care is great when it costs nothing. Think a walk at lunch. A phone call with a friend. Waking up early to write your morning pages. Whatever makes you relax, unwind and focus on yourself works.

A note on trauma

There are ways of practicing self-care that have proven benefits for trauma survivors, according to the book by Bessel van der Kolk, “The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma.”

Yoga and massage, in particular, have been proven to reduce the fight or flight activity in the brains of trauma survivors.  

“With trauma, a lot of times there is a mind-body disconnection,” said Mary Curlew, a LICSW at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center in Burlington. Curlew also has a specialization in treating trauma survivors with EMDR, which stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy.

Self-care is of great importance to those have suffered traumatic events such as bullying, child abuse, or car accidents.

“Trauma makes it hard to regulate our fight-flight response and focus on other things because our experience is filtered through the idea that we’re not safe and need to react,” Curlew said.

Trauma may manifest as anxiety, hyper-vigilance, or feeling disconnected from others or our bodies.

“Yoga is great because it allows someone to move their body and focus only on this moment. We become connected to our bodies while bringing down the stress response,” Curlew said. “And, of course, any kind of evidenced-based therapy is great self-care.”

For more information on self-care that may work best for you, speak with your health care provider.

*The content on this website is for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. Please consult a physician regarding your specific medical condition, diagnosis and/or treatment.

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