Better life quality with a self-care approach

Adopting some self-care techniques may reap huge health benefits. Self-care is defined as the process of establishing behaviors to ensure holistic well-being of oneself. It is about taking the time to really understand your true needs beyond just impulses. We all engage in some form of self-care daily with food choices, exercise, sleep, reading, and so forth. However, self-care also involves a person's spiritual and social well-being.

Origins and concepts

The concept of self-care has ancient origins and Socrates is credited with founding the self-care movement in ancient Greece. Self-care became very popular during the Black feminist movement through civil rights activist and poet Audre Lorde, who was an American writer, radical feminist, professor, philosopher and civil rights activist. She advocated for self-care to preserve Black feminist's identities, to energize their activism, and to preserve their minds during the civil rights movement.

Self-care includes anything you do to keep yourself healthy physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

"Self-care is how you take care of yourself that includes your sleep, diet, exercise routine, daily habits, relationships with others, boundaries and your feelings," said Hanna Garza, PhD, who is with Texas Child Health Access through Telemedicine (TCHATT) program and a clinical director at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, El Paso, Texas. "When people find themselves in challenging situations, self-care usually gets neglected and that may lead to stress and burnout."Self-care is very subjective. What may work for one person, may not work for another, Garza said. "So, it is extremely important to take a step back, evaluate your own life, and determine what you may need in order to boost your self-care and increase life satisfaction," she said. "Take a walk and think about small daily changes that you may need to add to your life in order to function better. Write your stressors in order, biggest to smallest, and decide what needs to be adjusted at this time and what can wait."

Maital Neta, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology and the Director for the Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Lab at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, Nebraska, agrees and said self-care is different for everyone. "It's anything that you do to take care of yourself so you can stay physically, mentally, and emotionally well. It is important because it translates into better physical, mental and emotional health and well-being," Neta said. "Extensive research has demonstrated that self-care promotes positive health outcomes, including living longer, having healthier and more satisfying relationships, and promoting resilience in the face of stress."

She said self-care means identifying what resonates with you. What soothes you and what fills your soul. You need to examine what really empowers you and what makes you feel happy/whole, Neta said. "Life can chip away at you. Work and responsibilities to other people, even though they can be fulfilling at times, can chip away at your sense of self and your sense of wholeness."

In looking at yourself on a deeper level, you can establish a way to add activities to your life for your physical wellbeing, as well as your spiritual and social comfort. "Self-care is also about the things we build into our daily lives, our routines, that help us to 'keep swimming.' True self-care keeps you going forward, feeling ready and able to take on the day and face new challenges," Neta said.

You can't buy self-care

For some people, retail therapy may be a perfectly valid method of self-care. For example, if you are a person who is normally very frugal, letting loose and treating yourself can feel good. "Also, if you are someone who often struggles with insecurities, buying new clothing that makes you feel more confident and more 'you' can be enormously powerful," Neta said. "It will bring benefits long after the specific shopping trip ends. But that doesn't work for everyone and not everyone has those means."

When considering self-care activities, experts recommend asking yourself what feeds you, what empowers you on a deeper and longer-term level. Another important tip is to try to come up with a variety of activities, because not everything will work in every situation.

"For example, if you are someone that feels empowered when going for a run, the breeze in your hair, the sun on your skin, the sound of your feet hitting the pavement, but then you get an injury and that's no longer a viable option, then you'll need to have some back-up plans in place," said Neta.

Self-care isn't a band-aide that you put over a particular challenge or stressor to get through that one isolated event, Neta said. Self-care is a practice you need to return to on a regular basis to make sure you have the energy and the power to face whatever is around the corner.

Self-care may be simply a peaceful walk in the fresh air, curling up with a good book, or creating a piece of artwork. It may be connecting with a friend.

Neta said some self-care may require a few hours of your day and be less frequent, and some might only require a few minutes, such as a short walk around the block, and can be done more often. Whatever specific things are on your bucket list, try to build time into your schedule for them. "And not just when you're in crisis. Instead, doing these things regularly can help you to meet the inevitable crises when they hit," Neta said.

Garza said sleep is very important to self-care and she recommends trying to get seven to eight hours of sleep a day, developing an exercise routine, and setting boundaries.

"Learn to set limits with yourself and others and learn to say 'no'," said Garza. "Recognize your own negative emotions and convert them into positive."

John Schieszer is an award-winning national journalist and radio and podcast broadcaster of The Medical Minute. He can be reached at

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John Schieszer is an award-winning national journalist and radio and podcast broadcaster of The Medical Minute.

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