Self-care can look a little different for each individual because we are all created as a unique person. Part of my self-care is sitting with my breakfast several days a week, overlooking my patio in reflection, thankfulness, and a good book. I get fueled up from it. What puts fuel in your tank? I like this oxygen mask analogy, as Aaron Karmin, MA, LCPC, a therapist describes self-care as preserving oneself. “A selfless person puts other’s masks on, while they choke. A selfish person puts their mask on and leaves everyone else to choke. A person practicing self-preservation puts their mask on first and then helps those around them.” This is a great way of thinking about giving attention to our needs because we matter, and then in turn we are able to be there for others with the fuel that we received.
Self-care is usually learned in childhood through observing and interacting with our caregivers. If caregivers modeled good self-care skills and children were treated with respect, protection, love, and nurture; children learn that they are worthy of love and respect which promotes self-respect and self-care. If children were treated with neglect or abuse, they may believe they are not worthy of respect, love, and self-care. Therefore, if one didn’t learn appropriate self-care in childhood, they can learn the skills now through finding good role models, through counseling, going to a codependent support group, and by reading recovery from codependency books.
Generally self-care includes caring for one’s physical, relationship, emotional, and spiritual needs. Physical needs include acquiring suitable shelter, enough sleep, eating and drinking well, regular exercise, getting medical help when required, good grooming, protecting your body from unsafe situations, abuse and harmful substances, being able to relax, and consensual touch. Relationship self-care includes advocating for yourself in relationships by saying no to what you don’t want and being able to ask for what you do want. Emotional self-care involves recognizing your feelings and needs, establishing a good support system, grieving losses, knowing your limits, staying away from manipulative people, and the ability to enjoy the present moment. Spiritual self-care includes finding purpose and meaning in your life, and growing a greater connection with God, family, friends, and community.
Warning signals that you can improve your self-care skills are abusing substances, being involved in abusive relationships, allowing people to use you, poor personal hygiene or diet, feeling empty, alone, acting self destructively, not knowing how to relax, beating yourself up with negative thoughts or words, or persistent anxiety, depression, or anger. If you identified with any of these warning signals, you are not alone. We all have work to do and it’s a life long journey. Developing good self-care skills starts where you are and then begins by taking small steps forward toward healthier choices and identifying what fills you up.