Why Self-Care is Important
On a day where there are many demands on our time, the idea of taking time away, and making self-care a priority, may seem ludicrous. Yet, studies have shown that in order to be more productive and functioning, people must take time to care for themselves.
Jeffrey Barnett in his article in Clinical Psychology quotes APA Ethics code on why self-care is important regarding physicians and for them “to be aware of the possible effect of their own physical and mental health on their ability to help those with whom they work” (p. 1062). This is not only true to physicians who specialize in the field of psychology, but in regards to how everyone affects one another in our workplace, and day-to-day interactions. Barnett goes on to further quote and emphasize, “Self-care is not an indulgence. It is an essential component of prevention of distress, burnout, and impairment. It should not be considered as something ‘extra’ or ‘nice to do if you have the time’ but as an essential part of our professional identities” (p. 263).
This is true whether our current profession be psychologist, lawyer, teacher, student, parent, or sibling. In order to be the best of ourselves in our everyday interactions we must take time to care for ourselves, and not see this as selfish, but as self-giving.
One of the first steps of learning to take care of our selves is learning to be vulnerable. This topic could not be brought up without mentioning the great vulnerability researcher Brene Brown. Brown in one of her famous TED Talks gets real and vulnerable about her own work on vulnerability, and why this is an important step in beginning to love, understand, and respect ourselves more. One recommendation that could not go wrong, especially in the route of self-care, is to take time, at some point, to watch a TED Talk given by Brene Brown. I promise this will be worth your time.
After we open the can of vulnerability, other reasons behind the importance of self-care become evident.
Have you ever thought about the emergency talk on an airplane, when the flight attendant requests that you first secure your own oxygen mask, in the case of an emergency, before helping others… including small children? For a parent this may seem like a daunting task when you have been conditioned to give everything for your child, even your life. Yet, this small instruction holds a deep point, and one that hits me every time I board a plane: you have to be able to help yourself, before you can help others.
We can give and give and give, but unless we are properly caring for ourselves, there will come a point when we are no longer able to give because we can’t function to the best of our ability. Sure, we can give for a while, but we will wear out sooner without taking care of our self.
Self-care can take many different forms. One important part of self-care is looking out for our physical body. When was the last time you did a check-in with yourself about your water in-take, the amount of sleep you get each night, or if you had any fresh fruit or vegetables in your daily diet? This may seem like an obvious question or an obnoxious one, but it is a real one that is important to check-in with our physical health. This is true in regards to exercise and movement. We need to take time to ask ourselves what have we done to strengthen and support our physical stature, no matter how small. Mental Health is another important aspect to stop and ponder on. When was the last time you stopped and took time just to breath? To allow your body to take a slow deep breath, filling your lungs, holding that oxygen, and slowly letting that air out. Sometimes just taking a few seconds and being mindful of our breathing is all it takes to realize we are putting too much stress on ourselves.
Overall, self-care is a vital part of life that tends to get push back and pushed away in the pursuit of greater and more advanced adventures. But I challenge you, and myself, to push yourself to do one act of self-care a day… and see where this practice takes you.
Barnett, Jeffrey E. (03/01/2009). “Creating a Culture of Self-Care”. Clinical psychology (New York, N.Y.) (0969–5893), 16 (1), p. 16.