Self-Care and Well-Being: What You Need to Know Start Your Wellness Journey
Self-care at its most simplistic definition includes behaviors, activities, and skills used to take care of oneself. Within every individual, there are many different dimensions: physical, emotional, mental/cognitive, social and spiritual aspects, to highlight a few. Each of these dimensions within a person requires care, attention, and intentional behaviors to optimize overall health and well-being.
Well-Being is a broad definition to assess happiness, health, stability, purpose and meaning in one’s life. I want you to visualize a circle. And within the circle are slices, much like a pie, and each slice represents one aspect of well-being: physical, emotional, mental/cognitive, social and spiritual well-being. And the health of each slice of the pie, influences, impacts, and contributes to overall well-being.
So, if a person is out of balance in physical health, this will take away a from a person’s overall well-being. And if a person is not caring for themselves in one or two dimensions, for example, physical and emotional well-being, then the result will be a reduction in overall well-being. I know, you may be thinking, it sounds so simple and makes sense, taking care of yourself leads to well-being. But for many people, a commitment to self-care (actions/behaviors which improve well-being), is often overlooked.
The foundation of well-being starts with physical self-care. Our physical health is the foundation from which all else is built upon. How we treat and care for our body directly correlates to well-being and will impact our ability to cope with the stress and demands of everyday life. As a psychologist, when I meet with a client for the first time in the office, I ask a series of questions related to their physical health. I want to know how much sleep they get daily, do they exercise, and what are their eating habits. Physical habits and behaviors will affect how a person functions in their life.
I often have clients come into session complaining of anxiety, restlessness, and irritability. And more times than not, the client will share the following details about their physical health. For starters, they are only sleeping four hours a night, using caffeine to ‘wake-up’ in the morning and then again as a boost in the afternoon when energy lulls creep up. And, not surprising, there is little exercise being mostly sedentary throughout the day.
During the session, clients want to know how to address the presenting problem for which they came into my office: anxiety. My first recommendation is always going to start with improving physical well-being by increasing physical self-care. I’m going to encourage them to get more sleep, decrease caffeine intake, eat healthy and nutritious food, and start exercising to improve functioning. Of course, sometimes medication is recommended and needed. But most often, I encourage clients to start by improving physical self-care and well-being.
I often use the analogy with physical self-care: adequate sleep, exercise, and proper nutrition is similar to laying a foundation of a house. Once there is a stable foundation, the possibilities to build upon are endless.
As a psychologist, I also encourage clients to commit to emotional self-care. Our emotions or feelings, can be complex and change throughout the day. Many researchers have spent time debating and studying the impact of emotions on behaviors. Do our emotions guide our behaviors or do our behaviors guide our emotions? In other words, what comes first? There is no one easy answer, and it’s an interaction of both. Our behaviors influence our feelings, and our feelings affect our behaviors. What we do know: emotions guide us and help us interact and respond to ourselves, others and our environment. When we pay attention our feelings, we can determine what we need to do to improve or manage our emotional state.
For example, in a given day, I may feel irritable and angry, because I didn’t get enough sleep, my teens are giving me major attitude, and the dinner I was planning to have with my girlfriends won’t happen because I just learned my husband has to work late. And I have no sitter and need to pick up my daughter from dance. Makes sense I would feel irritable and angry and probably disappointed!
But what happens if no matter what’s going on, even in times of calm and harmony where everything seems to be ok, I am irritable and angry without an identifiable trigger? This would be a pattern I would need to pay attention to. Being angry or irritable every day is not healthy. Anger in and of itself is not ‘bad,’ rather it is the proportion, intensity, and duration of the feeling which can signal a problem. People who are emotionally healthy experience a variety of positive, neutral and negative emotions and can manage their feelings, thoughts, and behaviors.
The third dimension of well-being within a person mental or cognitive well-being. At the most simplistic level, mental or cognitive functioning is all about our thinking brain. This component includes the thoughts we have and include the statements we make to our self, as well as our values, morals, and principles. Our thinking brain also includes core intelligence but encompasses so much more.
A person mental/cognitive functioning includes how a person thinks about oneself, others, the world, and the future. And mental functioning also includes what we think about, the activities we engage in that foster thinking, the process of learning, our judgment, reasoning, and impulse control to name a few.
And here is the big take away between our mind (thoughts), emotions and behaviors: our thoughts impact and influence our feelings which then affects our behaviors and vice versa. All three will influence each other. Our mental, emotional and physical dimensions affect every part of our lives, within ourself, in our relationships with family, friends, co-workers and the larger world.
The fourth dimension of well-being is social support. Social relationships are critical for well-being. Social support is a term used to describe the people in your life that you count on in times of stress, celebration, and day-to-day living. A social support network can include family, spouse or partner, friends, co-workers, members of a social group, organization or congregation.
And it is important to understand with social support: it’s less about the number of people in your social network and more about the quality of those relationships. If you are on social media I am sure you understand, you can have hundreds of followers and friends, which is much different than the number of people who are there for you in a crisis or stressful situation.
Not every person has the same needs regarding social support. Some people may only need one good friend and have family, while others have ten close friends. There is no judgment or comparison when it comes to social support, and the key is to knowing your needs and preferences and measuring this with your actual social support.
And finally, the fifth dimension is spiritual well-being. Spirituality is a general term referring to the non-physical part of our being. Often described as our soul or spirit, it is a part within us that makes us unique. Many people hear the word ‘spirituality’ and immediately think of religion. Spirituality is a broader concept. It can be defined as the connection we feel to other people, nature, all living beings and the world.
Spiritual connection includes having a sense of gratitude, compassion, empathy and happiness towards people, nature and the world. If a person is religious and participating in religious services and traditions, then spirituality can be experienced through one’s connection and participation within their religion. But it’s important to know, that a person can be spiritual without ever being religious.
When we see suffering whether, within our home, neighborhood or in the world, and we want to help, that is an example of the spiritual connection. Spirituality includes finding meaning in life and having a sense of purpose for our life. Spirituality can also include practicing religion. Attending religious services, engaging in religious traditions and prayer, are spiritual experiences.
Taking care of your body, matters.
Taking care of your feelings, matters.
Taking care of your thoughts, matters.
Taking care of your relationships, matters.
Taking care of your spirituality, matters.
All of these dimensions within you, matter.
You matter tremendously, take care of yourself.
If you would like to learn more about how to increase self-care and well-being, please visit DrClaireNicogossian.com to take a free, personalized quiz called, How is Your Well-Being and Self-Care? You will receive valuable skills and strategies on how to improve self-care and well-being in all of the discussed dimensions. Also be sure to check out the episode: How is Your Well-Being and Self-Care at In-Session with Dr. Claire available on iTunes.