What does self-care really mean? I used to get overwhelmed when thinking about self-care, wondering if I was doing enough to “fulfill” its requirements. I would find myself asking: How much will it cost? Am I doing it right? Am I doing enough? I was thinking about self-care as an individual project to be tackled, one problem area at a time.
As a social worker who has been in the helping field for close to 20 years, I have experienced all kinds of up and downs. I have searched for answers to my self-care questions, and believe me when I tell you, I’ve tried it all – from bubble baths to walks in nature. It’s not that these ideas were bad or incorrect, but they were missing some of the key factors of self-care.
In order to achieve wholistic balance, it is essential that we name and understand what exactly we are trying to balance. I keep the w in wholistic so I can remind myself that balance is about wholeness. When it comes to taking care of ourselves, there are many tips and articles on “how to,” but the “what” isn’t always clear.
Throughout my career, I have come to understand four realms of health: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. Each one can and will mean something different for everyone, but their relevance is universal. The following three strategies can help you achieve balance and practice wholistic self-care within these four areas:
1. Define the Four Realms of Health
Take some time to explore each realm of health and define what each means for you personally and/or professionally. The trusty google search can be a great place to start, as can reviewing what you’ve already learned from any self-care book or seminar you’ve been to. However, be sure to keep learning from coworkers, friends, or family about how they define each area.
As you define the four realms of health for yourself, keep in mind that your definitions should connect with you and your values/beliefs. Be sure to write down what you learn and share your insights with the important folks in your life. However, don’t let these definition remain static – add to them as you learn what works for you.
In order to achieve wholistic balance, it is essential that we name and understand what exactly we are trying to balance.
Author and speaker, Brene Brown, offers a great example of what spiritual health means to her:
“Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion. Practicing spirituality brings a sense of perspective, meaning and purpose to our lives.” (Brown, 2015, p.10)
2. Nurture Each Realm
Now that you’ve established your personal definitions of wholistic self-care in all four realms, nurture and care for aspects of each realm regularly. Add or remove activities, items, people, behaviours, routines, and/or tasks to fit your personal definition and to promote growth and positivity in each.
- Physical health is not necessarily increasing exercise or going to the gym. Rather, it can be making a doctor’s appointment for the first time in years, removing or reducing a certain food or alcohol from your diet, addressing a medical condition that’s gone unattended, etc.
- Spiritual health doesn’t have to include religion. It might be exploring what you see as bigger than yourself, or making connections with the energies that make and create this world/universe. Be sure to reflect on what gives you a sense of purpose and how you can use your gifts to fulfill what you’re meant to be doing in the world.
- Mental health can be as simple as taking a lunch break or saying no to external demands on your time and energy. It could also be creating of list of things that need to be addressed in your life or finding a supportive friend or therapist to talk to.
- Emotional health can include things like journaling or acknowledging three things you are grateful for every day. It might mean giving yourself time to really feel your emotions and then letting them go in a ritual way that makes sense for you. Or maybe you need to give yourself time and space to cry or grieve.
Create a running list of all the things you do to nurture each realm of health. Think big, think nature, think free, think easy – the point is to be creative. Integrate what works for you and take action on the aspects of self-care you’ve been ignoring.
Wholistic self-care is an ongoing, constant work in progress.
3.Connect Each Realm
Connection is key because acknowledging the interconnectedness of these realms of health provides balance. Consider how adding air to only one or two of a car’s tires won’t help it run smoothly – you have to fill all four. Our own wholistic self-care is similar in that we can’t just go to the gym and eat right and expect to feel balanced. Rather, we need to go to the gym, eat right, allow ourselves to feel and express our emotions, tend to our mental health, and pay attention to our spiritual energies.
Remember that when it comes to wholistic self-care, it’s personal and looks different from person to person. It is ever-growing and always flowing, and although we strive for balance, our journey doesn’t have a destination. Wholistic self-care is an ongoing, constant work in progress.
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