Self Care, Self Help

Defining self care and self help

What is self care?

There are two definitions of self care. The first one relates to matters of health and well-being. In short, anything you do for yourself to help promote better health, both bodily and mentally. For example, regularly doing sports and physical activity is a popular method of self care. The other definition of relates to self-esteem. In this sense, it means doing things which will help to raise the perception of oneself. Self-affirming thought processes are just one example of this. Overall, caring for oneself means taking the same sorts of measures one would to care for another person but applying them to yourself.

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 Is self care the same as self help?

These two concepts are related. That said, self help tends to differ because it will often refer to raising awareness, consciousness or education rather than caring for oneself. So, for example, a self help book might give you advice on how you can take better care of yourself. Reading it is a form of self help, but only by carrying out at least some of the methods it contains would you be engaging in self care. Self help might also mean learning a new skill, whereas self care often does not need any expertise, just the time and effort it takes to be kind to oneself.

Why does self care matter?

Self care is tremendously important to general public health. Without it, we are all reliant on counter-measures, such as therapy treatments, to help deal with conditions. However, by caring for ourselves, we can all maintain better physical health which will proactively prevent acquiring them in the first place. Something as simple as washing your hands is an act of self care which helps to prevent the spread of contagions, for example. A simple thing that can help the entire community. Equally, actions which focus on mental well-being can help to prevent conditions like depression and anxiety or, at least, to lessen their impact.

Who benefits from self care?

Everyone can benefit hugely from adapting a self-caring approach to their life. In particular, people who have a genetic predisposition to a disorder will find looking after themselves can greatly help their physical well-being. In addition, people who have immediate relatives with mental health disorders are likely to benefit greatly from applying acts of self care in their routine. In turn, this puts healthcare providers under less demand, which is something that benefits society as a whole. In short, self care benefits old and young alike, and it helps to improve economic productivity since fewer people get as sick as they otherwise would.

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What self care measures can you take?

As mentioned previously, hand washing is an important and simple form of self care measure in terms of keeping healthy. The same goes for things such as brushing your teeth and maintaining the habit of balanced, healthy eating. Going for a walk in nature or taking more strenuous exercise has a raft of benefits which are not limited to just physical well-being – it will boost your mental health, too. Goal setting of achievement is also a good idea in terms of taking care of yourself. This is an example of where caring for oneself and self help can cross over one another.

Why are self help groups formed?

Many people find that they will benefit from a group setting when they are attempting to help themselves. The support and understanding of other people going through the same sorts of things as they are, will often mean that their endeavours in self help will be more successful than they otherwise would have been. For example, people who are trying to avoid alcohol may choose to abstain from it themselves and do a perfectly good job of refraining from it entirely from their own will power. However, when stresses from daily life or tricky social situations make teetotalism harder for some recovering alcoholics, additional support can be beneficial. In this light, self help groups can assist individuals by allowing an opportunity to discuss problems as a type of talking therapy. That said, many people who attend such self help groups for a raft of addictive behaviours find that simply attending and listening to others is enough to help them maintain the self help they need.

Are self help books worth it?

In a word, yes. Many people find that they are very useful guides, offering numerous insights into how people can take better care of themselves, both physically and mentally. Some might focus on physical things you can do to get fitter and feel stronger. Others will offer self care tips that help to overcome problems like shyness and under-confidence, or advise on stress management. However, it is not enough to view all self help books as positive in their own right. Some are very poorly written and offer generic advice that is a mish-mash of psychological concepts. These don't offer anything more than a few ideas that have been thrown together and have little scientific basis. Indeed, taking some of them too seriously can be problematic if you are too strict about following them. Overall, many people will see self help books as things that offer general advice. In short, they should not be taken as road maps to a better life which contains all of the answers. They cannot take problems away, but they can help you to think about them in a new light.

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Can self help build confidence?

There are many writers who have offered insights with self help and confidence-building. This is something that cuts across many aspects of life from business management techniques to psychotherapy. One of the main ways that self help is used to build greater confidence is to visualise things that have gone well in the past and think about how the same outcomes might come about in the future. Another popular technique is to set goals which, although not being too easy, are realistic in their nature. The idea here is to help people feel as though they are making achievable progress towards an overarching goal. As people feel they achieve with each step they take, so they should become more resilient to any failures that occur without internalising such setbacks in a way that knocks their self-confidence. Given that you can teach yourself such methods, this is a significant area of self help.

What are self help retreats?

Self help retreats are often spiritual in their nature and have connections to religious beliefs. Many place a great deal of emphasis on how a more spiritual life or reaffirmed faith can help people help themselves. Of course, some self help retreats are entirely secular in their nature, too, but most have some spiritual angle. Either way, they tend to involve stepping back from everyday life for a while in the company of others who want to help themselves in a similar way. Many will run over the course of a weekend, but some can go on for much longer. Self help retreats will often focus on self care tips, for example, by cleansing the soul or using deep relaxation techniques to remove some of the stress that might have been building up. Many self-help retreats will focus on self-discovery these days, too, perhaps by introducing adults to new skills and activities and encouraging them to be tried out – much like children discover themselves through play.

Can self care be selfish?

Self care is necessarily focussed on the self. If you are caring for your own mental well-being by blocking out the negative comments of someone you are close to, for example, then it would be possible to argue that you are behaving in a selfish manner, albeit one that is for your self-preservation. Overall, selfish behaviour is doing something for yourself that does not take into account the needs and desires of those around you. This is either willful or done without realising it, but it usually means upsetting others to an extent. Self care should not have this effect even if it results in a more significant focus on oneself. Think about yourself as you would a friend and treat yourself in the same way that you would anyone else. If your self care is fair to yourself and others, then it is not selfish and more a case of being equitable to everyone.

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How does self care reduce stress?

When you take good care of your mental well-being, you are much less likely to suffer from stress. For example, if you are under a heavy workload and also have a lot of family responsibilities that take up your headspace when you are not working, then you are likely to end up feeling stressed out. Left unchecked, you can even burnout or suffer from a breakdown. However, if you take some time out to empty your mind, perhaps with some exercise or meditation, then you can reorder the business of your brain and feel less stressed out. In many cases, taking time out to de-stress will mean you can focus more on the things you need to prioritise, so you end up achieving more, something that often lowers levels of anxiety, too. A good diet, regular sleep, doing more physically and clearing your mind are all good anti-stress self care methods.

What illness prevention measures are associated with self care?

In medical terms, self care tends to be about preventative treatments. This might include things like raising your heart rate frequently when exercising to ward off heart disease, for example. It could also include measures like hand washing, which means you are less likely to ingest germs as you use your hands to touch your face or to eat with. Consuming a better diet is also an illness prevention measure that can also be seen as a form of self care. Of course, caring for one's mental health is also an important aspect of ensuring you do not succumb to a raft of mental health disorders including mania and depression, to name but two.

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Self care in summary

Self care is something that can be interpreted in multiple ways, whether you are talking about mental well-being, self help therapies, spiritual focus or something as simple as keeping yourself clean. For many, self care relates to the caring sides of ourselves that we often show to others but are more hesitant to bestow on ourselves. Sometimes, this sort of selflessness has a cultural root which lauds people who are not seen as not acting in their own self-interests. For others, it is more a question of self-neglect whereby they don't seem to notice that they are taking insufficient care of themselves.

Either way, it is important to take on board that self help and self care are not acts of selfishness or self-centredness. Of course, an overly generous sense of self-regard can be viewed as a form of narcissism, but the reality is that - for many people, at least – there is too little self care and not too much of it. Huge numbers of people are interested in how they can better manage their lives so that they are looked after just as much as those around them. This desire to improve oneself is why so many people are engaged in lifelong learning, for instance. It also partially accounts for why there are so many self help books – both good ones and bad ones – published each year. When self care is viewed through the lens of self-improvement, everyone can benefit from it because society as a whole will receive a lift from healthier, better-informed members.

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