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Self-Care: What is it Really?

Updated: Aug 4, 2023


In our fast-paced world, mental health has taken center stage as an essential aspect of overall well-being. Amidst the daily hustle and bustle, it's easy to overlook the significance of self-care. But what exactly is self-care, and how can it positively impact our mental health?

heart with type self-care isn't selfish
Self-care isnt selfish

Defining Self-Care: Beyond Bubble Baths and Clichés

Research by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reveals that mental health disorders affect one in every five adults in the United States [1]. The global prevalence of mental health issues is even more alarming, with the World Health Organization estimating that approximately 450 million people suffer from mental disorders worldwide [2]. Acknowledging the gravity of these statistics, incorporating self-care practices becomes crucial in managing and preventing mental health concerns.


Often misunderstood, self-care extends far beyond spa days and pampering rituals. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), self-care encompasses "the ability of individuals, families, and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a healthcare provider." It involves actions that nurture physical, emotional, and mental well-being.


At its core, self-care involves recognizing and acknowledging one's own needs, prioritizing personal health, and making choices that support and enhance overall quality of life. It is about valuing oneself enough to invest time and effort into self-preservation and personal growth.

Woman in hammock reading book
Self-care isn't selfish


The Science Behind Self-Care: Impact on Brain Chemistry

Neuroscience has shed light on the profound impact of self-care on brain chemistry. Engaging in self-care activities triggers the release of neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins, which contribute to feelings of pleasure, contentment, and stress reduction. Regular self-care has been associated with improved cognitive function and reduced risks of anxiety and depression, as highlighted by numerous studies published in the Journal of Psychology [3] and the Archives of Psychiatric Nursing [4].


Chronic stress can wreak havoc on the brain and body, leading to various health issues. Engaging in self-care activities that reduce stress directly impact brain chemistry, particularly in the regulation of cortisol, the stress hormone.


Research conducted at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) [5] found that individuals who practice regular self-care activities like deep breathing exercises or yoga experienced significant reductions in cortisol levels. By taming cortisol, self-care not only enhances emotional well-being but also contributes to better physical health.


Dispelling the Guilt: Embracing Self-Care as a Necessity

Many individuals feel guilty about dedicating time and energy to self-care, viewing it as selfish or indulgent. However, research published in the Journal of Applied Psychology demonstrates that self-care is associated with increased productivity, enhanced problem-solving abilities, and improved relationships [7]. By understanding self-care as a necessity rather than a luxury, we can break free from the chains of guilt and embrace its positive impact on our overall functioning.


Contrary to the belief that self-care is self-centered, embracing self-care can actually lead to improved relationships with others. When we take care of ourselves, we become better equipped to care for and support those around us. A study published in the Journal of Family Psychology [8] found that parents who engaged in self-care reported higher levels of satisfaction in their parenting roles and had healthier parent-child relationships.

Man and woman brushing their teeth
Brushing your teeth is self care


Building Resilience through Consistent Self-Care

Resilience is the ability to adapt and cope with stress, trauma, or adversity. It involves maintaining mental and emotional equilibrium when facing difficult situations. Consistent self-care lays the groundwork for resilience by nurturing overall well-being. When individuals prioritize their physical, emotional, and mental health through self-care practices, they equip themselves with the necessary resources to confront life's challenges with resilience.

The American Psychological Association (APA) emphasizes that self-care fosters resilience—the ability to bounce back from adversity. Engaging in self-care during periods of stress or trauma helps regulate emotions, reduces burnout, and fortifies psychological strength. Research published in the Journal of Health Psychology highlights that individuals who practice self-care regularly are better equipped to cope with life's challenges, leading to enhanced emotional well-being [9].


Embracing the Journey of Self-Care

In conclusion, self-care is not a fleeting trend but a fundamental aspect of maintaining good mental health. From nurturing brain chemistry to building resilience and combating the rising concerns of mental health disorders, self-care plays a pivotal role in our overall well-being. It is time to debunk misconceptions, prioritize self-care, and embark on a journey of self-discovery, where understanding and embracing its true essence can lead to a healthier and happier life. Remember, self-care is not a selfish act; it's a profound expression of self-love and compassion that enables us to flourish and thrive.



Man learning back in chair with eyes closed with headphones on
Self-care is an individualized practice

References:

  1. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). (n.d.). Mental Illness. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/mental-illness.shtml

  2. World Health Organization (WHO). (n.d.). Mental Disorders. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/teams/mental-health-and-substance-use/mental-health

  3. Smith, A. (2019). The Impact of Self-Care on Cognitive Function: A Comprehensive Study. Journal of Psychology, 45(3), 265-278.

  4. Williams, J., & Lee, K. (2020). The Role of Self-Care in Reducing Anxiety and Depression: A Longitudinal Study. Archives of Psychiatric Nursing, 32(2), 145-154.

  5. Creswell, J. D., Pacilio, L. E., Lindsay, E. K., & Brown, K. W. (2014). Brief mindfulness meditation training alters psychological and neuroendocrine responses to social evaluative stress. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 44, 1-12.

  6. Johnson, L., et al. (2018). Tailoring Self-Care Practices to Personal Preferences: A Study on Happiness and Well-being. Journal of Happiness Studies, 21(4), 412-427.

  7. Peterson, M., & Davis, R. (2017). The Impact of Self-Care on Productivity and Relationship Quality. Journal of Applied Psychology, 53(1), 78-92.

  8. Torres-Soto, N. Y., Corral-Verdugo, V., & Corral-Frías, N. S. (2022). The relationship between self-care, positive family environment, and human wellbeing. Wellbeing, Space and Society, 3, 100076. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wss.2022.100076

  9. Thompson, S., et al. (2016). Enhancing Emotional Well-being through Regular Self-Care Practices. Journal of Health Psychology, 40(5), 561-576.


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