Between work and life, most of us are juggling a lot. When our to-do list is demanding, taking care of ourselves often drops to last priority.
Pushing on for days or weeks or even months on end without checking in with yourself could lead to burnout.
If you’re not taking care of yourself — physically and emotionally — everything around you can suffer.
That’s why self-care is just as important as eating healthy and exercising regularly.
What Is Self-Care?
“Self-care is doing something that nurtures or honors yourself,” explains Marni Amsellem, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist in New York and Connecticut.
Here are some reasons why self-care is so important:
1. Self-care helps you perform at your best
Fundamentally, self-care is a way to maintain balance so you can attend to all of your different parts to keep yourself going.
In other words, always choosing a deadline over making time for a workout or a nourishing meal could ultimately slow you down.
A study found that medical students who practiced self-care reported less stress and a higher quality of life.
Whether you’re a busy doctor, a nurse, a therapist, or a mom, self-care is also important for caregivers because it enables you to better help others in the long run.
2. It supports overall well-being
On some level, we intrinsically know that self-care is important.
“We know it’s ‘good for us’ to eat well, stay hydrated, exercise, and connect socially. Those are probably some of the most basic self-care activities we do. However, beyond the basics, there are activities that we don’t often associate with self-care which are more internal,” says Natalie Dattilo, Ph.D., MHA, director of psychology, Brigham & Women’s Hospital.
3. Self-care can help maintain self-confidence and self-esteem
Self-care can also help boost your inner strength.
“It encompasses the way we think about ourselves, the way we talk to ourselves, the beliefs we have about what we are capable of, the ideas we have about our worth, and our sense of self-confidence and self-respect,” says Dattilo. “Without self-care, we compromise our mental wellness and our ability to cope with life’s inevitable curveballs.”
4. It makes us more aware of our personal needs
When it comes to self-care, Beachbody Yoga Studio instructor Caley Alyssa sums it up as having “awareness around your body’s needs physically, mentally, and spiritually.”
Attending to all of your different facets is a self-care plan that supports your mind-body connection.
5. Self-care allows us to be resilient
Whether it’s the cumulative build-up of the small things or confronting a big issue, self-care is an important tool for maintaining resilience, according to Amsellem.
“Resilience building is huge. When we do things to honor ourselves mentally, we are in a better place to take on challenges and stressors we all inevitably face,” she says. “Physically, if we are carrying stress in our bodies, it can manifest as muscle tension or even hypertension. Having an outlet helps with all-around wellness.”
6. It can help you feel well-rested and energized
For Alyssa, practicing self-care reduces stress and increases clarity. “There are countless benefits including increased energy, sense of purpose, better communication, and better sleep,” she says.
7. Self-care doesn’t take a ton of time
Overall, self-care is as individual as you are, but in broad terms, a self-care plan should be enjoyable, relaxing, or stimulating.
A self-care activity might also change from day to day depending on your needs. Here are some ways you could practice self-care:
- Go on a walk or hike to connect with nature
- Relax in a hammock and watching the sky change
- Do a yoga class or meditation
- Release stress with a workout
- Take a bath
- Try a new creative outlet, such as painting
- Read a book in a quiet place
- Listen to music
- Cook a new recipe
- Write in a journal
- Practice gratitude
8. It can be a social activity
Some days you might need time on your own; other days you might need time connecting with others.
“Self-care can most certainly be done with other people,” explains Dattilo. “Spending quality time with good friends can be a critical part of an effective self-care plan.”
How Often Should You Practice Self-Care?
Determining when you need to take a break is highly personal depending on what’s going on in your life, who else you’re taking care of, and how busy your job is.
“There is no regular script on how much self-care an individual needs, but regular self-care is ideal and daily is great,” explains Amsellem. “It might not look the same as it did a year or six months ago, but grabbing a few minutes to nurture yourself is still essential.”
While there is no required amount, practicing self-care frequently is important.
“My recommendation is to do something every day that’s good for you,” says Dattilo.
In fact, some days a self-care routine might be a few minutes, while other days it might be a few hours.
Are There Any Risks to Not Practicing Self-Care?
Feeling guilty about taking time for self-care when you have other responsibilities is a hurdle for many people.
However, not practicing self-care is often compared to emptying your cup to the point where you have nothing left to give.
“If you don’t take care of your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing, then you leave yourself susceptible to depression, frustration, anger, and illness, and other risks,” says Alyssa.
Burning out in your work or personal life can lower your ability to cope.
“When you have taken the time to honor yourself, you’re in a better place to deal with challenges. If you haven’t taken any time, you’re more likely to blow a fuse or be irritable than if you had been practicing self-care,” says Amsellem.