Redefining self-care: What self-care truly means
There is an outdated image that self-care solely involves going on spa weekends or having candle lit baths. While this may be an element of self-care for some people, self-care involves so much more than this.
Self-care in essence is about looking after yourself so you can survive and thrive. In this article, we list different ways that you can look after yourself so you avoid burnout and relapse and be the best version of yourself.
What is self-care?
Self-care means different things to different people. Here are just a few of the ways that you can practice self-care.
Self-care means recharging
In our busy lives, it's easy to forget to take some time for ourselves. But when we do take the time to relax and rejuvenate, it can make a world of difference. Relaxation gives your body and mind a much-needed break. It allows you to recharge so that you can face the challenges of life with fresh energy. Rejuvenation helps you feel like yourself again. It can help you remember why you’re doing what you’re doing.
Many people, especially those who are in addiction recovery, find that it is challenging to take time off to recharge their batteries. They feel like it is in some way shameful to take breaks. The reality is that we all need to take breaks occasionally. After all, we are not robots.
Self-care means looking after yourself
It’s difficult to flourish if your body doesn’t feel good. This is why eating well and regular exercise are both important foundations of self-care. If you are someone who tends to overdo exercise, self-care for you might actually involve exercising less. Listen to your body and see what it truly needs.
Self-care means setting boundaries
If you’re someone who feels themselves constantly being in a rush to meet the demands of others, it might be time to take a step back, set boundaries and practice self-care.
This can apply to anything and anyone. Your elderly mother might demand that you spend more time with her, and you may feel guilty for not doing this, but ultimately you need to look after yourself first. You can’t pour from an empty cup.
Self-care means limiting social media use
One of the main reasons that you may always be trying to do more is due to social media. You see someone’s life, with all the fabulous things that they have, with their beautiful partner and with their amazing friends, and believe that this is how you want your life to be.
Of course, the person with this life may not be any happier than you, but social media’s lens tells us that this is not the case. If you feel like you are controlled by social media and that it is making you unhappy, it may be time to reduce the amount of time you spend on it, or even stop using social media altogether.
Think about how you usually feel after going on social media. Do you feel connected and content with your life? Or do you feel a lack of satisfaction and a craving for all the false promises of social media?
Self-care means nurturing your spiritual side
While looking after all the material parts of your life is foundational, there is more to life. For many people, thriving involves being aware of and nurturing your spiritual side. This could involve:
Meditation. Sitting down in meditation helps you to tap into the spiritual part of yourself. Doing this also helps you to unwind, which is another important part of self-care.
Attending a religious service. People all around the world consider going to a church, a mosque or any other religious site as part of their self-care. Regularly meeting with people who share similar beliefs to you at these places helps you to connect with your higher power, and with people around you.
Practice gratitude. Being thankful is so crucial for living a good life. You may simply be grateful, or you might be grateful to a high power. Try writing a gratitude list at regular times to ingrain the habit of gratitude into your life.
Self-care means loving yourself
One of the most important aspects of self-care is learning to love yourself. This can be difficult, especially if you're in recovery from addiction. That's because addiction can leave you feeling unworthy and unlovable. But it's important to remember that you are worthy of love. You are not your addiction.
Here are three tips for learning to love yourself:
1. Make a list of all the things you like about yourself.
This may seem like a simple task, but it can be really hard to do. We often focus on our flaws and forget about our positive qualities. So, take some time to sit down and make a list of all the things you like about yourself. Include both big and small things. For example, you may be a good friend or a good cook. Or you may have a great sense of humor or be really good at art.
2. Give yourself permission to make mistakes.
One of the biggest obstacles to self-love is perfectionism. We often think that we have to be perfect in order to deserve love. But the truth is, nobody is perfect. We all make mistakes. And that's okay! Giving yourself permission to make mistakes is an important part of self-love. It means that you're willing to accept yourself, flaws and all.
3. Do something nice for yourself every day.
Another way to show yourself some love is by doing something nice for yourself every day. This can be something small, like taking a bubble bath or buying yourself a new book. Or it can be something bigger, like taking a weekend trip or getting a massage. Whatever you do, make sure it's something that makes you happy.
Social media, burnout and self-care
Today’s societies encourage us to be “always on”. Always looking good for photos on Instagram and always available to respond to messages from a boss to prove we are a good employee. If we work for ourselves, “hustle culture” tells us that we must maximise the amount of time we spend working, and that this is a good thing as we get the rewards of our work.
Constantly comparing ourselves with others is reinforced by social media, so that even when we are not posting photographs we are looking at other people’s lives (or at least what they present as their lives).
All of this leads us to feeling like if we are not doing as much as we can all the time, we are falling behind. This is “keeping up with the Jones’” in the social media era.
Combine this with using work and other activities to distract yourself from how you are really feeling, and this is a recipe for burnout.
Burnout statistics and the Covid-19 pandemic
With the way most of us are wired internally, it is really no wonder that so many people are now facing burnout.
Over three-quarters of workers in the UK have experienced burnout at some time in their life. 35% of workers report high or extreme levels of burnout.
A government study reported that of the people in the study who reported work-related stress, depression or anxiety, over half stated that their condition was made worse by the effects of the covid-19 pandemic.
While these statistics may by improving slightly, the reality is that we live in high-stress times. This makes it even more important to look after yourself and practice self-care. If you can consistently make deposits into your well-being instead of withdrawals, you may see a steady improvement in your well-being, despite what is going on around you.
Looking after yourself - the antidote to burnout
When everything in our society tells us to do more, earn more and look better, it becomes a radical decision to practice self-care. Often, telling someone that you have decided to work less to look after yourself does not get the praise it deserves. But it is these self-care decisions that often make our lives better and prevent us from burning out.
Finding the lifestyle that nourishes you regardless of what society tells you to do is a vital part of wellness. Often, self-care is the “behind the scenes” lifestyle choices that other people don’t talk about, but which make all the difference.
If you are used to being motivated externally, and basing your actions on whether they will be validated by other people, self-care can feel counter-intuitive. But it is these actions that will keep you out of burnout and have you living a good life. It may take a while for you to do things that society will not applaud, but after a while you will realize how crucial it is to not be bound by others expectations.
Self-care and relapse
Lack of self-care can also lead to relapse for people in addiction recovery, and for much the same reasons as it can lead to burnout. Constantly looking for external validation and attempting to distract yourself from how you feel leads you on a constant treadmill which ultimately makes you feel crappy.
Sometimes, people in addiction recovery spend all of their time looking after the needs of others that they have no more time to look after themselves. If you do this, you receive praise from the people around you for your good deeds, but you may be heading toward burnout or even relapse.
The solution is looking after yourself and practicing self-care. Unfortunately, people in addiction recovery often believe that doing this makes them look “weak”, so they continue ignoring how they feel until they are in trouble.
If you are the type of person who pushes themselves until they are completely exhausted and are either burnt out or at risk of relapse, it is time to notice your pattern and practice self-care in the future. Including it will mean that you have a more enjoyable life, and will lessen the chance of you crashing and burning when it all gets too much.
Why do people in addiction recovery need to be encouraged to look after themselves?
Often, people in addiction recovery are poor at practicing self-care. If your life revolved around drinking or taking drugs for many years, you will be unlikely to have practiced real self-care, so you will have not built patterns of behaviour that involve looking after yourself in healthy way.
When you went to rehab, you may have been taught the most basic aspects of self-care. Realising when you are Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired, making your bed and basic boundary setting are all things that are often communicated to people in rehab. These are only the absolute foundational aspects of self-care, though. It may take a few years in recovery before you really learn to look after yourself.
This lack of self-care is often compounded by a lack of self-love. People in addiction recovery have often encountered abuse that made them feel like they are not deserving of love. Much of the time these people also did things while in active addiction that they feel ashamed of, making them feel even lesser.
This lack of self-love means that people in addiction recovery may not feel like they deserve to be cared for. This is something that must change when you get clean and sober. Oftentimes, working with a therapist can help you to heal the parts of you that you feel are to worthy of self-care. A therapist will also encourage you to develop sustainable ways of nurturing yourself.
Looking after yourself: A crucial part of life
Self-care is the things we choose to do (or not do) with our well-being in mind. It should be something that comes as second nature to all of us, but we often believe that practicing self-care makes us look weak.
Unfortunately, this belief can lead to burnout and relapse. It is time to learn that self-care should be a part of your life. You are most definitely worth it.
If you are looking for ways to start looking after yourself better but not sure where to start, our Wellness hub is jam packed with professional led classes. These wellness classes are designed to teach you evidence based methods in which to increase your wellbeing during addiction recovery. You can learn how to do Breath work, yoga and mindfulness. You can also access nutritional tips, health advice and mind set coaching. Having this at your fingertips can be an avid reminder to stop, pause and invest regular and rewarding time in yourself.
Read more: Avoiding work burnout in addiction recovery