The Importance of Self-Care: Definitions and Practices

All are taught to help each other, to care of others emotionally, physically and psychologically. Everyone points out the need of helping each other to build a better society, filled with humanity. But how can one take care of the other person when he or she in the first place is not stable. This is self care essay where this topic will be discussed. 

Even though the word ‘self care’ may seem simple, engaging in self care activities may arise as a challenge for individuals at different stages, or for individuals with lifelong chronic illness, disabilities, or injuries. In fact, concerning adults, self-care activities may be hindered by several factors like poor financial conditions, work related issues and due to lifestyle and cultural issues. Hence self care is not as simple as everybody preaches it to be.

This complexity is also reflected in various definitions of self care. Different definitions have different perspectives on self care, due to the several aspects revolving it. For example, self care, when viewed strictly through the eyes of the ill-health, as in the definition from Health Canada 1997, self care is “the decisions and actions taken by someone who is facing a health problem in order to cope with it and improve his or her level of health.” Whereas World Health Organisation (WHO) gave a more general view of self care, which states that, “Self-care is the ability of individuals, families and communities to promote health, prevent disease, and maintain health and to cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a health care provider”. Emphasising a more individualistic view of self-care, Hoy and colleagues defined that, “Self care is rooted in a perception of health as functionality, responsibility, integrity and growth.”

Self-care is very important for the individual in the helping professions , especially for mental health professionals, both to enable them to perform at their best and to maintain health. In the book, Self-Care for the Mental Health Practitioner, written by Malinowski, he divides self care broadly into three parts: Knowledge and awareness of the job hazards and self care principles, recognition that the vulnerabilities and hazards of the job should be taken seriously and the constant awareness and practice of self care. It is also very appreciable that the American Counseling Association had included self- care in its code of ethics under professional responsibility to help and ensure the counseler’s physical and emotional well being.

Amidst the fact that many researcher’s has proved the importance of self-care in combating burnout and compassion fatigue, many therapists still neglect these activities on daily basis. Killian points out that, self-care is a neglected area both in workforce and school. Thus it is clear that neglecting self care is not uncommon and can cause damage to both professional and personal life. In most cases what happens is that, “As health care professionals, we recognize the privilege of sharing so deeply in the lives of our clients, yet often we do not devote similar care and attention to ourselves”. Neglecting self can bring far more harmfull results that one expect to, in professional, psychological, biological, cognitive, emotional, spiritual and social aspects. According to Pope and Vaquez, “Neglecting self care can drain the enthusiasm, joy, resilience, and meaning out of career, sometimes interfering with the therapist’s ability to practice ethically, and can lead to compassion fatigue and burnout”.

However, “little empirical research exists in choosing effective and proven self-care strategies”. This shows the immediate need to explore effective self-care practices that may help the mental health professionals to cope with the job related stressors. As suggested by Jones, self-care is certainly not an option for someone to chose if needed, rather it is significant for professionals to stay healthy in order to effectively take care of others and self. A holistic self care-care plan is what Jones advises.

Self-care indeed need a purposeful effort to engage in behaviours that ensures wellness by reducing stress. In literature, five self-care domains are recognised in particular. These domains are physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual and professional self care.

physical self-care includes eating a balanced diet, drinking enough water, getting timely sleep exercising on a daily basis, seeking medical care etc. Healthy eating and sleeping regularly are considered as the highest rated and mostly common form of physical self-care. Infact there are studies which reported that engaging in a hobby and going for a vacation are found to reduce the effects of trauma work.

Taking care of our emotional health by being clearly communicating ones own feelings and emotions to the near ones, keeping healthy relationship with the loved ones etc. Laughing and spending time with family and friends was identified as most common form of emotional self care. As a matter of fact, stress and symptoms of extreme is seen to decrease as social support increases.

Psychological self care may include practices like finding time for one self, personal goal setting practising yoga, maintaining relationships, having a sense of self awareness and improving self etc. The most common form of psychological self care were found to be practising mindfulness and time for reflections. Mindfulness in particular was also found to be correlated positively to well- being.

Spiritual care will include all those activities like meditation, yoga, prayers, spending time in nature etc. According to a study, meditation, spiritual connection and prayer, which all come under spiritual self care, had a significant role in managing stress in personal and professional life. Spending time with nature was also found to produce a feeling of connection while practicing spirituality.

Setting a line between professional and personal life, balanced work hours, maintaining a good relationship with the colleagues, seeking advice when needed etc, all of these comes under the professional self care. In most of the cases, professional self-care includes setting limits with clients, setting time to complete tasks, having conversations with colleagues about cases, taking enough breaks, and taking time to laugh and enjoy amidst these entire work load. As pointed out by Killian in his study, self care is an important part of professional development, thought it was nowhere emphasised in ones education or in employment.

Self care become overwhelming in the case of people with acute symptoms and disability and will lead to its abandoning. But overtime, they may get adapted to the disability, which enable them to immerse in self care activities. Thus indulging in self care activities is indeed a struggle at the initial stages, for every individual, but as time passes, when the miraculous results of practising the self care unfolds itself, no one can avoid it anymore.

Self care is indeed the need of the hour. In a world where everyone is immersed in competition and is in a hurry to acquire more, it’s only the self upon whom we can completely depend upon. Even though we read about self-care on various social media platforms on a daily basis, many of us tend to ignore it without a second thought. But off late we understand that self care can improve our quality of life in many ways. This session made me realise the significance of self care and the tremendous result it can create on our lives, once followed. The class taught me the need to strike a balance between our personal space and any activity we do. I also understood that there exists self-care at various levels like physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual and professional self-care, and all are vital for our well being. While physical self care is what everyone focus on , other domains of self care is also equally important. In fact , looking through the view of a professional therapist, psychological, spiritual, emotional and professional self-care play a major role in determining the overall wellbeing of the individual. It became obvious that, self-care need not be very visible and big, it can be as simple as a single step a day , and it may be different for different individual. Asking for help when required, spending time alone, giving priorities for self, setting clear boundaries, spending enough time for hobbies, acquiring courage to say ‘no’ when necessary, all these may seem simple but are all effective ways of self-care. During the session, mam gave us a sheet to fill up, which had a picture of a self-care wheel in it. But it took me a considerable amount of time to fill in the space given for some self-care domains, which made me realise my lack of self-care in certain domains like spiritual and psychological wellbeing. Later Anjali mam narrated us a story, which we were asked to visualise closing our eyes. The two scenario narrated by mam, suddenly paved way to a moment of conflict, but later gave insight into the need of having a clear boundary between the personal and professional space. The session had indeed created a lot of doubts in my head, were I am still confused about drawing a perfect line between professional and personal life while working as a mental health professional and how considerably does emotional and psychological self-care vary. But those questions urged me to further read upon self-care and know more about it.

To sum up, self care is a topic that needs more discussions in every domain. As a psychology student, it becomes more important for me to know and practice self care, to flourish and sustain in the field. I am certainly going to get into a field where I may witness many things which may even make me uncomfortable continuously, thus maintaining and practising self care may be only the way to get out of all those inconsistencies. Further, as a counsellor or therapist, if only I practise self care will only be I able suggest it to my clients with complete confidence. Practising self care among minority and marginalised group can bring about major changes. Thus self care can increase the overall quality of life of a person, if practised.


  • Bloomquist, K. R., Wood, L., Friedmeyer-Trinor, K., & Kim, H. (2015). Self-care and professional quality Of life: Predictive factors among MSW practitioners. Advances in Social Work, 6(2), 292-311.doi:10.18060/18760
  • Godfrey, C. M. (2010). Self-care: A Clarificatio of Meaning and Examination of SupportiveStrategies(Doctoral dissertation)
  • Stockwell, A. (2017). Effectiveness of Self-Care in Reducing Symptoms of Secondary Traumatic Stress
  • Wisner, B. L., & Hawkins, L. A. (2015). Enhancing social work practice through holistic mindful self-care. Professional Development: The International Journal of Continuing Social Work Education, 16(1), 18.
10 October 2022
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