Updated: Jan 12
What is self-care?
The World Health Organization has defined self-care as “the ability of individuals, families and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and to cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a healthcare provider”. 
Self-care is the mindfulness of six different facets of the self – physical, professional, relational, emotional, mental and spiritual. 
Self-care through the ages
Before lavender bath bombs, sandalwood-scented candles and sipping wine while in the tub, self-care was practised as a way of preventing people from falling susceptible to illness.
With the turn of the 19th century and the advancement of medicine and technology, self-care (especially self-medication) became redundant and even ill-advised. Self-care became more associated with caregivers and health professionals, who have to balance treating patients and their own wellbeing.
Why is self-care important for everyone?
While the meaning of self-care has changed throughout the decades, we are reclaiming its roots – being in tune with our bodies to identify potential areas of concern with our mental and physical health.
Self-care is the foundation of preventative health care, and in terms of mental health, a fundamental practice in strengthening the body’s ability to cope with stressors, both internally and externally.
Is there a right way to practice self-care?
Professor Alyssa F. Westring from DePaul University wrote in the Harvard Business Review that amid the myriad of advice on what self-care should look like, it should be redefined by the individual. 
Since every person has different experiences and different ways of processing their stress, self-care should also cater to you.
When should I practice self-care?
Ideally, it would be good to practice self-care every day – journaling as an outlet to get things off your mind, watching an episode before bed, or even turning off devices an hour or two before you go to sleep.
However, take note of busy bouts at school or work, or when your anxiety or depression is heightened. You are likely to face multiple stressors during these seasons, and might have to deal with other people’s emotions as well. Being mindful of these periods and preparing yourself mentally beforehand may help with burnout. It can also allow you to plan more self-care strategies to get through the difficult time.
What are physical self-care strategies?
Our physical well-being has a lot of sway over our mood. It’s not likely you’ll feel great if you are down with a fever. While personal physical self-care strategies may look different, here are some suggestions:
Diet is a big aspect of our physical health, and eating healthy is a way of regulating good moods. While healthy eating habits are usually focused on fruit and vegetable intake, it also means a nutritious diet.
A journal published by Cambridge University highlighted that “as little as 2-4% of the calories of a meal as protein will prevent an increased availability of tryptophan”, a vital amino acid that increases the production of neurotransmitters. 
Furthermore, the gut contains most of our serotonin neurotransmitters, the hormone that regulates emotion and happiness. 
Yes, we know, it’s been said by more than a handful of people, in more ways than we care to remember, but physical activity does have positive effects on depression.
Physical activity releases hormones like adrenaline and endorphins which are associated with happiness. 
While ideal to engage in physical activities every day, fatigue from school or work may hinder that ability and motivation to keep such a habit. Give yourself small goals that can easily fit into your day – climb the stairs instead of taking the elevator, walk to the nearest food centre instead of ordering in.
A good night’s sleep
Sleep is one of the most overlooked forms of self-care. Rest helps regulate different systems in the body, as well as our emotions. In an article titled The Extraordinary Importance of Sleep, reports showed that “cognitive performance and vigilant attention begin to decline fairly quickly after more than 16 hours of continuous wakefulness”. 
It is important to also point out the confusion between long hours of rest with sufficient rest. Sleep doctors point out that restful sleep is more important than the hours, and to take note of what may be hindering your sleep. 
What can I do for my mental and emotional health?
Caring for your mental health is as important as your physical health, or perhaps, even more. In a study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, subjects who had been mentally strained before the exercise reached exhaustion faster than counterparts who did not have the same mental stimulation. 
Mental self-care allows you the time to process pent-up emotions, reflect on locked-away thoughts and address insecurities that have arisen. The most important part of mentally unwinding is mindfulness. Mindfulness is recognizing things or activities that make you feel good and invigorated as well as activities and things that might trigger negative emotions.
While practising mindfulness can look different for each individual, there are some activities that encourage mindfulness and the regulation of your emotions.
Our thoughts can sometimes be convoluted, especially when different parts of your life start overwhelming you. Journaling allows for those thoughts to live outside of your brain. This can help clarify thoughts, improve communication skills and provide better sleep.
An increasing number of studies also support journaling as an effective form of therapy. The identification, acknowledgement, and organization of distressing events can help us make sense of our trauma, a vital part of the healing process used in conventional talk therapy. 
Mind over matter isn’t just a saying your trainer says to get you to do more reps. A growing amount of evidence shows that meditation is a cost-effective way of therapy. 
Meditating helps to focus the mind and bring awareness to a particular subject. If journaling is not for you, this is another way to clear your mind and bring attention to one subject and problem at a time.
How do I maintain self-care routines?
Crazy schedules and deadlines may tire you out at the end of each day and render you too exhausted to do any self-care, but that’s when they are needed the most.
Create self-care plans
Find small things that you enjoy doing like reading a page of a book before bed, lighting candles or just watching Youtube videos. Making sure that they are doable and not too ambitious helps you to fulfil them every day.
Don’t demonize yourself for missing your routines
Some days are harder than others. It is important to listen to what your body is telling you and do what is best for yourself – and sometimes, the best thing is nothing at all. It does not mean that you are not disciplined, it just means your body needs another way of processing things at the moment.
How much should self-care cost?
Taking care of yourself doesn't necessarily need a price tag. Allowing yourself time to relax, listen to music, draw or play games, call a friend, are all forms of self-care.
Treating yourself to a meal or shopping spree also counts as self-care but spend in a way that does not stress you. Managing finances and spending within your means is important so there will not be negative emotions like stress or guilt afterwards.
How do I maintain my mental health during highly stressful events?
Managing stress while juggling work and life is hard enough. An event like a world pandemic, especially one that seemingly never ends is a huge added stressor, and so is navigating life and workspace that is different from what was.
Various activities now share the same space and for many, the lack of physical distinction can mean overworking. Adopt boundaries and practices to draw the boundaries between work, leisure and rest:
Unless it is something pressing, stop working when your hours are up
A study showed that women subconsciously fell into roles of work and homemaker with the help of the clothes they wore. Similarly, we can draw boundaries between work and rest while at home with what we wear. 
With technology and working from home, people are taking on longer work hours. Allow yourself breaks while working if you need it. This will help to keep yourself refreshed and avoid burnout as much as possible.
Self-care can and will take on many forms for each individual. Give yourself time to find the things that make you happy. The results will not be instantaneous and it may become a frustrating process to go through. The most important takeaway is to do what feels best for you, and just try.
At frankie, we make mental healthcare and wellness easy for all with just one small task a day. Head on guided wellness journeys that understand your stressors or triggers or work with our behavioural and wellness professionals - all from the comfort and privacy of your home. Sign up for our Closed BETA here.
About Our Writer
Rachel is an anxious INFJ with a slightly concerning obsession with coffee and true crime. She loves feeling smart and dislikes playing games she knows she will lose. Learning about mental health is her way of helping people around her. IF the world was perfect, she wishes she could bring her friends flowers in a little red wagon.
This editorial section solely expresses the opinion of frankie and is not endorsed nor commissioned by any external party. The list is non-exhaustive. At frankie, we believe that your best provider of medical advice is your doctor. Please consult a doctor before undergoing any treatment or procedure.
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