The misconception of self care - why we are probably getting it wrong.

Dr Alexandra Barnett

Dr Alexandra Barnett

What is self care? Counselling Psychologist Dr Alexandra Barnett shares her wisdom & reflections on what it really means, & how to achieve better self care in our lives.

What is self care? It’s a term that is flung about a lot. In social media, magazines, even by psychologists. But how many of us have actually sat down and thought about what this means to us? and made a plan to do something about it?

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We are told that to look after ourselves and to feel good we have to engage in activities that make us feel better. Going to the gym, monthly massages, coffee with the girls, haircuts etc. We’ve all heard the sayings:

“Giving the world the best of you, instead of what’s left of you”

“You can’t pour from an empty cup”

“Some things are better not spread too thin: yourself and peanut butter”

It’s plain to see that not looking after us has a negative impact on our ability to be there for others.  Not taking care of ourselves means we are unable to be present and available to those we love, our partners, children, friends etc.  It’s easy to forget to pay attention to us and our needs in the busy worlds we live in. We keep going, continuing to pile onto our already overwhelming mental loads until we end up exhausted and drained. 

So why is it that so many people don’t look after themselves?

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We often hear people say, “I don’t have time for self care/to look after myself”. What they mean is they don’t have time to physically get to the gym or the finances to afford a monthly pedicure. Then there are the feelings of guilt that are associated with self care. Many of us experience this feeling of guilt when we even think about doing something “for us”. There is an internal believe that we will be viewed as “selfish” by our friends, family and the outside world. 

Maybe the way we think about self care is wrong. Or perhaps self care needs to be divided into two:

  1. Physical/external self care

  2. Taking care of your inner self

The first one is all those things we’ve already talked about. Those things look after our external self. However, they often only make us feel better in the short term. I have met plenty of gym goers, people with show home houses, perfect hair nails etc who look fabulous on the outside, but are miserable, anxious and self loathing on the inside. That is why we need to look at and promote the second item on our list.

Taking care of your inner self

How do we learn to look after our inner self? How do we soothe our inner voice? Below are a few suggestions…

  1. Appreciate Yourself

  2. Believe in yourself

  3. Be kind and compassionate to yourself

  4. Know that everyone makes mistakes

Appreciate Yourself

Take a couple of minutes every evening to think about 2 to 3 things that you appreciate about yourself.

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Sit and write these things down, be it in a journal, on your mobile or computer.

What types of things could you write? Maybe that you helped someone who needed it, or you spent time listening to your partner when he/she was talking to you - even though you felt you had a million things to do!

Make it relevant to today. It could just be that you managed to finish your cup of coffee whilst it was warm or brushed your teeth in the morning.

Believe in Yourself

At times this can be difficult to do so we need to practice. It seems we are brought up in a world where we are encouraged to doubt ourselves.

If we are struggling to believe we are capable of our future goals, make a list of your past accomplishments. If this is hard you could ask a trusted friend or loved one to help.

Set realistic future goals and tell yourself everyday they are possible. And most importantly, make a plan towards achieving these and do it! Remember: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got.”

Be kind & compassionate to yourself

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Heard the phrase “treat others how you wish to be treated”? The truth is most people are far kinder to others than themselves.

Can we look at the kind things we do for others and apply these to ourselves? Are we more forgiving of others when they make mistakes? Are we happy to listen to someone when they are upset or angry, but will not speak to others as we don’t want to burden them? Do we encourage others and motivate them, but are critical of ourselves?

Spend time thinking about the kindness you show to others and start applying it to yourself.

Everyone makes mistakes

It’s true. Everyone makes mistakes. Even the people we believe are “perfect”. The people who look after their inner self don't beat themselves up, rather they reflect on their mistake, learn from it and move on.  Ruminating over the mistake, chastising ourselves is not helpful. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What happened and why?

  • What can I learn from this?

  • Accept that it’s happened and move on

The above ideas all promote different ways to nurture our inner self and can (potentially) lead to lifelong changes to the way we view ourselves, look after ourselves and our levels of happiness with ourselves.

These ideas can be done anywhere, anytime.

The excuse “I haven’t got the time” is eradicated.  For many the guilt we talked about in relation to self care is linked to the time we need to take out of “looking after others”. Hopefully taking care of our inner self will help to lessen the guilt we feel as well.

Most importantly, self care (whether you do one aspect of self care or both) is a NECESSITY for everyone.

How we feel about ourselves is directly linked to our levels of happiness.

We also have a responsibility to role model to others (especially children) how to engage in all aspects of self care. These aren’t lessons we are taught in school. It’s something we have to fathom out and discover ourselves, but if we have found something that works let’s share it so people aren’t stumbling in the dark and on their own.

Written by Dr Alexandra Barnett.

Counselling Psychologist. My Therapist Online.

Expert in online delivery of therapy.

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