According to the 2018 report The State of Self Care in Australia, “there is no single or overarching definition of self-care to be found in Australian policy”, however it could be defined as activities that individuals regularly undertake to keep themselves healthy, both physically and mentally, and to be more resilient to life’s challenges.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines 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”. Furthermore, self-care is not new, “for millennia people have been taking measures to prevent disease, promote health and cope with illness and disability with and without a health care provider”.

More recently, the term ‘self-care’ has been adopted by the trillion-dollar wellness industry and mixed up with consumerism so that to some, self-care means ‘treating yourself’ and involves spending money on things like online shopping, essential oils, facemasks and expensive indoor plants in designer pots.

Healthline clarifies that self-care is not just ‘treating yourself’, and that there is often confusion around the subtle differences between ‘self-care’, ‘self-improvement’, and ‘numbing’. “Self-improvement comes from a perfectionist mindset, where we think there is something we need to fix about ourselves — that we’re lazy or procrastinators. But self-care is different because it’s about allowing yourself to have a nurturing experience of life right now as opposed to when you work harder in the future”. Numbing behaviours include things like drinking alcohol, eating, or excessive scrolling through social media, whereas “self-care is something that when you do it, you wake up the next morning feeling better”.

Different Types of Self-Care

The Health Coach Institute categorises self-care into seven different types: emotional, physical, mental, social, spiritual, practical, and professional, while Life In Mind Australia notes that “there is no formula for self-care. Each self-care plan will be unique and change over time. Ultimately, self-care is identifying activities that support your wellbeing.”

Self-Care during Covid-19

The Black Dog Institute addresses self-care during Coronavirus “amidst the confusion and constant stream of information due to COVID-19, a self-care plan can help you focus, make decisions and stay healthy”, and has helpfully provided a downloadable create your own self-care plan template with 4 steps: Evaluate your coping skills; Identify your daily self-care needs; Reflect, Examine, Replace; and Create your self-care plan.

Collective Self-Care

In an article for the Guardian Australia, Brigid Delaney writes that we need to stop focusing so much on the self and begin focusing on communal care. “Unless our care moves from the self to the collective (or ideally both the self and the collective) as a society, we will continue to be unwell. “Communal care can include things like being a better neighbour, to larger, more macro reforms and structural changes in society, such as advocating for universal health care, the introduction of a four-day working week, more affordable and available childcare and a rise in Newstart.”

In Summary

  • Self-care isn’t new but there are many definitions
  • Self-care isn’t just about treating yourself
  • There is no formula for self-care; it is whatever works for the individual
  • It should be accessible to all, and should move away from consumerism and excessive spending
  • Some may find it helpful to make a plan for self-care
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