(Re)Defining Self-Care to Save Lives

(Re)Defining Self-Care to Save Lives

Dramatic title, huh? I heard the Law and Order – dunt dunt! sound after I wrote it. But I really believe we need to really look at how we define self-care and that it can be a life and death scenario for many.

There are many different definitions of the word “self-care”. Here’s what I’m currently going with… get ready – it’s exciting!!! **Drum roll please**

“Self-Care is what people do for themselves to establish and maintain health, and to prevent and deal with illness.” (World Health Organization, 1998)

Yeah, yeah, yeah – this definition isn’t very sexy, but I like it because it’s simple, it talks about establishing AND maintaining healthy behaviors as well as prevention and management of illness. Also, it doesn’t focus on stress or mental health.

If you are into self-care at all you may have just gasped or fainted when I wrote that last sentence. I know, shocking! I believe mental health and stress management are crucial parts of self-care, but there’s so much more beyond those concepts and if we make them the central focus we are missing out on a bigger picture. And when it comes down to it – all these different aspects of self-care are generally interrelated (ex. physical health impacts mental & vice versa).

So why is this distinction important? Because a broader sense of self-care will save more lives.

While the heavy focus on mental health or stress management is important, it can also alienate others who may not have significant issues with these things, but could really benefit from other self-care practices (ex. basics like exercise or healthy eating or going to the doctor regularly). Or maybe they do have issues with stress or mental health, but aren’t ready to acknowledge it yet or don’t see it in themselves yet.

By making self-care broader we open it up for more people and more health-related issues. This is important because not taking care of ourselves (and each other) is killing us at alarming rates.

A 2014 CDC report states “each year, nearly 900,000 Americans die prematurely from the five leading causes of death (heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke, and unintentional injuries) yet 20 percent to 40 percent of the deaths from each cause could be prevented.

I believe mental health is a foundational piece for our overall well-being and may play an important role in the choices people make that lead them to those leading causes of death, however, it may be helpful for more people if we are able to pull back a bit and see a bigger picture.

And while bigger picture is important, it can also be overwhelming. For now here are some juicier, more down-to-earth tidbits:

Self-care refers to activities and practices that we can engage in on a regular basis to reduce stress and maintain and enhance our short- and longer-term health and well-being.” (University of Buffalo School of Social Work Self-Care Starter Kit)

“It’s about creating a moment or ambiance for yourself (or your community) that is emotionally, physically, or psychologically restorative and nourishing.” (Well + Good article with my BFF Jonathan Van Ness)

So let those juicy definitions marinate a bit – what do you prefer? How do you define self-care? What am I missing? I want to learn more so please educate and/or share.

P.S. Beyond the definition of the word, there’s a whole “branding” issue of self-care. The concept has become commercialized and then it’s marketed to a very specific group of people. That is total crap. I will say it now and I will say it a thousand more times – self-care is for everyone. Yes, it may look differently depending on who is doing it and why, but self-care is something everyone needs and deserves.

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