In a couple of weeks, we’ll be celebrating Foster Care Fortnight and thinking about why we care for others, but right now our focus is on self-care. Which is a pretty appropriate order, because putting ourselves first sometimes can help us to better care for others. As we slowly but surely move away from one of the strangest times in modern history, now is a brilliant moment to make self-care part of your new normal.
As social workers, foster carers and others involved in the care system, we are used to prioritising the children we work with. Our lives are busy, sometimes far too busy. We can forget to take care of our own needs and that isn’t healthy. Let’s be clear, working hard and caring for people are not bad traits, they make us good at what we do! Always putting ourselves at the back of the queue can have an impact though. To successfully keep giving out, we need to occasionally take in - otherwise we end up empty. Self-care makes sure we get the balance right.
The term may have been around for a few years now, but self-care still doesn’t get the credit it deserves. In short, it’s all about taking a little time to purposely put you first and do something that will boost your physical, mental or emotional health. And no, it’s not about being selfish.
Imagine you’re a bubble machine, like the ones at children’s parties and West Ham United home matches. A selfish bubble machine keeps itself full of bubble mix, but never flicks its switch on - it wants all the good stuff for itself. It’s no fun and soon its mix congeals, so it’s pretty unpleasant. A self-care bubble machine however gets a top-up of bubble mix, flicks its switch and boom - bubbles for everyone. A little in and we give out so much more.
So, aside from bubbles, what are the benefits of self-care? Firstly, it can protect our mental health. Making time for an activity that relaxes us or boosts our mood can help combat stress and anxiety and give us the feel-good-factor. Linked to this, it can also build our self-esteem. Treating ourselves with kindness can help remind us of our own value. Next up, physical health – by focussing on ourselves, we can become more aware of our body’s needs and how to fulfil them. Finally, as already mentioned, it can help our relationships. The healthier and happier we are, the better we can develop healthy, happy relationships and care for others.
How then do we ‘do’ self-care? Just as we are all unique, so we all have different activities that will help us. For some it’s 5 minutes a day with a still-hot coffee, for others it’s an exercise class, a film on Netflix, colouring or going for a walk with a friend. Basically, do what suits you and if you need some inspiration, here are 275 ideas to get you started.
Long hours and demanding work can make self-care a challenge, but it is far more than a trendy Instagram hashtag – it’s important for our health. So, don’t feel guilty, utilise your support network if you need to and spend some quality time taking care of yourself. You are worth it.