Self-care has many dimensions
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It seems we are living in an age of ever-increasing anxiety, stress, depression, and substance use.[1,2, 3] There are many possible reasons for these troubling trends, but researchers are not entirely sure which are most likely and are unable to identify a singular reason. As is the case with many things in life, there are likely many factors at play.
It seems that with the recent trends, a discussion of self-care is timely and needed. More people in the United States are struggling with their mental health, but with increasing costs of mental health services and service providers in greater demand—therefore limiting their availability—more and more people are looking for strategies they can use on their own.
One factor, among many, related to the increase in mental health issues has been the pandemic.  The pandemic is of course a topic that has received much media attention. Working with clients during this difficult period, I’ve noticed them stating that they’ve had more time in isolation, leaving them alone with their thoughts and struggles without ways to cope or care for themselves. For some, this has created an opportunity for reflection; for others, it has left them to face their own inner challenges without distraction. I argue that the pandemic has highlighted people’s need for, or lack of skill or commitment to, self-help.
Yes, social media is saturated with discussions of self-care; it feels like every day, a new article comes out about the benefits of yoga, an exciting new self-help book, or a new self-care product—but the exposure self-care gets leaves much to be desired.
To a degree, self-care getting more of the spotlight is a wonderful thing. Yet the coverage on self-care usually lacks depth and is often commercialized, serving as marketing for a specific product or service. In reality, self-care is not trendy, nor is it new. Human beings have been talking about and practicing self-care since the dawn of time. It has gone by many names and has been a focal point in the teachings and philosophies of many great spiritual masters.
So, take a moment and consider how you practice self-care, how it is integrated into your daily routine and experience, and how you can develop a greater sense of self-care in the future. Below are six dimensions of self-care. Read each one and think of one way you can enhance self-care in that domain of life:
- Physical: Eating right, exercising regularly, being active, receiving proper medical care, and getting enough sleep are important investments in your physical health. Those with poor mental health typically have high morbidity and mortality rates.  For many, physical health is something they ignore, but that only hurts them. They may not see the harm immediately, but over time, the negative effects of not taking care of their physical health will show. Ask: What is one way you can practice better self-care as it relates to your physical health?
- Spiritual: You may not be religious, and that’s OK, but we all have spiritual needs. We all desire to experience moments of transcendence, peace, and purpose. These are meaningful elements of the human experience and are deeply connected with our overall well-being and emotional health.  I suggest spending time in solitude and contemplation, to reflect on the beauty of nature and the human experience, and to understand and live out your purpose. If that is difficult to navigate, consider engaging with a faith community (or spiritual community, or value-driven community) that meets to achieve a positive mission. Ask: What is one way you can practice better self-care as it relates to your spiritual health?
- Intellectual: Feeding your mind is just as important as feeding your stomach. Your mind hungers for new information, insight, knowledge, and wisdom. Do not deprive your mind of this need. Challenge yourself to be a lifelong student, always eager to learn. Intellectual curiosity is linked with academic performance.  Strong academic performance is a strong predictor of a number of positive outcomes. Consider developing your intellectual curiosity by discovering an intellectual mentor from history; someone whose ideas stimulate your thinking. Find as many works as you can from this person and sit under their tutelage. Or consider learning a new skill or a new language. Ask: What is one way you can practice better self-care as it relates to your intellectual health?
- Relational: You are a social creature, which means you have an innate need to connect with a community to satisfy needs for friendship, sex, and conversation. Social connectedness is powerfully connected to our well-being.  You need other people in your life; people to ask the difficult questions, to introduce new ideas to your consciousness; people who become friends, lovers, or community members. Conversely, other people need you. You fulfill a purpose intrinsic to the human experience when you engage with others in a meaningful way to help, encourage, challenge, support, love, and befriend another human being. Ask: What is one way you can practice better self-care as it relates to your relational health?
- Emotional: Satisfying your intellectual needs is important, but you are not a brain in a vat. You are an emotional being. To be a well-rounded person making a balanced investment, you must attend to your emotional needs. Many shy away from taking care of their emotional needs for fear of being vulnerable. However, the discomfort of vulnerability is outweighed by the emotional benefits. When you can open up to a trusted person and share your feelings, you will experience relief and meet a social need.  Ask: What is one way you can practice better self-care as it relates to your emotional health?
- Occupational: Outside of sleeping, work is most likely one of the activities that consume most of your time over the course of your lifespan. Therefore, what you do for work and your level of enjoyment at work has a big impact on your life.  When you can combine your passions, strengths, interests, and mission into one activity that generates an income, you know you’ve hit the jackpot. But being fulfilled in every way isn’t always possible. Sometimes we must do work that we don’t enjoy in order to meet financial obligations. If you find yourself only working for the paycheck, all hope is not lost. You can still find meaning and fulfillment in your work, but it may be something you have to create. Ask: What is one way you can practice better self-care as it relates to your occupational health?