Self-Care 101

Finding balance while being a midwife, a partner, mother, friend is not easy; that’s why we asked writer and very busy professional Marjorie Arnold to share her self-care thoughts with readers.

To start off, we need to understand what self-care is, what it entails and how to practise it. Self-care may be the new buzzword and hashtag to every expensive purchase, spa day or a weekend getaway, making us feel like it’s a self-indulgent act, a guilty pleasure – but the fact is that self-care is actually not a luxury; it is a non-negotiable part of living a healthy life.

Self-care, at its core, is self-compassion, the decision to prioritise yourself. Simply put, self-care is the deliberate act of doing small things that restore your own body, mind and spirit.

Self-care is not selfish

Self-care is not a selfish act but rather a necessity to ensure our own wellness. If we do not take care of ourselves, we cannot keep on giving without running the risk of suffering from burnout. Self-care should also not seem like another daunting task to add to your list as you frantically try to perform at a high level and meet the expectations of your team, employer, friends and family … and yourself.

You may be thinking, ‘But where do I fit self-care into my already over-extended daily life?’ Of course, between work and personal life, it is sometimes hard to get enough sleep, get the bills paid on time and eat properly. You can start by taking a deep breath, and having compassion for yourself.

Self-compassion is the centre of self-care

Having compassion for yourself is not only an essential part of practising self-care; it is also fundamental to being an effective healthcare provider.

Practising self-compassion means:

  • Allowing yourself to be human, being less critical of yourself, and reducing the stress you create when you hold yourself to unachievably high standards
  • Changing the relationship you have with yourself – from being a harsh, judgmental critic to an understanding friend
  • Realising that your mental, physical and spiritual health is your own responsibility, and the cornerstone of being an empathetic caregiver

How to honour yourself

You can honour yourself with time, food, movement, nature and sleep:

  • Take time. Time has become a luxury and yet nowadays, we waste it by watching TV mindlessly or scrolling through social media, comparing our lives with others. Take time daily to be quiet with yourself, to relax and renew through something like a tea ritual or enjoying a cup of coffee; slowly progress to a few minutes of reflective meditation that helps you reduce your stress and gives you a sense of calm. This does not mean that you should not spend time with other people, especially those whose company you find rewarding. Connecting with people on a deep level allows both parties to be a resource for each other.
  • Eat healthily. Honour your body by eating wholesome, nourishing food. Consider whether you need to remove the shame around food and change your relationship with food. By eating with the purpose of nourishing our bodies, we ensure our health. This, in turn, allows us to be there for patients and other people in our lives.
  • Get moving. Walk, run, swim or dance – whatever physical activity gets you up from your chair and smiling! Moving our bodies is essential, not only for our physical health but also for our mental health. Take the stairs, walk the dog, put your favourite song on and move your body!
  • Escape into nature. Honour yourself by spending time in nature. Many of us are primarily indoors, under artificial lights, spending our days between walls, floors and ceilings. Take a few minutes each day and just marvel at the clouds in the sky, breathing in the fresh air, feeling the sun on your skin. We are part of this beautiful world and often we get trapped in our routine that keep us locked in passageways, rushing from one room to the other. When you get home, take your shoes off and walk on the grass, or sit and enjoy your cup of tea outside.
  • Sleep well. The never-ending lists of tasks that flood our schedules has led to sleep being viewed as lazy and self-indulgent. Sleeping well should be a daily practice and not something we associate with lazy weekends or holidays. Getting enough sleep, consistently, is the key to good physical and mental health. Lack of sleep is associated with fatigue, depression, type 2 diabetes and many other illnesses. The good news is that sleep is also the cure of many ailments.

‘Sleep is the single most effective thing you can do to reset your brain and body for health,’ says Matthew Walker, a professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California, Berkeley.

Self-care for sensitive caregivers

There is real science behind the importance of self-care. If we accept that self-care is an unselfish necessity, in order to be sensitive, selfless caregivers, we can change our perception of self-care: it is not self-indulgent pampering, but rather, essential for living well. Self-care means practising being kind to your body, mind and spirit, and establishing the fundamentals of taking care of yourself.

This article was originally published in Sensitive Midwifery Magazine in 2019.