Many of us take care of the needs of others more frequently and much better than we take care of our own needs. Although there are several possible reasons why we neglect our own self-care, one of the most important is that self-care simply get swamped out by the needs of our family or work. The purpose of this post is to provide firstly, a visual reminder and secondly, a list of most of our self-care needs with some examples of how to satisfy these needs. It is hoped that these will help the reader improve their self-caring and establish a better balance between self-care and other-care.
The five dimensions of self-care: a visual reminder
A review of the various kinds of self-care suggested they can be divided into five categories or dimensions:
To more easily remember these five dimensions, they can be written, one each, on the five digits of a hand (Figure 1). I have found that this visual image greatly facilitates my clients in reviewing how they can best self-care.
The Self-care List
The physical dimension of self-care refers to the direct physical needs of our body to survive and thrive. It includes:
- Need for a home: Create a place of safety, comfort, and familiarity.
- Need for exercise: Exercise regularly at least three times per week.
- Nutrition: Eat healthy food regularly and have a balanced diet.
- Sleep needs: Get the amount and quality of sleep your body and mind requires (usually about 8 hours).
- Grooming needs: Personal hygiene, dress comfortably in clothes you like.
- Rest and relaxation needs: Take rest breaks during the busy day. Take regular vacations. Purposefully slow down when you feel exhausted and tired.
- Sexual needs: Experience sexual pleasure.
- Physical health needs: Get regular medical and dental check-ups to prevent serious conditions. If sick, take time off work to recover.
- Financial needs: Spend appropriately and save regularly for emergencies.
- Attain proper balance of all the above needs: Balance of caloric intake and exercise to maintain optimum weight. Balance between physical activity and rest for optimum physical and mental performance.
This dimension refers to our emotional needs and includes specific kinds of experiences needed at the emotional level. Note that some social needs (see below) are accompanied by positive emotions e.g. a feeling of being part of the group.
- Need to be in Eustress (optimal level of stress): Take a stress management course which may include learning how to better manage interpersonal stress in the family or job, manage job related stress and perhaps even changing careers.
- Need for emotional self-regulation: Learn how to calm yourself emotionally.
- Need to feel aliveness: Learn how to focus on your present experience including experiencing more fully the feelings in your body and associated emotions.
- Happiness needs: Be grateful for what you have.
- Fun: engage in activities that induce fun, amazement.
- Self-efficacy needs: Develop skills and abilities you value such as learning skills you need to be good at your job, or learning assertiveness skills so that you can say no when necessary.
- Need for self-compassion: Practice self-acceptance and self-love. Develop a positive attitude towards yourself by developing a new vocabular of positive self-talk. Give yourself permission to cry. Learn how to forgive yourself.
- Need for self-fulfilment: Find work or career that allows you to express your talents and passions. Engage in creative pleasurable activities such as art making, pottery, or dance.
This dimension refers to our mental/psychological needs. However, to some extent, it can overlap with the emotional dimension.
- Need for the Learn how to dispassionately reflect on life: Make time to simply reflect on your life both generally and specifically. Your ability at reflection may be facilitated by learning a specific form of meditation such as mindfulness meditation and practicing it daily.
- Start a voyage of self-discovery: Start a daily journaling habit. Starting your own individual or group psychotherapy programme. Join a self-help or support group. Reading self-help literature. Using the increased mental control made possible by meditation, psychotherapy etc to explore your deeper thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and behaviours. This is a necessary part of self-change.
- Seek intellectual stimulation: Stimulate your mind by reading books on topics of interest you and occasionally on topics you ought to be interested in.
- Constantly educate yourself: Take adult education courses. Continually exposing yourself to novel situations that will expand your world view and understanding, such as going to new art exhibits, new plays, new musical experiences, new cultural experiences.
This dimension refers to our social needs. In general humans require a great deal of positive social contact/connection.
- Dependency Needs: Develope a small group of very close friends/allies that you can depend upon in times of personal crisis. This is probably the most basic kind of social need. The support can be of various kinds such as safety, informational, financial, or emotional. Cultivate a network of positive friends whom you can depend upon in times of personal crisis.
- Belonging needs: We need to feel like we are part of a larger social group of some kind/connected to the group in some way. Joining a self-help group such as a suitable 12 step group, a support group, or a psychotherapeutic group. Participate in an activity club of some kind e.g. a bowling league.
- Esteem needs: Receiving recognition, respect, appreciation, and even love from the members of our social group is a powerful way of maintaining our self-esteem.
This dimension refers to our spiritual needs. The word "spiritual" does not necessarily involve organized religion but rather refers to matters which transcend the material dimension of life.
- Need to connect with the transcendental. Take time to experience the transcendental. Being immersed in the business of the material world can make it difficult to see transcendental processes. Most of us need to find a spot of safety and quietness, a sanctuary, to experience things spiritual. It can be the splendid isolation of a secluded beach on a tropical island, sitting in a park in the centre of a city, or it can be the conventional quietness of a religious building. Praying and meditating are the standard techniques for connecting with the spiritual. Reading the great works of spiritual thinkers. I recommend the very spiritual book by Thomas Moore titled appropriately "Care of the Soul".
- Need for spiritual fellowship. There is evidence of a need to connect with others who share our need for the transcendental/spiritual. Join a group or community with a spiritual component e.g. traditional religious organizations, a meditation group with a spiritual component, or a 12 step self-help group etc.
- Need to help others. Doing good works to help others also helps ourselves because it induces positive spiritual feelings or experiences. Doing charitable works is also found in most organized religions. There is much scientific evidence that altruistic acts benefit the psychological well-being and even physical health of the giver.
How to use the above to improve your self-care
It is suggested that you make it a habit each day to review your self-caring and develop a plan on how to improve any needs not being fulfilled. You begin by taking an inventory, probably first thing in the morning, of how well you are doing on each of the dimensions illustrated in Fig. 1. Are you taking care of yourself on only a few are even none of the dimensions? If so then go to review the needs and suggested ways to fulfil these needs for each of the dimensions of self-care. Then make a specific plan for how you can fulfil those needs that very day.
If you are rather poor at self-care, it would be useful for you to start a self-care diary. In this diary, you would keep track of which needs you are not properly fulfilling each day. You then could look back over a week searching for any patterns. If you notice that you have been habitually ignoring one of your self-care needs, then you make a special effort to rectify this deficit in your self-care.
Cheryl Richardson (2009), in her excellent book on self-care, points out that in times of extreme stress it is necessary to take "extreme self-care". Richardson provides a whole chapter detailing specific ways to practice "extreme self-care". The more you practice self-care daily, as proposed in this post using the five dimensions of self-care, the easier it will be to practice "extreme self-care" in times of extreme stress.
The reason is that with daily repetition, self-care gradually becomes deeply conditioned an becomes almost automatic and requires less mental effort to carry out. This is exactly what we need in times of crisis when our mental/emotional resources are often strained to the limit.
It is hoped that the categorizing of self-care into five dimensions along with the listing of specific techniques of self-care will help you discern which self-care needs are not being fulfilled and hence improve your individual self-caring ability. Routinely nurturing the self on a daily basis will lead to a fuller, more joyous, and meaningful life and also help us nurture others.
Moore, T. (1992). Care of the Soul; A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life. New York: HarperCollins.
Richardson, C. (2009). The art of extreme self-care. Hay House, Inc.