The Role of Self-Care in Mental Health

Self-care isn’t trite. I say this to myself as much as anyone else. To state the obvious, self-care looks different for everyone. I’ve often associated it with the image of a woman in a bathtub, drinking wine, and wearing a face mask. I think it’s fair to say that’s a pretty standard stereotype of what self-care looks like. Something about it has always rung so hollow to me. It feels frivolous, almost shallow. This isn’t a fair judgement on self-care as a whole or even on people who happen to fit the stereotype, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t how I’ve thought about it in the past. Perhaps I’ve redefined self-care as self-indulgent pampering, which isn’t an accurate assessment.

As I’ve mentioned before, I do experience a lot of depressed feelings this time of year. There are days when they really take over and every little thing feels like a struggle. It sort of feels like my mind is a prison and I’m standing there staring at the bars of my cell. They’re far enough apart that I think I can squeeze through and free myself, but it’s a really tight fit. Sometimes I’m able to push and shove until I finally get out the other side and other days no matter how hard I try to push or finagle myself, I can’t seem to get through. There’s no apparent reason for it, I just have good days when I’m free and bad days when I’m not.

The study linked below stated the following:

“…people spoke of having the strength to overcome negative feelings and felt that depression was something that they could control. This relates to the awareness of seeing the self as the mechanism of change, which is the key to engagement with guided self-help.”

This tells me that the impact self-care has on mental health is not about self-indulgence, but about self-empowerment. We know the mind is a powerful thing, just think about the placebo effect. If you believe something will help you, it very well may, based purely off of that belief. If you believe that you can help yourself when you’re in the throes of depression, anxiety, etc. you’re more likely to actually be able to do so. Self-care, be it painting your toe nails, exercising, or meeting a friend for coffee, is you making the decision that you’re worth the effort of doing so. If you’re worth putting that bit of time and effort into, maybe you can convince yourself that you’re not only worthy, but capable as well.

Sometimes it’s the things that you want to do the least that will help you the most.
Photo by bruce mars from Pexels

So reflecting on my previous attitude of what self-care really was, I’m reminded of a quote that I heard once, “If it’s stupid, but it works, it isn’t stupid”. So, whether you struggle with any sort of  mental health issue or not, if you’re able to find a little joy by taking some time to focus on yourself, then you should. There’s enough sadness, anger, and despair in the world. Combating those things isn’t done solely by grand gestures, but by the little things that help you get through the day. Self-care isn’t a cure, but it’s potentially a powerful tool you can use while you continue to fight the good fight.


Click to access Guided-self-help-in-primary-care-mental-health-Meta-synthesis-of-qualitative-studies-of-patient-experience.pdf


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