By Alice Schluger – Health Coach/Practitioner/NWI Member
What does “self-care” mean to you? The term has become somewhat overused in the media, particularly during the recent pandemic. Taking bubble baths or buying fresh flowers are among the popular suggestions for stress relief. Not to say that simple at-home self-care routines aren’t important, but there are more pressing concerns associated with attaining holistic health and well-being. Self-care involves self-reflection and self-awareness to recognize and maximize emotional and psychological health. What has worked for you in the past, may not be feasible when you’re feeling overwhelmed, exhausted or hopeless from the longstanding COVID-19 health crisis.
How is Self-Care Defined?
According to The World Health Organization, self-care is “the ability of individuals, families, and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and to cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a healthcare provider.” This definition includes a number of factors that emphasize taking responsibility for your own health and wellness. Self-care refers to daily habits and lifestyles which influence health management. It can also be applied to action steps and decision-making processes in response to environmental changes affecting our health (WHO, 2019).
Self-Care Dimensions and COVID-19
In order to adequately address the issue of self-care we must consider all of the complex components. Self-care encompasses six life domains consisting of physical, professional, relational, emotional, psychological and spiritual (Butler, Mercer, McClain-Meeder, Horne, & Dudley, 2019). This directly coincides with various models pertaining to the dimensions of wellness. We must always consider the whole person and all aspects of their lives in successful coaching and counseling collaborative relationships. The COVID-19 outbreak has severely impacted our physical and mental health. It’s hard to ignore the strain on our relationships, financial hardships, and the disruptions in our daily lives due to this public health emergency. The dimensions of self-care are interrelated and it’s difficult to achieve a healthy balance between these dynamic elements.
The emotional distress we are experiencing has particularly taken its toll on our psychological well-being. Anxiety and depression have increased during the pandemic, with approximately 4 in 10 adults reporting these symptoms. This has been higher in women than men, and younger adults have reported these symptoms more often than older adults (Panchal, Kamal, Cox & Garfield, 2021). Individuals with pre-existing psychological issues are especially vulnerable to negative health outcomes stemming from the pandemic (Cullen, Gulati, & Kelly, 2020).
Self-Care and Health Care Providers
Many health care providers have been called upon to provide medical care, in addition to psychosocial support to their patients during the pandemic (Pfefferbaum & North, 2020). Ironically, health care providers themselves have been at elevated risk for psychological distress over this prolonged period. The increasing need for healthcare providers has exacerbated the already existing problem of burnout in these professions. Mental health professionals have been in high demand, leading to an abrupt shift from delivering these services in primary care settings to that of telemedicine (Pfefferbaum & North, 2020). It has become a distinct challenge to provide effective care for all types of psychological disorders in a remote format (Abramson, 2021).
In order to cope with chronic stress, it’s imperative for wellness coaches, counselors and psychologists to apply their own self-care measures. Self-care is considered to be a clinical and ethical component in mental health professions to prevent burnout and other negative health consequences (Posluns & Gall, 2020). Self-care is also essential for modeling positive emotions and behaviors for patients and utilizing creative thinking in psychotherapy (Abramson, 2021).
There are a number of key strategies for mental health practitioners to integrate self-care into their life and work (Abramson, 2021; Posluns & Gall, 2020).
- Heighten Self-Awareness – understand the parameters of the profession, know the risks and signs of burnout, monitor stress levels, and incorporate mindfulness and meditation.
- Maintain Life-Work Balance – establish work boundaries, set realistic goals, incorporate leisure time, engage in hobbies and interests, and use effective time-management skills.
- Increase Flexibility – ease up on rigid schedules and expectations, utilize emotional regulation techniques, and practice more self-compassion.
- Seek Social Support – take advantage of both personal support and professional support systems, including clinical supervision.
The proverb “physician, heal thyself” has taken on additional significance during the pandemic. Everyone has been exposed to the deleterious effects of chronic stress, particularly those dedicated to helping others as their highest priority.
The following quote captures the essence of balancing professional demands with self-care practices:
“Self-care is giving the world the best of you, instead of what’s left of you.” — Katie Reed, Blogger
Abramson, A. (2021, April-May). The ethical imperative of self-care. Monitor on Psychology, 47-53.
Butler, L.D., Mercer, K.A., McClain, K., Horne, D.M., & Dudley, M. (2019). Six domains of self-care: Attending to the whole person. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 29 (1). Retrieved from: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10911359.2018.1482483?scroll=top&needAccess=true
Cullen, W., Gulati, G., & Kelly, B.D. (2020). Mental health in the COVID-19 pandemic. QJM: An International Journal of Medicine, 13(5), 311-312). Retrieved from: https://academic.oup.com/qjmed/article/113/5/311/5813733?login=true
Panchal, N., Kamal, R., Cox, C. & Garfield, R. (2021). The implications of COVID-19 for mental and substance use. Retrieved from: https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/issue-brief/the-implications-of-covid-19-for-mental-health-and-substance-use/
Pfefferbaum. B, & North, C.S. (2020). Mental health and the covid-19 pandemic. The New England Journal of Medicine, 383, 510-512. Retrieved from: https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp2008017
Posluns, K., & Gall, T.L (2020). Dear mental health practitioners, take care of yourselves: A literature review on self-care. International Journal for the Advancement of Counseling, 42, 1-20. Retrieved from: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10447-019-09382-w
WHO Consolidated Guideline on Self-Care Interventions for Health: Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2019. ANNEX 3, Scoping Review: WHO Self-Care Definitions. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK544155/