What is Self-Care?

self-care planning Sep 15, 2021
What is Self-Care?

Opinions vary when it comes to defining self-care. That’s because self-care is deeply personal. What it is to you may not be true for someone else.

Simply put, self-care is everything you do to support your well-being. But it’s more than that. This article explores the origins of self-care, along with several proposed definitions of the growing health care movement.

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A Universal Definition of Self-Care

A universal definition of self-care doesn’t exist.

LivingUpp defines self-care as a preventive health strategy involving the actions and behaviors that improve, restore, or maintain good health. It includes preventive self-care strategies, as well as the self-management of existing health conditions. 

While there isn’t a universally accepted definition of self-care at this time, most proposed definitions do share a few common characteristics.

10 Key Characteristics of Self-Care

Here are 10 key characteristics that most self-care strategies share:

  1. Self-Care is positive: Self-care has a positive effect on your health.
  2. Self-care is personal: Self-care can be personalized to target your specific needs and priorities.
  3. Self-Care is Multidimensional: The status of your health is determined by the sum of your well-being in each dimension of your life.
  4. Self-Care is Collaborative: Self-care isn’t a solo gig. It’s a collaborative effort that not only impacts your life, but in many cases also impacts the lives of those around you.
  5. Self-Care is a Process: Self-care isn’t a one-and-done activity. It’s a process. It takes time to identify which self-care strategies are effective and which ones are not.
  6. Self-Care May or May Not Be Radical: For some people, self-care is carefully orchestrated and structured. For others it’s more subtle. Self-care doesn’t have to be radical to support your health.
  7. Self-Care Builds Trust: The overarching goal of self-care is to reconnect you with your intuition. When you trust yourself to recognize what you need, you can choose specific self-care strategies that align with those needs.
  8. Self-Care Fosters Self-Confidence: People who practice self-care regularly are more confident in their abilities to self-manage their health.
  9. Self-Care is Flexible: Self-care isn’t rigid. There are no rules for when, where, and how you practice it. Self-care is flexible and can be easily integrated into any lifestyle, circumstances, or environments.
  10. Self-Care is Empowering: Self-care is an active endeavor. Unlike traditional health care, which has historically been a passive experience, self-care requires action.

A Brief History of Self-Care Definitions

While the notion of self-care has been around for decades, modern concepts of self-care began to take shape in the 1980’s.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), self-care is “the most dominant form of primary care in both developed and in developing countries.” By some estimates, 65% to 85% of all health-related care is performed by individuals, without professionalized care.

Here's a compiled list of some of the most significant definitions for self-care since 1983: 

World Health Organization, 1983

“Self-care in health refers to the activities individuals, families and communities undertake with the intention of enhancing health, preventing disease, limiting illness, and restoring health. These activities are derived from knowledge and skills from the pool of both professional and lay experience. They are undertaken by lay people on their own behalf, either separately or in participative collaboration with professionals.”

The Role of the Pharmacist in Self-Care and Self-Medication, 1998

“Self-care is what people do for themselves to establish and maintain health, and to prevent and deal with illness. It is a broad concept encompassing hygiene (general and personal); nutrition (type and quality of food eaten); lifestyle (sporting activities, leisure etc.); environmental factors (living conditions, social habits, etc.); socioeconomic factors (income level, cultural beliefs, etc.); self-medication.”

World Health Organization, SEARO, 2009

“Self-care is a deliberate action that individuals, family members and the community should engage in to maintain good health. Self-care is the ability of individuals, families and communities to promote health, prevent disease, and maintain health and to cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a health-care provider.”

Mosby’s Medical Dictionary, 8th Ed., 2008

“The personal and medical care performed by the patient, usually in collaboration with and after instruction by a health care professional.”

Role of community pharmacists in patients’ self-care and self-medication, 2015

“Fundamentally, the concept “self-care” puts responsibility on individuals for their own health and well-being. Many authors have described what constitutes self-care, and whilst no universally agreed definition exists, it is clear that self-care is seen as a broad concept that encompasses activities to establish and maintain health, through to preventing ill health.”

Global Access Partners, Australia, 2015

“The activities people undertake to stay fit and maintain good physical and mental health, prevent illness and accidents and avoid unnecessary risks. It includes self-medication for minor ailments and chronic conditions and actions taken to recover after acute illness or discharge from hospital. Responsible self care requires good health literacy and communication with health professionals including pharmacists and GPs.”

Department of Health, UK, 2016

“The actions individuals take for themselves, their children, their families and others to stay fit and maintain good physical and mental health; meet social and psychological needs; prevent illness or accidents; care for minor ailments and longer term conditions; and maintain health and wellbeing after an acute illness or discharge form hospital.”

While these definitions do address many characteristics of self-care, they still don't fully capture the scope of its potential. 

Self-Care: An Evolving Movement

Self-care is an evolving movement. As a registered dietitian with more than two decades of experience in the health care industry, I’ve watched in earnest as the interest in self-care has grown. More people are seeing the value of investing time, money, and energy into self-care. 

It’s clear that self-care is one of the most effective forms of preventive health care around the globe. That’s because it's a practical, affordable, and effective tool that you can use daily to design and redesign a healthy lifestyle.

At its core, self-care is a preventive health strategy involving actions and behaviors that improve, restore, or maintain good health.

LivingUpp's 8-dimensional self-care framework helps widen the lens on self-care. By looking at each of the eight key areas of your life as individual parts, you'll begin to see a clearer picture of your well-being as a whole. And as you carefully examine your day-to-day habits within each of these areas, you'll learn how to identify your needs and priorities more easily.

That's where your self-care work begins.

The 8 Dimensions of Self-Care Framework

LivingUpp's 8 Dimensions of Self-Care framework makes it easy to identify and prioritize the areas of your life that need attention. The framework was designed to help you invest your time, energy, and other resources effectively and efficiently.

Here’s a quick overview of the 8 Dimensions of Self-Care:

Hint: The first letter of each dimension forms the acronym "self-care" to help you remember them.

A Shift from Passive Recipients to Active Participants

The medical community has also recognized self-care as engagement tool. Patient-centered care and patient-focused care have in many ways replaced the medical home. This shift in focus has also shifted more responsibility to patients.

The truth is, most people are passive recipients when it comes to health care. They become ill. They seek treatment from a health care provider. They recover. And they go on with their lives until they fall ill again.

This is the medical loop that so many people get stuck in.

The problem is passive people usually don’t make the lifestyle changes necessary to avoid similar situations in the future. Instead, they return to the same behaviors that led to them to fall ill in the first place. And then they return to their providers for treatment.

And the cycle continues.

Taking an active role in your health means taking the rightful role as the director of your health.

Self-Care is Health Care

Self-care isn’t a replacement for health care. It is health care.

The intent of self-care isn't to eliminate the need for professionalized healthcare. Even the healthiest people require medical care from time to time. The real goal of self-care is to carefully curate a collection of self-care strategies that support your well-being—so you can reduce your dependency on the health care system.

After all, health care providers are meant to be consultants. Their role is to offer guidance and provide you with recommendations for treatments. Your role is to decide which treatment option is right for you.

Self-care is changing the way health care is viewed and delivered. As more people take their rightful place as the directors of their health care journey, self-care will continue to evolve and be redefined over time.

The only definition of self-care that really matters is the one you choose for yourself.

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Information on this website should not be interpreted as providing or replacing medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. All content is intended for adults over the age of 18. 

*LivingUpp is a participant in affiliate programs, which means we may earn a small commission from qualifying purchases on links to Amazon and other sites at no additional cost to you.