Another of those self-‘s! One that we ignore at our peril. It is, for many, easier to focus on caring for others than for ourselves. However, in order to maintain that ability to look after others, either as a paid carer or as a friend, partner, relative, it is essential to put self-care at the top of our list. If not, we could well soon be running on empty; finding ourselves in a position of being unable to help others, instead becoming the person in need of external support. We have hit the wall running. We have burned out.


The psychologist Abraham Maslow developed, and over the years evolved his hierarchy of need. There will always be the basics, the essential elements requiring self-care that fit in with the bottom layer of Maslow’s triangle, our biological and physiological needs. The essentials for life and living that so many of us take for granted on a daily basis – having access to air, food, water, warmth, sleep – and also sex. Having said that, there are celibate communities who seemingly exist without sexual relationships. I chose my words carefully there! These basic needs remain to be consistently met as we theoretically move up, around and through the triangle. It isn’t a case of a sequential progression, rather a basic model representing our layers of need as we move through life taking both positive and negative steps. Over the years, Maslow developed his original model, acknowledging the more complex motivation of humans to achieve certain needs, whilst basic needs take precedence over others.

I am sure that we can all think of people, or groups of people, who have been in the news for being forced to survive despite being deprived of food, shelter, warmth. I certainly have worked with clients who, usually as children, had been forced to endure such dreadful, inhumane conditions and the stories they recounted made me realise just how resilient and brave they were to come through such experiences. Stories of being locked in sheds without a coat, a blanket, food, even in winter. For one such client, his self-care involved going through the bin to grab scrapings from his parents’ plates and snuggling up in the shed with the dog – a mutual feeling of support and warmth as the dog also suffered at the hands of the parents. Any other forms of self-care didn’t come into play as the main concern was simply to exist.

As we move upwards in Maslow’s triangle, there will be certain areas in which we consider that our needs are not consistently met.  Maybe gaps that we feel exist in our personal safety leading us to have fears and concerns about our security; friendship, relationship issues may be an area requiring some input by ourselves especially if we have feelings of isolation, loneliness; is our esteem as positive as it might be? I wonder how many of us aim to reach the peak of the triangle, becoming everything that we are capable of becoming? How many of us are aware of just what we are, in fact, capable of achieving, of doing, of being. Yes, be encouraged by others, but primarily be able to depend on yourself and you could well be surprised, at just what you are capable of achieving through self-support, self-care backing up a can-do attitude. If you don’t try, you will never know. Nurture, care for yourself through your endeavours always remembering that there is no such thing as failure, it is simply an understanding of you needing to find another way to achieve.


Our needs vary throughout life dependent on such factors as our location, relationships, health and well-being. Therefore, what we need to put into place by way of self-care also varies.

When I had my breakdown, on a bad day my self-caring ranged from getting out of bed in the morning to grabbing whatever was to hand to stop the hunger pangs. That was all that I could manage. If it didn’t click into place, then I didn’t even manage to get out from under the duvet apart from going to the toilet and feeding my cats. No matter what, I always managed that. OK, the food might end up vaguely in the region of the bowl, as I poured it out, but the cats became very effective vaccumers of dried cat biscuits. This food formed a mini mountain, sufficient to last the whole day, or possibly two and their water a small lake, but their needs were catered for.

On a slightly better day, I might actually run my fingers through my hair.

A better day still and I managed a shower and on with my ‘slob frock’. This was a loose dress that allowed me to get away with wearing nothing else, though occasionally my nightie went back on underneath – just in case I needed to beat a hasty retreat to the duvet.

An ok-ish day would see hair brushed and sometimes washed too. How good that felt, but not good enough to enable it to become a consistent part of my self-care regime.

 A good day, well, I had to brave the outside world and get some food in – first and foremost was food for the cats, then whatever I happened to grab that managed to get through the haze of my mind as something that would feed me, if not actually nourish me. That was some way down the road to recovery! I guess that these days, I could have made use of online shopping?

It was very difficult to consider my need for security, for social needs, for positive esteem as I just knew that it was essential to focus on my basic survival needs; my energy was taken up by simply ‘being’. The other self’s – self-respect, self-confidence, self-esteem – went by the board.


When the playing field isn’t being put out of kilter by such as mental health issues, what areas are covered by our self-caring? We are able to focus on what we actually need, not what we want. We may want a new handbag, but usually don’t actually need it. I have to admit that if I am tempted, as when going round a crafting place or a garden centre, I ask myself that question – do I NEED it. If the response is ‘no, but I want it’ – I am usually able to walk on by, though not always I have to admit!

As with everyone else, my need for self-care will still vary from day to day. I endeavour to nourish and encourage myself as a whole person by focusing on a wide range of self-care activities.

The self-care wheel (produced by the Olga Phoenix Project) is a useful tool to help you to take a broad, balanced approach to self-care. You can obtain a blank copy of the wheel to fill in areas of self-care on which you feel you need to work. Alternatively, there is a tick list available for you to use as a reflective tool – this being the basis on which the wheel was formed. It really is a worthwhile exercise to check these out and get a feeling for what will best support you and your efforts to be that person who is healthy, happy and achieving across the whole spectrum of your ‘self’. It is always easier to begin a plan with some ideas rather than an empty mind and an empty piece of paper which can suddenly feel the size of a field of snow! The wheel and the list contain ideas which I frequently suggest to clients during therapy.


The answer to that is day to day, hour to hour. Just as we know that healthy eating and taking exercise are essential to our well-being, so too is self-care throughout all aspects of life and living. This applies if you are fit and healthy both physically or mentally, but even more so if you have problems with your mental health. By learning to listen to your body and reacting to any negative changes rather than either keeping your fingers crossed that you will improve or accepting a decline in your mental health, will serve you well. It is very much a case of ‘Don’t put off ‘til tomorrow what you can do today’ as far as self-caring is concerned. It certainly isn’t being selfish and remember, it’s your body, your mind, your life and you are the one with ultimate responsibility for it! It is likely to take some time before you see an on-going improvement, so don’t give up, but remember that old saying that my mum used to say to me – ‘If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.’ What better job than maintaining a happy and healthy you?

Be aware of any triggers that you know affect you negatively – maybe things that certain people may say that you allow to ‘get to you’; choose not to dwell on them, ruminate on them, allowing them to go round and round in your head, rather put into action your self-care plan.

Some people like to keep a journal – include a mood aspect for this. As with the wheel, you can find these mood diaries  online – this is a link to a basic format. Again, respond through use of self-care rather than track a deteriorating mood. Respond by taking action, or seeking support if you are concerned.

Remember to include some R&R in your days – through listening to music; getting out into nature rather than traipsing round shops which fosters wants rather than needs; taking time out for a hobby or activity that you find relaxing; spending time with a pet; practicing Mindfulness, meditation or listening to one of my guided visualisations. Check out your local Colleges to see if they have a Beauty Therapy Department which is on the look-out for clients. I cannot afford salon prices, but I can afford to go along for a massage at my local college – and have been doing so for over 25 years. They must be doing something right.

Eat well, take exercise. This doesn’t have to be strenuous, but something that will fit in with your day and can be built on over time.

Give yourself a boost by changing your lipstick, aftershave, shower gel. It doesn’t have to be an expensive makeover.

Establish a positive pattern of sleeping, accepting that many of us wake in the night or may take a little time to settle into sleep. Endeavour not to focus on these negative aspects of your sleep pattern.

Socialise with friends or family, or join a new group to expand your circle of friends, maybe through a shared interest. Why not set up a group in your home – a knit and natter or book group maybe? Remember it’s good to talk about feelings and things rather than about people, especially if this is in a negative way as that tends to suck you down with the negativity – and don’t forget, you rarely know the paddling that is going on under someone else’s water.

Remember, it is not likely to be a quick fix, but it will certainly be a very worthwhile one. So check that list, turn that wheel and set into motion a self-care plan for yourself. It will serve you well emotionally, mentally, and physically, especially as all aspects of ourselves are inextricably linked and affect each other.  If you are having a ‘bad time’, maybe a bereavement, a relationship break-up, be gentle with yourself, be kind to yourself, care for yourself by listening in to what your body is telling you it needs. Be grateful for what you have – and acknowledge this. I begin and end each day with expressions of gratitude as a sandwich of positivity. It is an established part of my self-care routine. So much better for us to focus on this than to allow negative comments and their associated feelings to fester and grow. No way to begin or end any day.

If I can help you to devise a self-care program, please get in touch – two heads are often better than one.


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Thanks for that. I really need to look after myself better - aware am slipping lower down my own list of priorities.

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