Emotional Self-Care: Importance, Benefits, Practices
THC Editorial Team January 15, 2022
- What Is Self-Care?
- What Is Emotional Self-care?
- Why Emotional Self-Care Is Important
- The Benefits of Emotional Self-Care
- Emotional Self-Care Practices
- Further Tips
- Summary/Key Takeaways
Taking care of oneself improves health and well-being and includes many elements. One aspect of self-care that many people overlook is emotional self-care. Those who are easily stressed, frustrated, or burned out, whether in their interactions with others or in their careers, can take steps to improve their emotional health and overall quality of life through emotional self-care.
What Is Self-Care?
Self-care is, in essence, attending to ourselves. It is taking time to relax or do things we enjoy, which helps us feel better physically, mentally, and emotionally. Examples of self-care actions are exercise, meditation, rest, spiritual practices, and treating oneself to regular bubble baths, spa days, or other gifts. These activities can help us be healthier, reduce stress, and feel good about ourselves.
Notably, with self-care, the individual is both the one acting and the one acted upon, unlike other forms of care, like dependent care, in which the person acting and the person acted upon are different, and nursing care, in which the person acting does so on another’s behalf (the patient, patient’s family, or hospital policy, for instance).1
From a scientific perspective, self-care seeks to “regulate human functioning and human development within norms compatible with life, health, and well-being.”1 The self-care process first involves investigating and formulating one’s self-care requisites, or whatever the person requires to achieve norms of health and well-being. Then they must decide what to do to enact these requirements, and finally, they must perform actions or cease activity to bring about the desired effect.1 For instance, someone who often feels tired throughout the day may investigate and find that they need more and/or better-quality sleep. They may then decide to go to bed earlier and take a break from technology for at least an hour before bed. The final step would then be to enact the change in their nightly routine.
People often think of self-care activities as focusing on physical and mental well-being. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), however, eight dimensions should be addressed in self-care: physical, intellectual, spiritual, social, occupational, financial, environmental, and emotional.2 This article will focus on emotional self-care.
What Is Emotional Self-care?
Spending time identifying and acknowledging your feelings, thoughts, and behaviors and finding healthy ways to express these emotions can be considered emotional self-care. It encompasses any actions you take to cope with stress, express emotions, and foster positive feelings about life.3 Many people think that they know their mood at any given moment, but pent-up, unresolved emotions can dramatically impact how they feel, their choices, and their relationships with others.
Because people generally don’t want to dwell on negative emotions, they frequently push them aside to be dealt with at another time or ignored altogether. Those who tend to do this may find that they’re not as fulfilled overall as they would like to be and may have difficulty understanding why.
Why Emotional Self-Care Is Important
Taking care of your emotional well-being allows you to feel better about yourself and more confident when handling unexpected challenges and relationship hurdles. It may promote resilience and the ability to cope with change and life’s inevitable challenges.
If someone doesn’t take adequate care of their emotional health, they could face physical, mental, and social consequences. They may become easily overwhelmed, increasingly frustrated when things don’t go as planned, and unable to cope with daily challenges. Researchers at Kent University found a correlation between emotions and health.4 They found that those who dwell on negative feelings are more likely to have physical and mental complaints, while those with a more positive outlook are healthier overall and have longer lifespans.
Additional studies show that people’s bodies may suffer if they don’t tend to their emotional health. Long-term emotional conflict due to negative or unresolved feelings can increase inflammation.5 Long-term inflammation is linked to many health conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, metabolic disorders, certain types of cancer, and damage to the brain and other organs.6
Emotional self-care can help people who are going through a period of change. For example, a 2008 study conducted by researchers at the University of Stirling in Scotland found that people with cancer benefit significantly from emotional self-care. A cancer diagnosis can mean a great deal of change for a person—their everyday lives are upended in the treatment process, and they endure massive changes to their body and health. The researchers found that emotional self-care measures helped the participants find acceptance, reconstruct their identities, maintain normalcy, and preserve their sense of self.7
The Benefits of Emotional Self-Care
In addition to better physical health and longevity, taking care of one’s emotional well-being can improve one’s life in many more ways.
Increased Resilience and Balance
Those who take care of their emotional health find that they are more resilient, or able to overcome adverse experiences and cope with the natural challenges of their lives and careers.8 Additionally, emotional self-care can help people find internal and external life balance. Caring for all aspects of one’s health holistically creates balance within the mind and body. Practicing emotional self-care helps balance responsibilities and stressors—like work, family, and relationships—and one’s own needs. This is especially important for those who work in fields that often require a heavy emotional investment, like the caring professions.9
A 2017 study conducted by researchers from the Albert Einstein Hospital of São Paulo, Brazil, measured stress, self-esteem, well-being, and cortisol levels of 93 health professionals, randomized into four groups, with one being a control group with no intervention. Group members completed related questionnaires and had cortisol samples taken before the intervention, at 15 and 30 days after the intervention, and again at a 30-day follow-up. The groups that received interventions noted lower stress, increased life satisfaction, higher self-esteem, and reduced cortisol levels.10
Once someone can identify, accept, and handle their emotions successfully, their self-esteem increases. They may be better able to identify their desires as they develop vision and purpose in life. This can lead them to take more positive actions to further their personal development.
Emotional self-care inherently comes from a place of self-compassion and understanding. It promotes authenticity because it enhances the connection to the human experience and increases self-awareness.11 Those who practice healthier ways of handling their feelings are better able to express themselves and behave in a manner consistent with who they truly are and where they want to be in life.
Many people rely on their partners for emotional support. Although this is an important function of relationships, constant reliance on one’s partner, or one partner relying more on the other than vice versa, can lead to strain. When both partners engage in emotional self-care, they keep in tune with and fulfill their own needs. When partners can preserve their sense of self-worth, fulfillment, and happiness independent of their relationship, they can come together and enjoy one another in a healthy, fulfilling manner without heightened pressure.12 Additionally, being attuned to one’s feelings leads to improved communication skills, which allows the development of more profound and meaningful bonds with others.
Reduced Depression Symptoms
Emotional self-care can help to reduce depression. In a 2017 study, researchers asked 380 cancer patients in an Iranian hospital to fill out questionnaires to determine their depression symptoms and evaluate their self-care routines. The study showed that high levels of emotional self-care, particularly practices that focused on self-efficacy, were associated with fewer symptoms of depression.13
Emotional Self-Care Practices
Four principal aspects of practicing emotional self-care involve mindfulness and acceptance, healthy boundaries, positive self-talk, and rest. Following are guidelines for incorporating these practices into your life.
Practice Mindfulness and Acceptance
Humans experience a wide range of emotions. It is essential to understand that your feelings are valid—there is no need to avoid or deny them—and that self-judgment is not helpful or productive. Practicing self-acceptance enables you to be present, have patience as you learn and grow, and accept all of your emotions. Expecting to maintain only positive emotions all the time is unsustainable; it’s more beneficial to experience both positive and negative emotions as long as you acknowledge them and expresses them in healthy ways.14,15
Set and Maintain Healthy Boundaries
Emotional self-care involves prioritizing your needs and what is important to you. Learning to say no to activities that aren’t in your best interest or that may interfere with necessary alone time is a form of emotional self-care. It can be helpful to take some time to reflect on existing boundaries and boundaries that need to be set and communicate these when the situation warrants. Once limits are set, it is important to consistently maintain them, even when difficult or uncomfortable.16 The book Set Boundaries, Find Peace by Nedra Glover Tawwab is a helpful tool to help you establish and enforce boundaries in your life.
Engage in Positive Self-Talk
We cannot control how others speak to and about us, but we can control how we speak with and listen to ourselves. Too often, when dealing with a difficult circumstance, we resort to self-criticism and degradation. Learning to speak with yourself in healthy and positive ways, as you would to someone you care deeply about, is an important aspect of emotional self-care. Positive self-talk is associated with higher self-esteem,17 better academic performance,18 and athleticism.19
It’s not healthy to consistently function at a fast pace all day; everyone needs periodic breaks to unwind and rest. Take the time to pause when necessary. A break can come in the form of a nap or other state of relaxation, or it may involve doing absolutely nothing for a few minutes. Taking a break from social media can help you reduce distractions, clear your head, and focus on other things that require attention.
Don’t be afraid to think outside the box regarding emotional self-care. There is no right or wrong approach. The important thing is creating a routine that works for you—one person’s emotional self-care may not look like another’s. Here are a few more tips to help begin incorporating emotional self-care into your daily life:
- Schedule your emotional self-care into your daily routines.
- Say “yes” to your needs and new experiences.
- Practice gratitude and forgiveness for yourself and others.
- Start journaling as a way to express your thoughts and emotions.
- Find a hobby and enjoyable activities that unleash your creativity.
- Engage in overall self-care activities, like frequent exercise, good sleep habits, meditation, and mindfulness.
- Practice self- and emotional regulation. Consider your actions and responses carefully; don’t react in a fit of emotion. Allow yourself to feel the emotion, and consider how best to respond.
Above all, if you have difficulty dealing with your emotions, ask for help. It is okay to feel vulnerable. This could mean making a coffee date with a trusted friend, seeking advice from a family member, or scheduling an appointment with a counselor or therapist.
Maintaining emotional self-care doesn’t mean being or projecting happiness all the time. Emotional wellness means taking the good with the bad and accepting one’s emotions regardless of what they entail. Those who practice emotional self-care regularly tend to better manage their emotions and are more resilient in change. Their relationships improve because they have a better connection with those around them. Furthermore, research shows that practicing emotional self-care can improve physical health outcomes. Learning how to cultivate emotional intelligence and setting aside time for activities that promote joy enhances the quality of life. Be sure to take the time necessary to identify, accept, and manage emotions in healthy, beneficial ways.