Happy individual looking at a sign which reads "making a lasting self-care promise" as if it's something they are going to do moving forward.

Good intentions falling short

It’s International Self-Care Day on July 24th. It’s a play on the date 24/7 because self-care needs to be 24/7. It’s now celebrated internationally and this year’s theme is #self-care promise

According to a recent survey from the UK, 84% of the UK population feel there should be a greater focus on self-care.  Across the Atlantic in the US, a national survey revealed that “73% [of respondents] were more conscious of needing self-care”. It’s fair to say that most of us recognise the value of self-care but in truth, most of us struggle to put that into practice. 

Good intentions often don’t turn into action. And no matter how often we promise ourselves and even our loved ones that we’ll do more self-care, we fall short. This failure to follow through with self-care then leaves us feeling bad about ourselves. This makes it more difficult to prioritise self-care, gradually corroding confidence and self-worth.  In this blog, we talk about what self-care is, the seven pillars of self-care and how to make a lasting self-care promise. 

So what’s the issue? Why do you struggle with self-care? 

Michelle Riddalls, Chief Executive of PAGB, warned: “Our survey reveals an alarming lack of confidence and knowledge around self-care”. A recent report by Alexandra Baruffati revealed that only “…36% of people in the world are emotionally intelligent”. The situation isn’t much better when it comes to health literacy. For example, only 57% of people in England are considered health literate. 

These are sobering numbers and apply to people in all walks of life. You may be really good at your job but that doesn’t necessarily mean you know how to check-in with yourself about how you’re feeling. 

Remember that feelings are both emotions and sensations. You may struggle to recognise when you experience feelings like pain, fatigue, anxiety, stress etc. And even if you figure that out, do you know how to respond to your feelings and do the self-care that works? 

Being able to read your feelings and having the skills to respond to them is the essence of health and emotional literacy. How confident do you feel in reading and responding to your feelings and why does this matter for self-care and what is self-care? 

What is self-care?

Self-care is at the heart of your self-relationship. It’s about having the knowledge to care for your mental, physical and social health and well-being. It’s also about then having the skills and the ability to put that knowledge into practice. In short, it’s about how you treat yourself. The better you treat yourself, the better you feel whatever your context and the better you’re able to respond to what’s going on in your life.  

And what let’s you know what self-care you need? Well, it’s your feelings that let you know what you need. Hunger is information. Thirst is information. And so are other feelings like pain, fatigue, anxiety and stress. Even joy and pleasure are all important feelings because they give you information about what you need at that moment. 

When you’re able to do your self-care well, you feel sturdy, robust and agile. You also know that the only way you can sustainably care for your loved ones is if you yourself are well cared for. 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) definition of self-care. It reads "... self-care is the ability of individuals, families and communities to promote their own health, prevent disease, maintain health, and to cope with illness and disability".

How to do self-care?

Self-care skills are an essential component for good physical, mental and social health and well-being. Feelings – both physical sensations and emotions – inform and guide self-care. In order for you to be able to read and respond to your feelings, you need understanding and skills. Everyone can learn how to improve their skills and understanding.

Your first port of call is to learn your ABCs. The key technique in First Aid for Feelings is the ABC technique. 

The ABC stands for Awareness, Breath and body and Choice. It’s also worth making sure that you know your medical First Aid, where the ABC stands for Airways, Breathing and Circulation. Learning those basic skills is central to your self-care, which brings us back to health and emotional literacy. 

Although this terminology may sound intimidating or complex, like any other literacy, e.g. learning to read and write, it’s a case of starting, practising and then building on that. Gradually over time, you’ll become more comfortable and fluent and what was once difficult becomes effortless. 

It’s more helpful to be curious than critical, so go gently with yourself as you take stock of how confident you are about your own knowledge and skills when it comes to self-care. Compassion and curiosity are the key attributes to bring with yourself as you strengthen your health and emotional literacy. What you gain in addition to understanding and skills is self-awareness and agency. To know what you know and be able to do something about it. 

This focus on understanding and skills, as well as self-awareness and agency, aligns with two of the seven pillars of self-care which have been identified by the International Self-Care Foundation. Please note that we are using their graphic below and with their permission. 

The Seven Pillars of Self-Care, as defined by the International Self-Care Foundation

Can you make a lasting self-care promise? 

The invitation to you on this year’s International Self-Care Day is that you make a choice about your self-care. The hashtag is #self-care promise, so if that wording works for you, use it. If you don’t like the word promise, consider using the word ‘commitment’ or ‘aspiration’. Words matter, so find and use what feels most helpful to you. 

Be specific 

What does this promise look like in practice? What are you going to do? Are you going to do some training like the First Aid for Feelings course to help you upskill? Or maybe a medical First Aid course? Do you need help to strengthen your awareness of what’s going on for you? Would consultations help or accessing information through videos, books or podcasts? What about everyday stuff like your sleep, rest and play, does that need adjusting to provide you with what you need? 

Factor in drift 

This is an idea taken from sailing. It’s when you factor in that the boat is likely to drift a bit with the wind and the current so you gently adjust your course when needed. It’s unrealistic to expect that you’ll always keep to the same activities and rhythm in your day and your week. Of course, this means that your ability to do your self-care will be affected. If you treat your self-care promise as a rigid or a fixed thing, you’re likely to feel disheartened or demoralised when you realise that you’ve drifted off your self-care course. We all drift and sometimes it’s essential to allow for drift so we don’t risk the wind tearing our sails. 

Self-care is like meditation practice 

In meditation, the focus isn’t so much on ‘emptying your mind’, but to notice when your mind wanders. And when it does, to bring your focus back to your breath. It’s the same with self-care. The main thing is to notice when you’re drifting. This is the A in the ABC technique of First Aid for Feelings, it’s the Awareness. Once you’ve become Aware, you can then bring your attention to your Breath and body which then reconnects you with the more resourceful part of your brain. You can then make a more helpful Choice and get back on course. 

If you’d like to share your self-care promise, you can register it with on the www.selfcarepromise.org website, like I’ve done.

An image of Thor outlining their self-care promise, which reads: "I promise to continue to care for my self-relationship with courage, compassion, curiosity and commitment". #selfcarepromise International Self-Care Day, 24 July 2023


Connect with us on Facebook and Instagram. Sign up for the Helpful newsletter to get helpful tips and tools straight to your inbox.

Go gently, hold steady, stay the course.

All the best, Thor

Thor sitting in a chair writing and Denny the dog sitting in her suitcase bed looking out the window