Dr. Arlene Vélez-Galán, mental health specialist and director of the Interdisciplinary Baccalaureate Program at Albizu University – San Juan Campus


e say to each other all the time, “bye-bye, take care of yourself”, “stay safe”, “take good care of yourself”. But we don’t always think about what it means to take care of ourselves as a person. In essence, taking care of oneself is an instinct that we human beings have, as do all living beings. Subconsciously, we take care of ourselves in order to preserve life. Nowadays, however, we speak of self-care as a broader concept in which we try to adopt practices and lifestyles that help to preserve our health and physical integrity, as well as our emotional well-being and mental health. Dr. Arlene Vélez-Galán, a mental health specialist and director of the Interdisciplinary Baccalaureate Program at Albizu University, explains what self-care consists of and why it is particularly important for women to make it a part of their way of life.

What does self-care mean?

Self-care is taking care of oneself to achieve wellness and feel fulfilled. If we imagine for a moment that we are trees, the wellness aspects would be the roots that nourish us. There are 6 roots of wellness that we must cultivate through self-care. These are intellectual health, social health, emotional health, financial health, physical health, and spiritual health. Practicing self-care is paying attention to all aspects that contribute to our well-being. It is being able to identify what is out of balance and what we can do to regain that balance. It is important to keep in mind that what brings wellness to one person does not necessarily bring wellness to another. Therefore, we must see self-care as personal management, and not as a “one size fits all” solution.

Why is adopting a self-care plan so important for women?

Adopting a self-care plan is important for women to make room for themselves. Women juggle multiple roles and responsibilities. For many women who are either single mothers or heads of their households, finding time for themselves can be difficult, which can lead to a sense of burnout and exhaustion. Proactively assuming a self-care plan instead of doing it reactively helps towards being prepared to face challenging moments and coping efficiently with the naturally occurring stressors of day-to-day life.

How does taking care of ourselves in a holistic, emotional sense help manage affective disorders?

Taking care of ourselves holistically, paying attention to every aspect of our well-being helps us identify the signs that may indicate our emotional health is compromised. For instance, for those suffering from anxiety, self-care can detect early signs that stress is no longer being productive. It allows us to help manage uncomfortable symptoms and stay in the present. Self-care is identifying what our limits are and learning to notice when our emotions are difficult to regulate.

How do you begin to establish a self-care plan?

A simple exercise we can do to set up a self-care plan is to make a checklist or inventory of what helps us in a time of crisis. If we remember the six roots of wellness, we will notice what activities help us nurture each root and see which of these roots we are not devoting as much time to. For example, if our social health is being affected by the tasks of daily living and work, we can find time to intentionally connect with those people who help us feel better.

What simple self-care techniques can we put into practice right away?

Sometimes we think that self-care requires elaborate, costly plans such as going to a spa or paying for a massage. The reality is that self-care does not require spending a lot of money. A basic form of self-care is taking a hot bath. So is talking to someone you trust, whether it is a family member, a friend, or a health professional. Walking outdoors, exercising, writing in a journal, connecting with religion or spirituality, either through prayer or meditation. If the house is a mess, it also helps to take some time to organize and create spaces that feel pleasant.

It is also extremely important to be self-compassionate and practice flexibility because sometimes self-care involves letting ourselves feel difficult emotions. Our emotions are not just there to be repressed, they need to be observed and honored. We are to understand why we are reacting in a certain way.

If you mapped out a self-care practice and did not follow through, it is good to pause and reflect on what kept you from completing it. Was it due to lack of motivation, interest, energy? Maybe someone else recommended it, but it is not working for you. The great thing about self-care activities is that they do not have to be a fixed prescription, they are activities that we can mold to our liking. No time to meditate for 30 minutes? Then meditate for just a minute or two. Close your eyes, connect with yourself, smile, and you will see how it is instantly reflected in your mood.

In other words, instead of thinking that we do not have time to ourselves, self-care should be seen as time invested in becoming more effective in managing time and emotions. Why?

We have all felt at some point that we do not have time to ourselves, but that has a great deal to do with how we interpret self-care. Simple self-care recommendations are activities that require little time. And sometimes it happens that for fear of saying no to people around us, we end up committing our time and sacrificing important aspects of our well-being. Let us remember that saying “no” is a complete sentence. It is our right as human beings to seek our balance and to be able to discern what brings us good and what does not.

Self-care should be an integral part of our daily lives. It is advisable to have a self-care plan that includes concrete actions to take in case of a crisis or difficult event in our lives. It will help us manage our time and control our emotions so they will not control us. It is also important to recognize when to seek professional help. It may be that the self-care activities we are practicing are not working and that additional support is needed to manage the stressors making us tense.

As noted at the beginning, taking care of ourselves comes from instinct, from human nature. But the today’s reality makes it necessary for us to relearn how to take care of ourselves, and to make a commitment to taking care of ourselves to lead a more productive and fulfilling life.


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