4. Effective Self Care

4.1: Self Care

Learning to do the things on our own that are necessary to help us survive and thrive is the key to effective self care. Having adequate food, water, and a warm shelter with clean air to breath is necessary for basic survival, and having caring social connections and a sense of purpose can be necessary for thriving emotionally   

     Self care is not an official medical term, to my knowledge, and it can involve emotionally supportive strategies that may not also be recommended as an effective care recommendation. 

     Strategies that are both emotionally and physically healthy would be the better choice for daily habits for health maintenance and save the less physically healthy but emotionally satisfying treats for less frequent use, but that suggests we have the research or the personal experience to know which strategies are less physically healthy. 

     That is where information based on effective health care research can help make self care choices more likely to be beneficial and effective for supporting long term health. 

4.2: Effective Self Care

Effective self care, to continue, involves a combination of:

  • learning the general best practice or evidence based research recommendations; 
  • and learning to listen to one's own body for signals of pain or the positive feeling of energy and wellness. 

Effective self care strategies involve doing more of what seems to lead to the feelings of energy and wellness and less of what seems to lead to feeling pain.


Pain is a signal from the body that something is wrong so achieving and maintaining a pain free quality of life might also be helping to prevent chronic illness from developing or help maintain health better when a chronic illness or congenital birth issue is already present.  

4.3: Balance & Moderation

Balance and moderation are helpful to keep in mind with food and activities. Overloading a schedule can be a stress that can add to ill health. 


A university program has been established at Yale University to help students with learning balance and self compassion. Over achievers are common and are encouraged along the way as successes accrue however without balance, and basic self care of food and rest, eventually some crash is likely to occur in mental or physical health. 

  • Read more about Yale's Emotional Intelligence Program: [1]  

4.4: Seek Guidance from a Health Professional.

When a disease or a medical issue is already present before making any changes to treatments or significant changes to your self care or exercise routines, it is important to discuss symptoms or problems with your health or with a medical treatment with the health care team before discontinuing a medication or treatment plan or adding new medications or supplements. 

     Abruptly stopping a treatment or adding other treatments without checking for interactions can sometimes cause a negative reaction or medical emergency to occur. See a health professional or a few seeking more information on a diagnosis or symptom can be self protective or simply make it easier to discuss with a doctor.  

  • The advantages of promoting effective self care for  both the patient and for the health care system are discussed in this article which reviews research on the topic: Analysis: Effectiveness of strategies for informing, educating, and involving patients. [2

4.5: Effective Self Care Habits & the Stages of Change.

Forming new habits can be easier than trying to "break" old habits. Instead of fighting what is a long standing routine directly, trying to replace it with a new habit can help substitute a helpful activity while distracting from thoughts of the old. Boredom or strong emotions can make it more difficult to resist something.


Recognizing that you want to change, that the effort is something you actively choose to do, can be the best place to start according to the Stages of Change Theory. The stages of the theory include: 

  1. Precontemplation is considered the first stage of change, before there is any thought that change might be needed.
  2. Contemplation follows when there is recognition that change is needed but there is no plan to make it happen.
  3. Preparation/Determination, some thought, planning or preparation are now taking place in this stage of change.
  4. Action/Willpower, change is actively occurring with new habits being performed daily or regularly.
  5. Maintenance, the new habits are in place and maintaining them is no longer much effort in this stage.
  6. Relapse, but the new habits can still slip into the old habits if not careful. The Relapse stage is not inevitable but it is not uncommon either.

  • Read more about the Stages of Change Theory: [3

4.6: Resistance to Change - Blockers.

Hidden resistance can make the best intentions much more difficult with procrastination or worry or other blockers. If it seems like there is trouble getting started or sticking with a new habit for more than a couple days then it may help to think about what the blockers might be. Is there something about the old habit that was helpful in some way and could you find a substitute for that? 


Sometimes issues leftover from childhood can be an underlying problem that is hard to change or recognize, seeking help from friends or a therapist can help. Art therapy, free-form drawing or other form of art can sometimes free the worries or images buried in wordless childhood memories. 

  • The second point in this article discusses ways to look for hidden resistance to change and work around it: 5 Steps to Breaking Bad Habits. [4

4.7: Effective self care means listening to your body's signals.

Changing daily habits can be the key to better health. Our bodies change over the years as we age and our habits have to adapt with our body's physical capabilities, ideally before chronic illness has developed or excess weight is gained as metabolism slows each decade.


In normal health, with a healthy variety of nutritious foods available, the hunger and fullness signals will direct us to enough calories and nutrients and then lose interest in eating more. Pain is also a signal that something is wrong. The more we train ourselves and our children to ignore pain or medicate it away without considering why it is occurring the longer it takes to learn what is wrong, what is the underlying problem or problems causing the pain so that we can change our actions and prevent the pain. 


  • Disclaimer: Opinions are my own and the information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes. 
  • The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has a service for locating a nutrition counselor near you at the website eatright.org: (eatright.org/find-an-expert

Instinct & Policy; Resources

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Table of Contents

  • Chapters and Glossary section summaries & links, and a link for the book version of this site, Instinct & Policy: Effective Care and Best Practices for Promoting Health and Preventing Harassment and Discrimination.  

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4. Links & References

 

Links and Reference footnotes for

Chapter 4: Effective Self Care.  




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Glossary & Resources

  • Definitions of terms and the resources & therapy techniques from the various sections gathered in one location for convenience with some additional topics and material for background detail not covered elsewhere.