Healthy Habits

The Hierarchy of Self-Care

It’s healthy and even necessary to engage in regular self-care activities, but it can be confusing to identify what self-care truly encompasses. In this article, we explore what self-care is, what it isn’t, and how to properly rank self-care activities.

Imagine you are on an airplane and the flight attendant announces oxygen masks are available due to low oxygen supply but instructs you to “put your oxygen mask on first” before helping others. This is an important rule because you can’t help anyone else with their mask if you run out of oxygen yourself.

This principle holds true in almost every health-promoting aspect of life, including self-care. If personal health isn’t preserved or improved, it is diminished. It becomes increasingly more difficult to support others if we are not flourishing ourselves.

What is Self-Care?

Self-care is defined as the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one’s own health (Oxford Languages). This means self-care is not a selfish act but an ongoing behavior essential for personal well-being.

The Hierarchy

Ranking self-care actions can help identify what is most important to help preserve your personal health. According to Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs,” once your basic and psychological needs are given adequate attention, your self-fulfillment needs can then be addressed.

  • Basic Self-Care Needs: Basic life-supporting needs are foundational. These include access to water, food, shelter, clothing, financial and physical security, and access to healthcare resources. In self-care practices, this translates to scheduling preventive doctor visits, keeping up with prescribed medications, prioritizing adequate hydration, stocking the fridge with healthy foods, and carving out enough time for sleep.
  • Psychological Self-Care Needs: The next tier in the hierarchy encompasses psychological needs. These include friendships, family connections, mental health, and self-esteem. To put this into action, find ways to focus on the quality of relationships when connecting with others. A bubble-bath could fall into this tier if it is working to support your mental health. Journaling, meditation, and other forms of self-reflecting can also support self-esteem. Consider balancing time alone and time socializing as acts of self-care that each have their place to fulfill personal needs.
  • Self-Fulfillment Self-Care Needs: Once basic and psychological needs are met, self-fulfillment can be addressed. Self-care practices that fall within this category include learning a new skill, pursuing non-foundational goals, and finding ways to realize fulfillment. This can look different for each person but often involves pushing comfort levels and making a difference to those in need.

Get creative in choosing ways to build a healthy foundation of self-care practices that lead to your own self-fulfillment.

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