Why are we so bad at making the self-care message stick?

Put self-care into your web browser and you will not be able to see the end of the list of hits you get. I tried for “self-care strategies” and got 658 million hits! With so much information out there about how to look after ourselves it can be overwhelming. No wonder people close their ears.

If you need help, please call

  • Lifeline- 13 11 14
  • BeyondBlue - 1300 22 4636
  • Suicide Call Back Service - 1300 659 467
Suicide Call Back Service Online Chat

“I looked at that list you gave me.” There was no mistaking the anger in my patient’s eyes. “I can’t believe you would suggest that I could get better from this by taking some deep breaths or going for a walk! I don’t think you understand my situation at all”

Oops!

Talking to people about self-care can be a minefield. Many people want YOU to fix them and the news that they might have to do something for themselves comes as a big shock. Most people want quick and easy fixes – the thought of having to do something regularly day after day before any benefit becomes apparent is just unacceptable. Changing behaviour is so difficult! Some people hear you start to talk about self-care and think you are abdicating your responsibility to them or, worse still, abandoning them. And some people jump straight to manicures, facials and gym membership without thinking about the simple kinds of self -care that are probably much more important. Self-care and self-indulgence are not the same thing.

My angry patient went on to say “I can’t afford the time or the money to do all that self-care stuff. I just want you to give me some pills that will make me feel better.”

What does the internet say?

Put self-care into your web browser and you will not be able to see the end of the list of hits you get. I tried for “self-care strategies” and got 658 million hits! With so much information out there about how to look after ourselves it can be overwhelming. No wonder people close their ears.

Of course, much of the information on the net is contradictory. Just before closing their ears many people get very confused indeed. The best example is probably web-based dietary advice. Who knows what to do when we are being told to reduce our animal protein; no, reduce our carbohydrates; no, eat small amounts regularly; no, try intermittent fasting; no, only eat organic food; no, exclude gluten, lactose, fodmaps …….. I’m exhausted already and I haven’t even scratched the surface!

Self-care advice is like dietary advice – there’s so much of it around nobody knows what to do.

I want to suggest that as health practitioners there are two really important things to do:

The first is to do the work to convince people to take care of themselves. The second is to encourage them to find and do the simple things that work for them.

What works?

Everybody is different. What works for me may not work for you. Above a certain amount of exercise I start to feel miserable and my body hurts so much I can’t move. For me, reading is good, as long as the books are well written and it doesn’t keep me sedentary for too long. Knitting helps me but I admit it may drive you to distraction. I love to lie in the bath to get some thinking time but that’s not for everyone and besides, your toddlers may not do so well without supervision. Different strategies work at different times in the lifespan.

Finding the things that keep you well is an ongoing experiment throughout life. There is no recipe that fits for everyone – it’s a menu from which we need to choose. The important thing is to know that, just like when we go out for dinner, we do need to choose from the menu and not sit and watch everyone else eat. We also need to select different things from the menu depending on our own particular needs.

So, what I’ve learned is that I need to talk to people about what works for them, to encourage them to experiment with self-care and not to give up if their initial attempts are not a success.

Where to start

This recent article in the New York Times sums up some of the most basic self-care strategies and may be a good place to start a conversation. 

Make sure you read the comments while you are there though. There are lots of lessons to be learnt from people’s reactions.

 

 

 

{{commentCount}} comment(s). You must be logged in and AHPRA verified to view and comment. Login here.

Dr Jan Orman

Jan is Sydney GP, private psychological medicine practitioner in Sydney’s inner west and a GP educator for Black Dog Institute.

The latest healthcare news from medcast

Aging Well – a personal perspective
Aging Well – a personal perspective

At 65 and a half (yes, it’s come to that. I’m actually counting the months again!) I find myself reluctantly looking down the barrel of a shotgun labelled “old age”.  It’s OK, don’t panic – I’m not unwell. It’s just that my body hurts and people k...

The CHIME GP study
The CHIME GP study

looking at rational prescribing and test ordering in general practice to improve

Muuuum, I’m bored!!!!
Muuuum, I’m bored!!!!

Has anyone heard that or a variation of it recently? I’ll bet you have! Many years ago, before I had kids of my own, I used to hear my brother-in-law saying to his bored and whining kids “Come on then, I’ll give you a job. I’ve got plenty for y...

What’s your COVID number? A simple way to keep everyone safe and comfortable
What’s your COVID number? A simple way to keep everyone safe and comfortable

A friend mentioned a really great way for managing this which I have been using and sharing with others. As people are going to have different comfort levels when it comes to spending time together, she told me about sharing her COVID social comfo...

Being Well in Difficult Times - Talah
Being Well in Difficult Times - Talah

It’s always helpful to hear how other people cope.  Over the next few weeks we are dedicating the Being Well blog to a series called Being Well in Difficult Times.  In this blog post we speak to Talah - a a Gumbaynggirr/Yaegl young person who shar...

We’re listening at last to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voices in Mental Health
We’re listening at last to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voices in Mental Health

Whilst significant progress has been made in incorporating these voices generally, there is a call for diversity in these Lived Experience voices, namely Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Lived Experience.

Being Well in Difficult Times- Zoe
Being Well in Difficult Times- Zoe

Zoe is a registered nurse working in theatres. She has elderly parents and a young son. How is she staying so positive in the face of CoVID-19?

Eating Disorders in Adults: Assessment & Treatment Options
Eating Disorders in Adults: Assessment & Treatment Options

Eating disorders, broadly defined by disturbances in eating behaviour and distress centred on food, eating, and body image, affect nearly one million Australians. This blog covers the assessment and treatment options for various conditions.

Being Well in Difficult Times - Gordon
Being Well in Difficult Times - Gordon

Gordon* is a thirty something rural proceduralist GP. Gordon contributed to the national guidelines for the management of COVID-19. Would being in his shoes change your thinking about the pandemic?

Being Well in Difficult Times - Sally
Being Well in Difficult Times - Sally

Sally* is the director of new urban private practice. She is a generalist psychologist & qualified teacher in her mid-forties with two ‘tween girls, and vulnerable (but fit) parents. Her clients include young children, teenagers, university studen...

Being Well in Difficult Times - Margot
Being Well in Difficult Times - Margot

It’s always helpful to hear how other people cope with life's challenges. Over the next few weeks we are dedicating the Being Well blog to a series called Being Well in Difficult Times. We've asked a range of health professionals 3 big questions t...

Being Well in Difficult Times- Elizabeth
Being Well in Difficult Times- Elizabeth

How would you feel if you were pregnant right now? It would probably add a whole other dimension to your concern. What if, to add to the puzzle, your work made you responsible for the mental health of others? Elizabeth* is a thirty-something s...

Being Well in Difficult Times - Dr Vered Gordon
Being Well in Difficult Times - Dr Vered Gordon

Dr Vered Gordon is a GP in Sydney’s Northern Beaches with a special interest in perinatal mental health. For more than a decade Vered developed Black Dog Institute’s highly regarded Professional Education workshops.

Being Well in Difficult Times- Michael Kidd
Being Well in Difficult Times- Michael Kidd

It’s always helpful to hear how other people cope with life's challenges. Over the next few weeks we are dedicating the Being Well blog to a series called Being Well in Difficult Times. Michael's CoVID-19 job responsibilities are huge and his...

Communication in the time of COVID-19
Communication in the time of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a massive, and almost overnight, transformation in Australian general practice, most notably with the rapid rise in telehealth. What does effective communication via telehealth look like?

KISS - COVID-19 Primary Care Assessment & Management
KISS - COVID-19 Primary Care Assessment & Management

This Keep It Simple Summary (KISS) covers the treatment and management of COVID-19 in the Primary Care environment. Stages of the disease will be explained, followed by a succinct summary risk factors, symptoms, complications, treatment, respirato...

Reframing Isolation
Reframing Isolation

I keep wondering about what we can learn from all these people who live in isolation or confinement. What strategies were put in place and what might the long-term impact of their isolation have been?

Non-drug Approaches to Chronic Pain Management
Non-drug Approaches to Chronic Pain Management

Living with chronic pain is a complex health issue that affects over 3.2 million Australians, with close to 68% of those affected being of working age. As we know, chronic pain can have significant implications on daily functions and quality of l...

Telehealth: How does it work In Practice
Telehealth: How does it work In Practice

We are all starting to do telehealth in the current climate to protect us, our staff and our patients. Many of us feel slightly out of our depth. Here are some quick tips to help you in your practice.

COVID-19 and Us
COVID-19 and Us

Have you thought about what these measures are going to mean for you personally? Even if we avoid the need for self-isolation, we will all need to practice social distancing for possibly 6-12 months until we can all be vaccinated, or until we have...

Join Medcast. It's free and you'll get instant access to essential healthcare news, research and more.

Already a member? Sign-in