Ten Steps to Self-Care for doctors

Ten Steps to Self-Care

- Photography by Alan Johnston

We hear a lot about self-care these days and think it is probably something we ought to do, but what are the steps to self-care?

We think self-care has to do with diet, exercise and rest, perhaps with the odd massage and glass of wine thrown in, but true self-care is much deeper than this. In truth, self-care requires a foundation of love and appreciation, for all of who we are.

We live in a physical body, and things need to be done in this physical life, but what quality are we doing them in? What we do does matter, but the way we work, rest, walk, eat and sleep all matter too. If we are not doing them in a way that is loving and caring of ourselves, what is this doing to us? What quality are we building within us? What quality are we bringing to the world?

Are there simple steps we can take towards loving and caring for ourselves?

  1. Honouring and respecting ourselves

Underpinning all of true self-care is a deep love and appreciation of ourselves. If we are to start to truly self-care, we must first learn to accept ourselves just as we are, to love and appreciate ourselves. Sometimes our life experiences have led us to believe that this is not a possibility. Sometimes we have felt unloved and worthless since childhood. Sometimes life has not unfolded the way we would have liked it to. Sometimes things have been said to us or done to us that make us believe we are unworthy of any care or respect, let alone love. Sometimes we have behaved in ways which have hurt others or hurt ourselves. Sometimes we are angry with ourselves and others; we are unhappy or depressed; we are burnt out, exhausted and overworked. Sometimes life feels overwhelming.

To start to really care about ourselves, we first need to stop giving ourselves a hard time – to accept ourselves as we are and to come to understand why we have done what we have done. We never set out to hurt anyone. But we get hurt in life and then we act in certain ways that try and protect us from being hurt again. The more we develop this acceptance and understanding of ourselves, the more we can learn to honour and respect ourselves. This will be a process that develops over time, one step at a time, and we start in small ways, only to discover as our accepting, respecting and honouring of ourselves develops, that we are indeed starting to love ourselves.

  1. Taking moments to stop and connect with who we truly are

We all live very busy lives, and we rarely take time to stop and smell the roses on our way. We give ourselves very little time to stop and rest, let alone reflect on ourselves and our lives. Taking moments to stop, be still and connect with ourselves in our lives are vital, because they allow a settling of our busy mind and body. They provide the space to listen to the body’s messages and bring us home to who we really are. In that space, we can breathe gently to release any tension we feel in our bodies, allowing us to come back to rest and into harmony. We may start to feel who we truly are – the way we felt when we were very young – joyful, light and loving.

  1. Being aware of ourselves and our surroundings throughout our day

Being aware is choosing to be fully present, to be conscious of all that we do, to observe everything that is going on and to see and feel everything inside and all around us. It is too easy for us to spend our days thinking of the past or dreaming about the future, forgetting to be in the here and now. Developing this awareness assists us to become a keen observer of ourselves as well as others, a scientist of ourselves and life. It helps us see and feel how our choices in life are affecting us. It helps us to learn how our bodies respond to people and environments and how our own emotional reactions affect us and other people. We learn what it feels like when we are in tune with ourselves and our own hearts and in harmony with our environment. It helps us to notice when things are not in harmony and why this is so. We can then bring ourselves home to that place of harmony, where we feel fully alive, but settled within.

When we keep our mind focused on what our body is doing, we are alert and responsive, rather than distracted and reactive, but also very present and settled in our bodies. This focus helps us to bring awareness to all that we do, and helps sustain us throughout the day.

  1. Treating ourselves with tenderness

Often we will treat others with gentleness and tender loving care, but we do not allow this for ourselves. Just as a baby responds to this deep level of care and love, so do we. The more we offer this to ourselves, the more we will learn to treasure and care for ourselves, and for everyone else.

When we treat ourselves with tender loving care, we naturally share this with others, easily and effortlessly so, in a truly caring way. 

  1. Learning to listen to our body’s messages

Our own bodies are an extraordinary tool.  We can use them to measure whether we are living in a way which is supportive of us, or whether our choices are unhealthy and harming us. While we may not all be able to use a blood pressure cuff or read blood tests, we can all learn to listen to and take heed of our own body’s messages. In this way we can become students of our own bodies, making the changes needed to be truly healthy, and knowing when to seek help if that is needed. The body is a truthful marker and shows us the impact of how we live. We may learn to listen, first to what is most obvious and as we tune in, to the more subtle messages it offers. We can use these messages to learn what our bodies truly need, to be all that they were designed to be and to live in a caring and loving way.

  1. Making supportive choices in all that we do

Taking moments to stop and be still, and to breathe gently, and learning to be more aware of our bodies, helps us to listen honestly to our bodies’ messages. This is the most truthful way of making supportive choices in all that we do. By truly hearing these messages, honestly understanding them and from them making the changes in our habits and behaviours that are needed, we can start to care for ourselves at a deeper level. By listening to our bodies, we learn all about the most sustaining way we can live – what to eat, how much and when, when and how to truly rest, what exercise best supports us, how our relationships may affect us, how our emotions affect us physically and so much more. 

  1. Establishing supportive rhythms

Everything in nature lives in cycles, including people. These cycles go around in a certain rhythm – day and night, the seasons of the year, birth, life and death.

We can live in a way that honours these rhythms, and the cyclical nature of life. By tuning in to our bodies we can learn when to eat, when to drink, when to rest and when to exercise, and when we ourselves need support.

Establishing supportive rhythms is integral to self-care, because the rhythms we choose to live in affect us physically and psychologically, influencing our health and well-being. Through choosing to listen to and  live with the rhythms which are most supportive of us, our bodies are more able to function optimally, with health and vitality. If at times we are stressed and not doing well, having these rhythms in place will support us and promote self-healing.

  1. Making time and space for ourselves

Making time and space to care for ourselves is vitally important – for ourselves and for everyone else. It is not truly possible to love and care for others if we do not first love and care for ourselves. Taking time for ourselves is therefore never selfish, for caring for ourselves allows us to support and care for others more fully and lovingly. Self-love and compassion are the foundation for truly loving and caring for others.

  1. Saying No

Sometimes part of self-care is to say “NO”. This is not always an easy choice to make but if saying yes does not support you, is done with anger, resentment or self-righteousness; it is not truly loving and caring.

Saying “NO” to one thing is also saying “YES” to something else. There is always a choice. Which is the loving choice to make?

  1. Accepting and appreciating ourselves

Often when it comes to ourselves we are our own worst judge and critic. We think things about and say things to ourselves we would never say to others and we judge ourselves more harshly than we would ever judge another. Self-care starts with seeing ourselves clearly and accepting ourselves in full, just as we are. It is about accepting our frailty and our failings, while seeing all that is great about us and celebrating that with joy.

Acceptance and appreciation give us a foundation to build on, a starting point. This is where I am, here and now, and if I value and honour myself, treat myself with tender loving care and make supportive choices, I will come home to the true beauty that is me.


  1. This is a beautiful introduction to the practice of self-care. Without spelling out a list of to-do’s it gives the reader the power to feel and choose for themselves what will support them throughout each day. How I talk to myself is one suggestion that I will take with me today. Thank you both for establishing this site, there clearly is much we can do to take responsibility for our own health and well-being.

    • Yes so true Bernadette. How I talk to myself has been very important to me and most of the time it is in a supportive and loving way. For me it is the supporting rhythms that I can work on more and it was good to read that here and reflect in truth where I am at with that.

  2. I loved reading this blog about true self-care. Every step is a gift that we can give to ourselves if we choose it. Thank you Jane and Anne for encouraging and inspiring others to be responsible for their own bodies. I’m a 31 year old woman who is enjoying every day the benefits of being more loving and caring with myself. Since I started to make loving choices I can feel my body lighter, there is joy in my life, a new warmth inside that comes with me in every moment.

    • It feels so awesome right? That lightness in our step and the joy in just being with our self in this way of appreciation and connection when we truly take care of ourselves is just such a warm feeling indeed.

  3. This is a great start to this important blog – ‘We think it has to do with diet, exercise and rest, with the odd massage and glass of wine thrown in, but true self-care is much deeper than this. In truth, self-care requires a foundation of love and appreciation, for all of who we are.” Yes the practical aspects matter and maybe our first ‘go to’ when we learn to truly take care of our selves, yet with the practical matters as a foundation in livingness, comes then the love and appreciation for our selves in all aspects, how can it not when we start treating ourselves with love and care in all areas. Appreciation for our selves is the key though like you said Anne, and that is something we most likely do not do enough or to the depth it is possible. Work in progress…


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