Chartered Occupational Psychologist, Consultant, Speaker and Writer

Do you know if you’re taking care of yourself?

when is self-care done

Do you know when you need more self-care?

When it’s time to be more compassionate?

When your body, mind and soul need a little TLC?

You might be one of those people tuned into yourself, able to connect easily to your state of mind, feelings and health, but not everyone finds this easy.

We all get caught up in life at times, and only realise too late that we’ve let things get out of control. That we should have given ourselves a break earlier. Been a little kinder to ourselves. Remembered to take some time to ourselves, to give ourselves some space, to do something nice for ourselves.

I’ve written this post for us all – me included – to be a little more proactive. To check in with ourselves every week, or even every day, to see if any of the list below resonates.

Of course, if you agree with just one or two of these signs, everything still might be fine. We’re all going to have good and bad days. But if you find yourself consistently checking off more than a handful of the below, then step back and include a little more self-care in your week. (Here’s where to start with self-care if you need some help.)

You know you’re not taking care of yourself…

  • When you creak rather than bounce out of bed.
  • When a small voice at the back of your head says, ‘it’s got to be better than this’.
  • When your body is flooded by regular washes of adrenaline that keep you high – then leave you dry.
  • When your holidays come around and you get sick as soon as you reach the beach.
  • When you reach for a glass of wine or two at the end of every day to just keep yourself mellow.
  • When you lie awake in bed at night, despite your body dropping with exhaustion, brain humming.
  • When you spend all your time worrying about other people and never give a thought to your own well being.
  • When anxiety clutches you in the few moments you’re alone with your thoughts.
  • When you don’t remember the last day you spent time outdoors and weren’t on your way somewhere.
  • When the voice in your head is a litany of criticisms about all the things you’ve done wrong.
  • When you look at your inbox and all the things on your to-do list and you feel queasy.
  • When you feel constant low-level guilt for your lack of contact with friends and family.
  • When you decide you don’t have time to be ill and you ‘solider on regardless’.
  • When others ask you all too often ‘are you ok? no, I mean, really ok?’
  • When you struggle to think of anything you want to be doing.
  • When contentment is elusive, and joy is non-existent.
  • When your body aches and your bones groan.
  • When your heart pounds, and your breath hitches.
  • When you get emotional at the flick of a switch.
  • When you beat yourself up for your mistakes.
  • When the small things seem like the big things.
  • When everything seems like a chore.
  • When people comment, ‘you look tired’.
  • When you snap at people for no reason.
  • When your future feels…blank.
  • When you’re in overwhelm.
  • When you’re sad for no reason.
  • When you don’t know how to stop.
  • When your heart is hurting.
  • When the bad days outnumber the good.

Will you see the signs?

Sometimes, life happens.

We get caught up in the day-to-day, the rush of events, other people’s priorities. Our time is eroded in dribs and drabs as we dash from crisis to crisis. And another year passes, our adrenal glands pumping, our body on constant alert for an attack that’s much more insidious than a sabre-toothed lion.

Being kind to yourself is a little like brushing your teeth. It’ll leave you with a good feeling in the here and the now, but the long-term effectives are preventive, and you may never know what you’ve averted by taking care of yourself along the way.

(NB: If you feel too many of these you might want to seek professional help – as self-care can only do so much)

So, when will I be done with self-care?

A reader emailed me last week to ask “How do you know when you’re taken care of yourself?’ and I’ve been mulling this over ever since. The ‘negative’ version that I’ve written above, i.e. how you know if you haven’t taken care of yourself, was easier to write because if you’re taking care of yourself – just like you probably won’t get toothache if you brush your teeth – you won’t see the above signs.

And life will be…easier. Calmer. Sparklier.

But unfortunately, you’ll never be done with self-care. There’s never a moment when you can tick it off the list, and consider that item complete.

Just like brushing your teeth, little and often is more likely to avert any setbacks later.


What small self-kindness will you include in your day today?

20 Comments... Read them below or add one of your own
  • Debbie Hampton January 25, 2016, 6:52 pm

    Wonderful reminder, Ellen. I needed to read this today! (I think I’ll go shovel snow then treat myself to a cup of hot tea and a nap.) :)
    Debbie Hampton recently posted…4 Fascinating Finds You’ll Be Glad To Know About MemoriesMy Profile

    • Ellen January 26, 2016, 8:35 am

      Thanks Debbie – and tea and a nap sounds lovely right now (or any time!) :-)

  • Sandra Pawula January 25, 2016, 7:06 pm

    I think it’s so important to see the early signs, Ellen. They can really accumulate and lead to significant illness or mood disorders. Thanks for these reminders. I’m just recovering from a flu so I’ve had my sign!
    Sandra Pawula recently posted…Try These 3 Self-Care Routines for a More Balanced LifeMy Profile

    • Ellen January 26, 2016, 8:36 am

      I agree. It can be a slippery slope, when you suddenly realise things are a lot worse that you thought. If you’re feeling poorly that’s definitely a time to take extra care <3

  • Grace January 26, 2016, 7:01 am

    This is just the impetus I needed today to take some “me time.” Thank you Ellen. You constantly remind me to be kinder to myself. And like everyone else, I really need it!

    • Ellen January 26, 2016, 8:36 am

      Thanks Grace! Yes, you can feel confident you’re not alone in that one. In fact, perhaps it’s time I went and boiled the kettle myself…

  • Lynn Louise Wonders January 26, 2016, 8:32 pm

    This is such valuable information! Thank you! I will share this with my self care for therapists group and clients too!
    Lynn Louise Wonders recently posted…Everything Is Constantly ChangingMy Profile

    • Ellen January 29, 2016, 4:04 am

      Thank you Lynn, and I hope they and their clients find it useful. It’s not a clinical tool but if it resonates with someone, I hope it inspires them to take some action :-)

  • Betsy Henry/Zen Mama January 27, 2016, 1:11 am

    Thank you Ellen!
    I often forget to take care of myself with three boys and a husband, plus two older parents living close by. Thank you, as always, for the inspiration!
    Betsy Henry/Zen Mama recently posted…Do You Hygge? The Happiest Country Does!My Profile

    • Ellen January 29, 2016, 4:04 am

      It can be such a challenge when you are responsible for others Betsy. But hopefully you can remind them that they have a responsibility to take care of you too :-)

  • Lea Bullen January 27, 2016, 3:07 am

    Hi Ellen,

    In the past I didn’t realize I wasn’t taking care of myself until I hit the wall. And you definitely don’t want to get to that point if you can help it.

    I love your tell-tail signs of when you’re not taking care of yourself. They’re really good, and some raise red flags. So I know what I have to do now. Thanks for the reminder :-)

    Lea Bullen recently posted…How to Make Your Failures Work for YouMy Profile

    • Ellen January 29, 2016, 4:05 am

      I so agree, I’ve also hit the wall before, and it’s not a place anyone wants to be. Glad the reminders resonated – sounds like a little self-care will be the right thing for you this weekend!

  • sherill January 28, 2016, 12:31 am

    Hi, Very timely. Thanks for sharing all these wonderful reminders, very thought provoking. Great read.
    sherill recently posted…Afformations ExamplesMy Profile

    • Ellen January 29, 2016, 4:02 am

      Thanks Sherril, hope it inspired you to do something nice for yourself today <3

  • Elle January 30, 2016, 9:45 pm

    I love that you say you’re never done Ellen. How would it be possible…life is ongoing…learning is never over nor is development or self-care. So I’m going to be following your advice and check in more frequently to see whether it’s time to slack off a little and go and play! :-)

    • Ellen February 3, 2016, 5:09 am

      Ah…yes, for most of us there’s not enough play in our lives! I love learning and growing, but it’s so important to balance that with a little self-nourishment. Get out there and play! :-)

  • Cathy Taughinbaugh January 30, 2016, 9:57 pm

    Such a needed post for so many situations. Self care for me means regular exercise, eating well and getting plenty of sleep for starters. I can feel when my body is not doing well and that is a sign to put more time and energy into self care. I so agree that like so many things in life, self care really never ends. To feel good, we need to keep at it.

    Thanks for a lovely post!
    Cathy Taughinbaugh recently posted…50 Common Mistakes That Parents Make When They Discover Their Kids Are Using DrugsMy Profile

    • Ellen February 3, 2016, 5:11 am

      Sounds like you have the foundations of self-care down well Cathy, so you’re already ahead of the pack. Being in touch with how we feel emotionally, physically and mentally is a skill that all of us can learn, but we need to listen first.

  • Grace Bryant August 30, 2017, 6:35 pm

    Is it really “unfortunate” that we’ll never be done? Self-care is the best part of my day, every day. I’m so happy I never have to “give it up” for the sake of productivity or something I don’t really want to do. To me, it’s the practice of Self-Love and I can’t be fully engaged in loving others if I’m not doing that practice myself.
    Grace Bryant recently posted…Home is Where Your Family IsMy Profile

    • Ellen September 1, 2017, 10:33 am

      Haha, fair enough! I am a completer-finisher, and I love to tick thing off my list ;-) It’s a great point Grace, thanks.

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