What does it mean to ‘take care’ of yourself?


Care is a vital part in health ‘care’. But what does this even mean?

Does it mean that we feel sorry for other people and are motivated to do good things for them from that sadness and sorrow?

Does it mean that unless we feel emotions for their experiences that we do not care?

Does it mean showing emotions and reactions to the experience of another?

Does it mean that we are not caring if we don’t react or display any emotions to what a person is experiencing?

Or is there something more to care?

We know that people who indulge in behaviours like smoking, drinking alcohol, eating too much and taking recreational drugs, going out late and not sleeping enough and not eating nutritious food are not ‘taking care’ of themselves. Repeated behaviours like this lead to an accumulated toll on the body.

But I question where do these behaviours come from? We would call these ultimately behaviours of self abuse, but what motivates a person to make these choices? In the case of excessive eating, perhaps a person may feel that they are taking care of themselves, using food as a place of care. When they feel down or sad, using food to make themselves feel better, to feel comforted. People who go and smoke may also feel as though they are taking care of themselves in some way, taking the time to smoke to help them to cope with life. Feeling comforted by the burning of the smoke filling their lungs.

But is comfort really the same as care? Now there’s food for thought!

What if the things that we have been thinking of as care, are actually forms of comfort?

And what if comfort is more about numbing what the body is feeling rather than deeply taking care of the body, providing the body with what it truly needs to heal?

What if instead, care is about providing the body what it truly needs to heal, to feel healthy and truly well and vital? Rather than give us something that makes us temporarily feel ‘better’?

If we approached care from that, we would not consider drinking wine or having a smoke or a late night as forms of care, we would consider that those things would be putting a strain on the body. After all, we know that we need to ‘recover’ from a late night, or from drinking, or from eating too much, and everyone knows the impact of smoking on the body!

True care is about providing the body what it needs to feel healthy and well, of acting with the body in a caring way. Care is a quality that we all know and can sense, it is not just something that is done, it is the way that something is done.

Thus in that sense taking care of ourselves is about listening to the needs of our body at all times.

It is about being attentive.

It is about connecting with that quality of care, and then from that, an attention to every little detail emerges.

It then extends that it is important that we care for our financial health and well-being, it extends that it is important that we care for our body in terms of how much rest it needs, we start to take care of ourselves in relationships, learning how to stay true to ourselves, we take care of ourselves in terms of what our body needs in terms of food and drink in order to stay healthy and well, not just what we want to eat because it tastes good or feels good!

Taking care of ourselves is not something that can be defined by one aspect of life. It is not something that is static. It is something that is always ever growing and ever expanding and ever deepening. As we start to connect with the importance of care, we start to learn more and more and more about how our bodies need to be taken care of to stay healthy and well.

We can learn how to be more gentle in the office, how to be more ordered in the office, how to create spaces that are more supportive of our bodies, how to develop more loving relationships with people, how to address regulatory issues, how to address matters of bullying and intimidation, even how we move and how we dress ourselves can be part of our care.

Care is something that we can have fun with, it is not onerous at all.

Everyone is deserving of care, even us doctors!

The more we learn to take care of ourselves, the more our patients will feel that quality of care in everything that we do, without even us ‘trying’ to be caring.

3 thoughts on “What does it mean to ‘take care’ of yourself?

  1. Another super supportive insight here Dr Maxine. I really love these lines: “taking care of ourselves is about listening to the needs of our body at all times.

    It is about being attentive.

    It is about connecting with that quality of care”

    I work in a GP surgery and can really relate to what you present here – and what is possible – what care is not that we are often sold that it is – and that we are actually all deserving of a quality of care – and yes – very much including GP’s and practice staff – it feels like part of my responsibility to patients to put the dedication in to living this for me so it can be shared with others – rather than running on empty. Looking at your photo there is clearly a great deal of care in your life – tangibly and inspiringly so.


  2. Just the tip of the iceberg here Dr Maxine, with regard to exposing the lack of true care that people have for themselves and the expectation, with their body breaking down as a result of choices they make that really have the effect of numbing the constant and ongoing dialogue with their body we all have, that presenting for medical ‘care’ can then ‘fix’ the problem created by our own choices in the first place. Care is so much more than a doing, it is a posture of true attentiveness towards oneself and responding to the call our bodies are continually emitting. It’s not some woo woo thing, it’s really practical, like listening to that sense you need to go to be early tonight, or that you really need to go to the toilet – five minutes ago! Or not to go on to that next patient, but to just take a moment, sit down and have a glass of water. Imagine then, as you have proposed here, if you have health CARE professionals well developed in their own true care for themselves. It is impossible not to feel how supported one would be in their presence – because they actually LIVE care, and not just DO health care. This is not about preaching. It is an opportunity for all of us to deepen our relationship with care, to get really honest about whether we are making decisions in our life based on what is true for us and our bodies or whether we make decisions to feel better in comparison to some undesirable other alternative.


  3. What a fantastic set of questions you offer us here Maxine and so refreshing to read. Just the act of enquiry feels like true medicine to me – peeling back the layers of assumed ‘best practice’ to truly get to the truth that lives underneath. I feel like many doctors nurses and health care practcitioners, would all start off asking questions similar to you, but get beaten down through schedule and routine into pushing through. Yet if we keep questioning what care really means, it lets us go deeper with our understanding every day. Care doesn’t seem to be something that ever ends, but always offers us more.


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