Dorada project logoEuropean Union
A photo of a women with open arms facing sun

Read the article

How to take care of yourself? - health promotion

When trying to come up with a working definition of ‘taking care of your health’, the word that immediately comes to mind is awareness. Why? Health promotion, which is closely connected with what is commonly referred to as ‘taking care of ourselves’, is a certain set of activities aimed at early disease detection and, above all, disease prevention.

However, health promotion is more often associated with something external, such as tests ordered by a physician, immunity boosting or avoidance of stimulating substances. It focuses on the application of knowledge that already exists and its adaptation to individual needs. When you think about taking care of yourself, you pay special attention to the fact that it is you yourself, driven by your internal motivation, who initiates your prophylactic actions. This is why awareness is an essential element of self-care. Firstly, I am aware of taking care of myself. Secondly, I need to know that the world I live in and my lifestyle affects me. Thirdly, I should be willing to do something more, make an extra effort to take care of myself. So what should I do? What areas should I pay particular attention to?

When thinking about healthy choices, the first things that come to mind are physical activity and healthy eating. A lot has been written on this subject and I think that positive effects of regular physical activity, giving up processed food and eating more fruit and vegetables are well known. However, I would like to focus on another aspect of these two areas. Regular physical activity not only improves our well-being by affecting the production of endorphins, but also helps us to develop mental strength, a sense of control and influence over our own lives. It boosts your self-esteem and has a huge impact on the perception of your own body. By building physical strength, you also build mental strength. How often should you exercise? This largely depends on your needs and lifestyle. Those of us who spend more time sitting need to be motivated to move more. What physical activity should you choose? Again, it depends on your needs and preferences.

It is important to do something you enjoy, not to force or torture yourself, because in this way you can mainly discourage yourself from exercising. I encourage you to look at how we talk about exercise: ‘I need to exercise’ / ‘I need to move’, etc.. What if we replaced the word ‘must’ with ‘want/need/like’? What does that change? This is where the real self-care, the core of it, comes in. This is when you can capture the moment when you reach for what benefits you out of real concern for yourself, and not because of some guidelines.

The situation is the same when it comes to healthy eating. You do not need to indulge in sprouts and lettuce alone. The most important thing is to have a balanced diet. What does that mean? Everything is for humans, and the key word is moderation. The way we approach food also reveals our attitude to ourselves. If I want to take care of myself as someone I care about, why should I litter myself by eating just anything? The time we spend preparing food, or eating, is the time devoted to ourselves. Yes, food can be an escape, something you stuff yourself with or worthless grub, but it can also be pleasure, self-care, passion and growth. Again, the perspective is what matters - I do it because I care about myself, not because I have to do it.

An excessively important piece in this whole health promotion puzzle is sleep. People who neglect it live with chronic sleep deficit. Their bodies do not have time to fully regenerate. Their nervous system remains constantly irritated and it has no time to consolidate knowledge and experiences. Long-term sleep deprivation can lead to many mental health difficulties. Many of us complain that our sleep is ineffective - too short, too shallow or interrupted. In such a situation, it is worth looking at sleep hygiene first. Is the place where I sleep also the place where I study, work and watch TV series? What do I do just before going to bed? Am I distracted by sounds and lights? There are many questions like these. But the point is to make your bed a place to sleep, so that it is associated only with sleep. Before going to bed, limit your exposure to the so-called blue light produced by your phone, laptop or TV. All these stimuli are awakening. It is necessary to create the conditions that will calm and soothe you. In the case of long-term difficulties with sleep, it is worth visiting a specialist who can help you find out what is happening.

On the subject of sleep, you will often come across such comments as ‘sleep is for the weak’ or ‘I waste my time sleeping’. Nothing could be further from the truth! Sleep is the basis and the first resort to recharge your batteries, not only physically, but above all mentally. What is important, especially for students during the examination period, sleep helps you consolidate knowledge. What does it mean? When we sleep, our head remembers and consolidates knowledge, which is so very much needed during the exam. Let us treat sleep as an investment in ourselves.

A very broad topic, which absolutely fits in with health promotion, is also the balance between the time we devote to work and the time we devote to rest. By work, I am referring not only to professional work, but also to study or time spent on other responsibilities and commitments. And when I think of rest, I think of everything that gives us pleasure, lets us slow down, let go of pressure and get away from the daily hustle and bustle. Finding the balance between one and the other may be quite challenging. Pressure, expectations, numerous commitments and the need to be productive constantly push us to do more and more. In this rush, it is easy to lose yourself, your needs and your right to rest. And it is exactly this slowing down, relaxation and time for ourselves that make the foundation of our mental health. Taking time for yourself - whether to pursue your passions, time with your loved ones, watching TV series or doing nothing at all - is an investment in yourself and a sign of caring. None of us is able to be efficient and engaged all the time. In moments when we let go or slow down, we become more understanding and gentle with ourselves. This is when we can distance ourselves from the issues we deal with every day, catch our breath, but also see that our work and commitments are not everything. This time, which can easily be judged as unproductive, is extremely valuable from the perspective of our psyche.

Taking care of yourself is not an easy task, as many times it will require you to go against the grain, against the trend of ‘faster, more, just to get ahead’. Aware of this, you are encouraged not to be mean to yourself. So what is the key to taking care of yourself? It is undoubtedly care - the kind of real, genuine care for someone who is important to you.

Reference literature:

  1. Heszen I., Sęk H. Psychologia Zdrowia, Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN, Warszawa, 2012.
  2. Walker M., Dlaczego śpimy. Odkrywanie potęgi snu i marzeń sennych, Wydawnictwo Marginesy, Warszawa, 2019.
  3. Woynarowska B., Edukacja Zdrowotna, Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN, Warszawa, 2012.

About the author

Marta Kogut-Lechowicz – psychologist and psychotherapist. She is a graduate of Psychology at the Jagiellonian University and a psychotherapy training at the Systemic Psychotherapy Centre in Krakow. She has participated in internships offered by a variety of institutions, including the Department of Family Therapy and Psychosomatic Medicine at the Faculty of Psychotherapy of the Jagiellonian University Medical College and worked at the Crisis Intervention and Counselling Centre in Myślenice as well as the Family Counselling and Therapy Centre in Krakow. On a regular basis, she works with individual patients, families and couples at the private out-patient clinic Mind Centre and additionally with students within the Student Support and Adaptation Centre at the Jagiellonian University.

See other articles