#SelfCare – maeve conneely

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines self-care as ‘the ability of individuals, families and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health and cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a health worker’ (WHO 2009), but how does the modern day use of #SelfCare align with the health-orientated underlying concept of self-care?

Health is defined as ‘a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’ (WHO 1948). The fundamental aspects of self-care at the individual level include prioritising health through; self-reliance, empowerment, autonomy, personal responsibility and self-efficacy (WHO 2021). The International Self-Care Foundation (ISF) developed a framework ‘The Seven Pillars of Self-Care’ which outlines domains of self-care as follows;


Figure 1. & Pillars of Self-Care (Webber et al. 2015)

The above concept of self-care is underpinned by enhancing personal health. This may have gotten somewhat lost in translation and confused with indulgence in the mainstream mentality of #SelfCare, which tends to err on the side of ‘treat yourself’ in a plethora of social media posts. It may be plausible to suggest that the distinction between self-care and #SelfCare could in part be due to the concept of ‘Delayed Gratification’, which refers to resisting an immediately available temptation/reward for the purpose of pursuing/attaining a more valuable reward at a later stage (Twito et al. 2019). True self-care means prioritising health needs over current wants. For example, your alarm goes off in the morning and you want to stay in bed. Hitting the snooze button might seem like the self-care option but what impact is this going to have on your day? You may not have time for your morning routine, you may end up rushing and panicked or even late, resulting in an overall adverse impact on your day and your health. As such, true self-care would be prioritising and improving your sleep health (quality and quantity). Undoubtedly, treating ourselves and enjoying the finer things in life are lovely to do and are more than acceptable on an occasional basis, but it is important to distinguish those acts of indulgence from self-care, which focuses on optimising physical, mental and social health.

Tips for Enhancing Personal Self-Care

1.           Assess Current Self-Care

To enhance self-care, it is important to have an understanding of our current baseline. For example, the simple illustration below can be used to rank (scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being optimal) our perception of our self-care in terms of each of the pillars outlined above (i.e. Knowledge of Health Literacy = 8, Healthy Eating = 4) and identify areas for improvement.


Figure 2. Ranking Pillars of Health Wheel

2.           Self-Care Behaviour Change

Insight from health behaviour change research, such as health behaviour change frameworks can be utilised to improve the rank of each pillar.
Example 1: The COM-B framework helps us to understand behaviour, highlighting the importance of capability, opportunity and motivation for health behaviour change at the individual level (Michie et al. 2011). As such, it is important to reflect on these factors when considering your self-care behaviours.

Example 2: The Transtheoretical Model (TTM) which proposes six stages of change involved in the behaviour change process (Prochaska and Velicer 1997) could be used to identify the stage of change for each pillar (i.e. Physical Activity = Maintenance, Risk Avoidance/Mitigation = Pre-Contemplation) and specific strategies for progression can be identified.


Figure 3. TTM Stages of Change (Prochaska and Velicer 1997)

3.           Setting Goals for Self-Care

Goal setting may facilitate health behaviour change (Bailey 2019). Goal characteristics, i.e avoidant or approach, performance or mastery, difficult or easy (Mann et al. 2013) may influence goal achievement and are necessary to consider. While the end goal is enhanced self-care, it is important to break the end goal in to means goals, the ‘SMART’ acronym is often used for this purpose. For example, the end goal is improving self-care, while means goals may be as below.


Figure 4. ‘SMART’ Goals (Mann et al. 2013)

Mens Sana in Corpore Sano

Self-care is essential to health. It is important to distinguish between making decisions based on current wants and what is best for health, the latter is the true form of self-care. Actively improving our habitual self-care can contribute to living a healthy lifestyle. So, in quite a literal sense;

Take Care!



Bailey, R.R. (2019) ‘Goal setting and action planning for health behavior change’, American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 13(6), 615-618.

Mann, T., De Ridder, D. and Fujita, K. (2013) ‘Self-regulation of health behavior: social psychological approaches to goal setting and goal striving’, Health Psychology, 32(5), 487.

Michie, S., Van Stralen, M.M. and West, R. (2011) ‘The behaviour change wheel: a new method for characterising and designing behaviour change interventions’, Implementation science, 6(1), 1-12.

Prochaska, J.O. and Velicer, W.F. (1997) ‘The transtheoretical model of health behavior change’, American Journal of Health Promotion, 12(1), 38-48.

Twito, L., Israel, S., Simonson, I. and Knafo-Noam, A. (2019) ‘The motivational aspect of children’s delayed gratification: values and decision making in middle childhood’, Frontiers in psychology, 1649.

Webber, D., Guo, Z. and MAnn, S. (2015) ‘SELF-CARE IN HEALTH: WE CAN DEFINE IT, BUT SHOULD WE ALSO MEASURE IT?-Selfcare Journal’, SelfCare Journal.

WHO (1948) ‘Preamble to the Constitution of the World Health Organization as adopted by the International Health Conference, New York, 19-22 June, 1946; signed on 22 July 1946 by the representatives of 61 States (Official Records of the World Health Organization, no. 2, p. 100) and entered into force on 7 April 1948’, http://www. who. int/governance/eb/who_constitution_en. pdf.

WHO (2009) Self-care in the context of primary health care: WHO Regional Office for South-East Asia.

WHO (2021) WHO guideline on self-care interventions for health and well-being, World Health Organization.

Maeve Conneely is a post-graduate student in the Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences in the University of Limerick. Within the Physical Activity for Health Group, Maeve is a researcher on the Active School Flag project, an initiative by the Department of Education and Skills, which aims to get ‘More Schools, More Active, More Often’ and the Childrens’ Sports Participation and Physical Activity Study 2022, which examines youth participation in sport and physical exercise across Ireland. Maeves’ own research focus on the optimising health through the 24 Hour Activity Cycle.
Contact Maeve at: Maeve.Conneely@ul.ie, Linked-In or Twitter

Tagged with: