This week is Self-Care Week, which this year will focus on how to 'think' self-care for a healthier, happier life. The MHFA England community will be taking part in activities throughout the week based on the seven pillars of self-care and sharing stories and advice on what it means to them.

To start the week, here is Chief Executive Simon Blake OBE.

Self-care is a term that can mean different things to different people. And unfortunately to some, it doesn’t mean anything at all.

According to the International Self-Care Foundation there are 139 definitions of self-care.

It was first used in the face of adversity, with activists experiencing structural oppression. It was used to explain the importance of actively taking time to look after themselves.

Some argue that the term has been hijacked.

It’s now more widely used than ever. Some critics suggest the term has lost its meaning. Now diminished to a popular hashtag or the act of simply making yourself a cup of tea.

It’s increasingly clear to me that self-care isn't understood and valued by everyone.

As a nation we need to get better at understanding what it is, why it is important for all of us and that it’s more than just a hashtag or enjoying a cup of tea. As nice as that can be.

Self-care is about actively finding ways to give your brain a rest. To recharge and replenish in order to avoid stress, burnout and poor mental health.

Earlier this year, MHFA England were lucky enough to have the support of agency AmazeRealise. They brought together colleagues from a range of different disciplines to explore the concept of self-care.

Our challenge was how to make the general public aware of self-care, think about what works for them and put it into practice.

We spent some time questioning whether the term self-care was off-putting to some and whether it might need a rebrand.  We quickly concluded there was nothing wrong with the term itself, just that more people needed to know about it.

Our job, along with many others concerned with mental health and wellbeing, is to promote the concept of self-care. Explain why we need it and what it does. And support people to develop self-care strategies, that work for them.

We’ll need to understand the tiniest bit of neuroscience: how our primitive brain responds to different situations. We can then understand what self-care activities are going to work best for us.

And as with everything we do for ourselves, getting self-care right has to be a work in progress. Some things are easy, while some things are hard to master.

Different things work for different people. I love to ride horses. It works for me by giving my brain a chance to recharge. It simply isn’t possible to think about anything else while I am riding my horse, Boris. Especially if I’m learning something new or competing.

And even when grooming him or mucking out, my brain is 100% focused on the task in hand and quietly processing information without me realising.

Similarly walking or playing with my dog, Dolly. Throwing sticks and putting on my doggy voice to tell her she is the best girl in the world, on repeat, is all consuming.

Running is another activity that works for me. I get lost in music or a good podcast. If I do think of anything it’s often how much further I have to go.

The hardest thing for me is my phone. By far my biggest distraction. If it’s within reach I start looking, reading and swiping. This can stop me being present. Being in the here and now with my partner, friends and family. It stops me relaxing and can impact my sleep. I have to consciously make sure I don’t reach for it.

So, I've set myself some self-care phone challenges. With mixed results so far;

  1. It never goes in the bedroom – going well
  2. I turn it off when out with friends or my husband – getting better
  3. If Jonny and I go out I leave it at home – this was going really well but I’ve found myself needing the calendar or the camera a couple times, and what better excuse did I need to take it next time?
  4. Don’t take it out of the room when I am on holiday – sometimes works but I do need to get an old school camera!
  5. All notifications turned off, so my brain isn’t on ping alert – done
  6. Reduce screen time to less than four hours a day – I can’t actually believe how much time I can spend looking at a phone…

I am going to continue with these challenges because I can feel how much of a positive difference it makes to me when I am not attached to my phone. It genuinely feels like it gives my brain a rest.

A year ago, I wouldn’t have used the term self-care. But the more I learn about it, the more I realise how important for all of us to find our own ways to give our brains the rest they need.

If you do stuff that works for you, do more of it. If you think you don’t know enough about self-care, find out more. And if you know about it but think you ‘don’t really get enough time’, begin by trying, you won’t regret it and it does get easier.

If you don’t think about it at all, please do because it is an important part of keeping ourselves as well as we can be.

When it comes to self-care: it’s about you.