You may be spending your free time on self-care – you get together with your friends and family, take technology detoxes, drink high pH water, book regular vacays, get your nails done at a 5 free salon, reserve plenty of me-time but is your self-care is working? Maybe you even went gluten or alcohol free for a period of  time. While you may feel more relaxed or happy in the moment, how do you know these efforts are contributing to your long-term health? Is your self-care working?

In order to know if self-care is helping you, it’s essential to establish a working definition of self-care. Self-care can be for pleasure and relaxation but the definition I will rely on in this article is more profound so you can make the most of your self-care hours, and not spend needless money and time on practices that won’t ultimately improve your health. “In health care, self-care is any necessary human regulatory function which is under individual control, deliberate and self-initiated.”1 So, self-care is necessary for optimal function, individualized, on-purpose and independent.

There is no one-size fits all when it comes to the right diet, the right stress relief plan, the right exercise regime2. So one’s self-care regimen needs to be tailored as well. However, the research shows that daily attention to some general areas is necessary in order to benefit most from self-care. Five primary domains of self-care practices are officially recognized: 1) physical, 2) psychological, 3) emotional, 4) spiritual and 5) professional self-care3. While self-care is self-initiated, you can seek guidance from a physician, coach, the internet, or be creative in your undertakings. No matter where you get your information – they may not be equally strong – doing a little bit in all five domains most days of the week will work best

Looking at our definition, you may find a big discrepancy in what you perceive to be self-care practices, and what will help you prevent or treat chronic disease, and contribute to a long and healthy lifespan. If so, how is your concept of self-care changing already?

If you already have a chronic disease, self-care is more likely to be called self-management or self-efficacy and include tasks that go along with keeping the disease at bay. You likely need to engage in behaviors to manage symptoms through medication or supplementation compliance, check-in regularly to ensure blood sugar, blood pressure or pain biomarkers are moving in the right direction, for instance. More examples are learning modified personal care habits like movement, sleeping and feeding behaviors, household and community mobility activities/exercise, adjustments to new social and economic circumstances, communication with others and modifications of living and work environment.  In addition to the growing list of self-care tasks that are required in order to manage the disease, you will also need to address your special mental-emotional and social needs to keep your thoughts and feelings healthy, given you have more stress in your life4. In holistic medicine, our goal is always chronic disease remittance, or cure – evidenced by the body’s innate ability to heal itself, however we support and promote the healthy parts of you as well so you can enjoy your life in new and old ways.

If you’re overall healthy, it can be more subtle to identify whether the self-care methods you are practicing are contributing to healthy longevity and a future free of chronic disease. But, just because you have no diagnosis or medical condition does not mean your body is happy with you.

So how do you know your self-care is working? 

This is a general area of research that is lacking, however as a Naturopathic Physician, practicing for 17 years, and running a supervised self-care club, I cannot stress the importance of learning to understand your body (and mind) better. In fact all those symptoms you may think are just annoyances are your body’s way of telling you, the care you are providing is not ideal. Aim to understand why and when certain symptoms appear. Keep a journal, get accountability or seek a practitioner who will listen attentively to your story, and can guide you through this process. 

When you have improved your health, symptoms you seasonally or cyclically experience will go away or reduce in intensity; even those that you think are normal, such as PMS, headaches, insomnia, yeast or urinary tract infections, anxiety attacks, heartburn, bloating or other digestive issues, seasonal allergies or frequent mucous and other allergy symptoms, and many others. If you are engaging in effective self-care these symptoms, first and foremost, will become less severe, less frequent and eventually may go way altogether, or at least you will understand how to address them in the best way possible for you.  

Other ways to know your self-care is working are you will get; more energy, fewer colds and viruses or need fewer sick days, healthier digestion, clearer thinking, more effective communication skills, a more positive and courageous mood and mindset, healthier skin or your glow will return – you might get compliments on your physical appearance or notice you are less puffy, less dry, less greasy, more vibrant, have better color in face, stronger nails or clearer eyes. Lastly, abiding in effective self-care can give you more room for higher callings. You may crave personal development, find your passion, set bigger goals, and ultimately want to pay your rewards forward to others in need. 

Nat Med Coach offers a Virtual Health Club who’s mission is to keep you out of your doctor’s office by teaching you effective self-care in the 5 domains.

Originally published in The Naturopathic Guide to Your Healthy Summer Body :


  1. Wikipedia. Search: Self-care. Retrieved June 10, 2019, from
  2. Bloomquist, K.R., Wood, L., Friedmeyer-Trainor, K., Hea-Won, K.. Self-care and Professional Quality of Life:Predictive Factors Among MSW Practitioners. Advances in Social Work. 2015 Fall, 16(2), 292-311. DOI:
  3. Maillot, M., Vieux, F., Amiot, M.J., Darmon, N. Individual diet modeling translates nutrient recommendations into realistic and individual-specific food choices. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2010 Feb, 91(2), 421-30. DOI: 10.3945/ajcn.2009.28426
  4. Marks, R. Allegrante, J.P., Lorig, K.A review and synthesis of research evidence for self-efficacy-enhancing interventions for reducing chronic disability: implications for health education practice (part II). Health Promotion Practices. 2005 April, 6(2), 148-56.DOI: 10.1177/1524839904266792