What comes to mind when you think about self-care? Is it a hot bath after a long day of work? A walk through the woods to clear your mind? Or having a cup of tea with a friend?
The concept of self-care has been around for a long time and has been used (and misused) in countless ways. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines self-care as “the ability of individual, families, and communities to promote health, prevent diseases, maintain health and to cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a healthcare provider”. Broadly this definition encompasses health promotion, disease prevention and control, and self-medication, and acknowledges that it is for the individual to manage their health and seek professional care when needed.
Self-care as a human right
There is no doubt that self-care is an essential part of your health. It is sometimes more frequently associated with mental health, but it can also play a big role towards improving physical health and wellbeing too.
This self-care approach is underpinned by the key principles of human rights, ethics, and gender equality. This means that self-care is a practice centered around you as an individual, and encompasses hygiene, nutrition, and lifestyle. It encourages you to learn about your body and health, and to listen to and recognize your own needs, including seeking care from healthcare providers when needed. It teaches you how to be in a healthy relationship with your body and gives you the knowledge to make informed decisions about your health. Ultimately, self-care is an act of self-love.
However, if you are practicing self-care, this doesn’t mean you will be disconnected from your health providers. Rather, health system and providers can facilitate better quality care and experiences when you are engaged and informed about your body and health. Self-care is simply a complimentary approach to care for your health and if you choose to practice it, your health providers will be accompanying you through every step of this journey.
What does self-care look like when it comes to sexual and reproductive health?
To varying degrees your body, relationships, and sex are part of your day-to-day life. This is why it is so important for you to know as much as you can about them to confidently make clear choices about your life. With the help of quality information, you can care for your own sexual wellbeing in many ways.
In general, your self-care options are very broad. For example, if you are attempting pregnancy, you might monitor your ovulation with a kit or mobile app. Or if you want to use contraception, there are options you can get by yourself, such as condoms and emergency contraception. You can also self-manage an abortion at home where permitted. If you have had unprotected sex and are worried about sexually transmitted infections (STIs), you may be able to test yourself at home at your own convenience.
If you don’t know where to start, you will need access to accurate information that will inform you on where to find the resources that you require, which will provide you with step-by-step guidance. The more knowledge you acquire, the more empowered you will feel about caring for your own sexual and reproductive health needs.
Self-care during a crisis
In some crisis-affected areas, self-care can play an important role due to the lack of available health infrastructures and providers. Although self-care cannot replace the whole health system, it can help support the process for some sexual and reproductive healthcare. Whether a community has been struck by an earthquake or is under lockdown during COVID-19, it will take some time before things return to normal, and so self-care can play an integral role.
However, in an ideal situation a pandemic or a humanitarian crisis should not mean that STIs are not treatable, or safe abortion care is not available. Health providers may still be able to arrange support under challenging circumstances.
Similarly, if you require contraception, you may still be able to visit a health facility. You may also have the option to order some contraceptives online or from community health workers and receive them at home.
No matter the circumstances, sexual and reproductive healthcare is important for your overall wellbeing and health, and between self-care and care from health providers, you should be given the choices that allow you to live the life you want.
How to access the right resources
Qualified health providers are a fountain of information, but with the advent of the internet and technology, you can access reliable resources in the form of videos, websites, and mobile phone apps. These are called digital health interventions.
We recommend making an appointment to see a local healthcare provider for support with your health needs for diagnosis and treatment and care.