As vaccination programs begin to pick up speed across the world, the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic will be critical to ensuring that we redesign our society into a more equitable and inclusive one. This rings particularly true for the healthcare sector, where images and anecdotes of overworked healthcare professionals, and hospitals pushed beyond capacity, have forced us to reimagine the way we manage our health and operate our healthcare system. Self Care is part of a solution. It empowers people to manage their health and wellbeing and enables the efficiency of and accessibility to healthcare for more people, as well as alleviating the strain we put on health systems.
Proactively managing our own health and well-being has never been more important than now. We practice self-care everyday often unconsciously and adopting further good self-care habits does not require too much effort but rather simple changes which can make all the difference for us as individuals, but equally for healthcare systems.
Self Care is eating properly, exercising, and getting enough rest. Self Care is also the pain killer you reach for in your handbag when you have a headache. It’s the eye drops you use to lubricate your eyes when they’re dry. It’s the vitamins you take with breakfast when you feel your immunity system is low. And it’s turning to your pharmacist or doctor for advice or looking for reliable information online when you have questions about your health.
Self Care offers us greater flexibility by empowering us to manage our health. Encouraging people to take accountability for their own well-being in turn incentivises them to engage in activities and practices that will ultimately improve their health and quality of life. Accordingly, Self Care serves to promote preventative behaviours and has been shown to improve recovery times where total prevention has failed.
The pandemic has deeply tested the structures of our healthcare systems, exposing their precarious state. At the same time, however, the COVID-19 pandemic has inadvertently shown us that we are also more than capable of engaging in the management of our health and profound behavioural changes to protect our health and that of others. Learned behaviours during this time must become the new normal in order to make sure that health systems are there when we really need them.
The Association of the European Self-Care Industry (AESGP) have summarised existing evidence on the importance of self-care during COVID-19 in Europe. They conclude that COVID-19 accelerated the uptake of self-care and that people are more willing to treat minor ailments themselves or to ask for advice from pharmacists.
This bodes well for the future as we prepare to return to ‘normality’ in a post-COVID era. However, the new ‘normal’ should not look like its former self pre-COVID as we uncover more efficient ways to manage our health and well-being. Lessons learned during the pandemic on the importance of self-care must be maintained and further enhanced if we are to improve the predicament of healthcare systems and make sure that everyone has access to well-functioning health services when really needed.
Self Care starts with each and every one of us and so we must all be willing to do our part for ourselves and society at large.
My Self Care promise is to advance self-care by building a solid evidence base of its value to individuals and health systems, and promoting policies that support health literacy so that we all have the necessary skills to practice it responsibly.
What will yours be?