Practising self-care

Practising self-care

There is more to practising self-care than you think; you might say there’s an art to it. But putting self-care into practice is much easier and more effective when we understand the different domains of, and effective strategies for, self-care. This is as important for health professionals as it is for all members of the community.

Physical wellbeing, social wellbeing and mental wellbeing, together, comprise our overall health.1 Therefore, practising self-care strategies from a combination of physical, social, and inner self-care domains will more holistically support your health and wellbeing.2-4 Importantly, these combined strategies need to be applied in both personal and professional contexts.

Physical self-care strategies are intentional things that you can do to maintain your physical wellbeing. Some examples might include regular walks and exercise, good nutrition, adequate sleep and mindful ‘box breathing’5-7 (a simple breathing technique which you can try out in the guided audio meditation clips included in the Self-Care Matters resource).

Social self-care strategies are intentional things that you can do to maintain your social wellbeing. Some examples might include spending quality time with family and friends, debriefing with colleagues, or participating in community groups that are meaningful to you.

Inner self-care strategies are intentional things that you can do to maintain your mental and spiritual wellbeing. Some examples might include reflective journaling, mindfulness or compassion meditation, prayer and fellowship with a faith community, relaxation or spending time in nature.

In a national study of palliative care nurses and doctors in Australia, physical self-care strategies were practised most frequently, followed closely by social and inner self-care strategies.6 In a study of Australian hospice volunteers, a variety of self-care strategies were practised to prevent burnout.7

There is evidence that mindfulness exercises and compassion-based practices can reduce distress and enhance self-care in palliative care teams.8 As a positive emotion that promotes flourishing, self-compassion is also a strong support for self-care practice.9,10

While many people refer to ‘work-life balance’, others find this term problematic. Research suggests that pursuing a sense of work-life harmony may be more helpful in the context of practising self-care. It’s also important to manage the various barriers and enablers to effective self-care both inside and outside of the workplace (see below).4


Now that you know more about practising self-care, return to Self-Care Matters and consider trying out a mindful breathing exercise, body scan relaxation, or self-compassion meditation (available online to play or download).



  1. World Health Organisation. WHO definition of health. Constitution of the World Health Organisation Basic documents. 45th ed. 2005. Geneva: World Health Organisation.
  2. Sansó N, Galiana L, Oliver A, et al. ‘Palliative care professionals' inner life: Exploring the relationships among awareness, self-care, and compassion satisfaction and fatigue, burnout, and coping with death.’ Journal of Pain & Symptom Management. 2015. 50(2); 200-207.
  3. Mills J, Wand T, Fraser, JA. ‘Palliative care professionals' care and compassion for self and others: A narrative review.’ International Journal of Palliative Nursing. 2017. 23(5); 219-229.
  4. Mills J, Wand T, Fraser, JA. ‘Exploring the meaning and practice of self-care among palliative care nurses and doctors: A qualitative study.’ BMC Palliative Care. 2018. 17; 63.
  5. Cho H, Ryu S, Noh J, Lee J. The effectiveness of daily mindful breathing practices on test anxiety of students. PLOS ONE. 2016. 11(10): e0164822.
  6. Stinson A. What is box breathing? Medical News Today. 2018. Available at:
  7. Maxwell V. How to reduce anxiety so you can feel calm and think clearly. Psychology Today. 2018. Available at:
  9. Mills J, Wand T, Fraser, JA. ‘Self-Care in Palliative Care Nursing and Medical Professionals: A cross-sectional survey.’ Journal of Palliative Medicine. 2017. 20(6); 625-630.
  10. Phillips J, Andrews L, Hickman L. ‘Role ambiguity, role conflict, or burnout: Are these areas of concern for Australian palliative care volunteers? Pilot study results.’ American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Medicine. 2014. 31(7); 749-755.
  11. Orellana-Rios CL., Radbruch L, Kern M, et al. ‘Mindfulness and compassion-oriented practices at work reduce distress and enhance self-care of palliative care teams: A mixed-method evaluation of an “on the job” program.’ BMC Palliative Care. 2015. 17; 1.
  12. Mills J. ‘Self-care, self-compassion and compassion for others.’ 2018. The University of Sydney.
  13. Mills J, Wand T, Fraser, JA. ‘Examining self-care, self-compassion and compassion for others: a cross-sectional survey of palliative care nurses and doctors.’ International Journal of Palliative Nursing. 2018. 24(1); 4-11.