Self-care refers to all the things that people do for themselves to recognise, treat and manage their own health and wellbeing. Self-care can include things that people do completely independently and things that they do in partnership with health and care professionals, systems and services.

Health problems that need ongoing management over a number of years are called long-term conditions. Given the nature of these conditions, they offer particular opportunities for self-care.

There is often confusion about the difference between ‘self-care’ and ‘self-management’. In the past, ‘self-management’ referred to the strategies used by people with long-term health conditions to deal with their symptoms, treatment, and the physical and social consequences of their illness. Self-care on the other hand was primarily for acute non-urgent ailments and health problems, and concerned with supporting people to find and access the most appropriate advice and care for those problems. Today, self-care and self-management are often used interchangeably.

There are different types of self-care, which can be used by individuals separately or in combination at different times in their lives:

  • Regulatory self-care involves basic routines such as sleeping, eating or attending to personal care needs;
  • Preventative self-care can include things such as healthy eating, taking exercise, not smoking or managing feelings and maintaining psychological wellbeing;
  • Reactive self-care involves responding to changing circumstances, particularly symptoms caused by long-term conditions;
  • Restorative self-care involves working towards recovery from a health event by following treatment advice such as taking medication or undertaking physiotherapy.

Self-care can therefore involve a wide range of activities, of varying intensity and complexity, which can take place in different aspects of a person’s individual, family and social life. In other words, self-care can take place across any or all of the domains described in the frailty model used in this toolkit.