“Self-care” is a trendy phrase these days, but what exactly does it mean? Look on social media or in a magazine, and it might seem like the concept of self-care is just an excuse to indulge in luxury or to treat yourself in some way. But there’s much more to it than that.
Self-care is the practice of asking yourself what you need – mentally, spiritually, or emotionally – and making sure you get it. It is not inherently indulgent or selfish; it is necessary. As adults, we are solely responsible for managing our own health, emotions, and personal growth. Self-care is the set of practices that allow us to accomplish this.
As flight attendants say, “Put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others.” This cautionary instruction is a great self-care metaphor. Modern living makes it easy to overlook your own wellbeing in order to keep up with other responsibilities, but it’s unsustainable and even risky to do so for the long term.
Maybe you’ve experienced one of these common symptoms of not taking enough care of yourself:
- Compassion fatigue, the kind of exhaustion that hurts your ability to experience joy and genuine care for others. When you’re physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually drained, it’s impossible to expend energy to be grateful and fully present for your loved ones. Compassion fatigue is like trying to pour from an empty cup.
- Burnout, a state of chronic stress from being overworked. Burnout is often career-related but it may also stem from school, family life, or any other type of occupation. Symptoms include physical and mental exhaustion, feelings of cynicism, irritability, or rigidity, and various states of “inoperability” – feeling ineffective, detached, or useless. Burnout often leads to unhealthy self-medication.
- Poor physical health. Everything from doctors’ appointments, to preparing healthy meals, to exercise and fitness classes count as physical self-care. Overlook these practices and you’ll eventually experience an avoidable decline. Furthermore, a lack of self-care leads to increased stress, which has physically damaging effects of its own. Stress contributes to obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and more.
How to Get Started
The first step in quality self-care is to learn what it is and understand its importance. So if you’re reading this article, congratulations! You’re already on your way.
The next step is to believe that you deserve it, which is easier said than done. We repeat: taking time out for yourself does not make you selfish, weak, or inferior in any way! Only you have the power to manage your life. It’s your responsibility to take good care of yourself. And, as we like to remind you, you deserve to feel better.
Part of this process is learning to silence the inner critic – the little voice in your head saying “It’s not worth it”, “You should be doing more,” or “Everyone else is doing better”. These critical, judgmental, self-blaming phrases reinforce the message that you’re not enough and keep you feeling small and unworthy. So challenge this voice and realize it’s not true. It’s just a feeling. When you find yourself making the occasional unhealthy decision, don’t beat yourself up about it. Be kind to yourself, forgive yourself, and plan how you’ll do better next time.
If you want to take better care of yourself but don’t know what to prioritize, try a self-exploration or reflection exercise to identify where you have the most to gain.
Questions to Ask Yourself
- Are you getting enough sleep?
- Are you giving your body quality nutrition and drinking plenty of water?
- Do you exercise regularly? Do you have consistent movement in your daily life?
- Are you satisfied with your relationships? Do you have a community of social support?
- Do you go to the doctor for regular check-ups? What about the dentist or eye doctor?
- Do you have any hobbies that excite you and inspire you to learn more?
You could also start by taking our Dimensions of Wellness Self-Assessment. This is a collection of short, simple quizzes to identify the levels of wellness in your own life, suggesting areas that could use some loving care.
When you're feeling ambitious about self-care, it’s tempting to try too much at once. Remember that creating habits takes time, energy, and mindfulness. Start small and kindly check in with yourself regularly.
Apart from your routine self-care practices, make a plan for those S.O.S. moments when you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed by the many roles that you play. Think: what practices and activities make you feel calm? Where do you feel safe? Who are people that support you and build you up? What’s a self-care plan you can make for in-the-moment stress?
Create a list of the activities and interactions that boost your spirits. Consider scenarios when you’re at home, at work, or traveling. Self-care in the workplace is just as important as personal self-care, especially if your work is demanding or exhausting.
Quick Self-Care Ideas
- Share something funny with a friend
- Use an aromatherapy oil, light a candle, or listen to music that resonates with you and makes you feel calm
- Hand-write a note or doodle to a friend or coworker that you appreciate
- Make a cup of tea or have a glass of fruit-infused water
- Take a walk around the block
- Snuggle with a pet
- Practice breathwork or meditation
- Ask a loved one for a quick pep talk
- Take a yoga/mobility break or follow a myofascial release routine
- Put your phone in airplane mode and go screen-free for a while
- Take a moment to schedule an appointment you’ve been putting off or not allowing yourself to indulge in – medical appointments, therapy, a massage, haircuts, pedicure etc.
All in all, these practices can look like a luxury from the outside. But material objects and commercial luxuries are just superficial perks if they don’t actually add value to your life and increase your sense of wellbeing. The real work is done whenever you listen to yourself and honor the needs of your mind, body, and soul.
About Kate Hannon
Kate Hannon is the Director of Integrated Wellbeing at Skyterra Wellness Retreat. She has worked in the mental health field for over fifteen years, guiding individuals through those courageous first steps toward lasting changes.
This blog post is inspired by the Self-Care class she teaches here at the retreat. This class is often taught on Sundays – a day that's all about rest and preparing to enter the week ahead with a full heart and clear mind.