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Self care is not just getting a massage or pedicure

As a psychologist and life coach, I am happy to see the concept of self care gaining so much popularity in mainstream media and society. However, there are a lot of misconceptions out there about what self care really is, and what it isn’t. 

I define self care as any intentional activity you engage in to promote your personal health and wellbeing — physically, mentally, emotionally, and/or spiritually.

Self care should be proactive, not just reactive.

What I mean by that is, you shouldn’t run yourself ragged and then treat yourself to a massage or pedicure once you have no energy left to do anything other than be pampered. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with being pampered. I’m saying that self care is something that you should be engaging in all along, not just when all of a sudden you are burnt out or hit a wall. Self care includes building up resilience (mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually) so that you can face the challenges and stresses of daily life, as they occur, with greater strength and energy.

Self care is not just self soothing.

Self care is not just something you do to briefly take your mind off all the crap in your life. It’s not just self soothing or simply a “reward” — it is always in the service of improving your health and well being. It is always making you better.

Some things are soothing in the moment but obviously not good for us long-term. Excessive alcohol, binge watching TV, mind-numbing behaviors like scrolling social media for hours… these are all things that may soothe us in the moment in some way, but they probably aren’t going to provide any long term benefits in our lives (and more likely could cause long term detriments).

Self care always serves your future self. 

Self care doesn’t require money or luxury. 

In fact, self care starts in your mind. Self care includes reflection, self-awareness, and mindfulness or being present in the moment. When you regularly practice any of these cerebral activities, your wellbeing is greatly enhanced.

Self care also includes taking time to consider what is most important to you in life and then making those things a priority. In this way, self care helps you create a life you want to live. If you take the time to clarify your values and priorities (e.g., by using a values exercise like the one I discussed HERE), and then make a plan to regularly engage in activities in those areas, you will live a life with greater intention, purpose and joy. But again, this isn’t something you can just do when you think of it, or when you get burnt out and overwhelmed. It’s something you need to have planned and be engaging in regularly. Create a self care plan and plug in all the activities/practices into your calendar.

Your self care may look different than mine.

There is not one ideal self care activity or plan for everyone; it’s going to be different for different people depending on individual preferences, personalities, schedules, etc.

Having said that, I do think all people should regularly engage in some form of activity or practice in each of the following domains:

-awareness and observation of thoughts and feelings

-physical movement

-intentional activity in service of a value or goal

Self care isn't selfish.

When clients start working on a self care plan they almost always, at some point, question if they should be spending so much time thinking of themselves (especially if they are contributing to the care of others like children, a spouse, or parents). 

The truth is, if you can’t take care of yourself, you aren’t going to be much service to others. You aren’t going to have the energy, stamina or resilience needed. You can’t pour from an empty cup.

Self care is essential for your own well being, and it’s essential for you to be able to help others you may need to care for. When you are at your best, you can contribute so much more to society and the world as a whole. You can accomplish and create things that you never thought were possible, and help more people than you ever imagined. 


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