What is Self-Care Anyway?
Updated: Sep 10
Self-care! The ultimate buzzword these days. You hear it spouted and talked about all the time. But what does it actually mean anyway? Is it all champagne, chocolate, and bubble baths? Absolutely not! It is so much more and sometimes it isn’t even fun.
It has taken me many years of my life to realize what self-care actually means. Seriously, YEARS!!!! I have spent more time in life not practicing self-care and have learned many hard lessons from it. It has been all these hard lessons of feeling burnt out, tired, sick, and having unfortunate events that transpire from lack of self-care that have led me to the light of what taking care of myself means. Surely this doesn’t apply to only me.
Let us first examine what self-care is not, or rather what the lack of self-care looks like in life. For me, it started young. I had drive and ambition for days. In high school, I found it perfectly normal to get 5-6 hours of sleep per night. I thought it was normal to pile so much work on my plate that I would “burn the candle from both ends”. I carried this habit into my adult life in my twenties. It turned into excessive working and then socializing in all my downtime. There was plenty of time to “sleep when I’m dead”.
Fast forward to motherhood. I did what I thought was the right thing to do as a new mother. That is to make every sacrifice for this little human that I brought forth into the world. Sacrifice every desire, need, and even super basic self-care like frequent showers. If you have entered motherhood then you can probably relate. The problem was that I sacrificed so much I was having a hard time showing up fully and being fully present with my child. I mean, how can you be present when you working two jobs and then you are just exhausted all the time? You can’t! I couldn’t.
I carried this mentality into my relationships. I felt the need to make sacrifices for the good of the relationship. I felt it was normal to give up my needs and wants for another person. This resulted in me resenting my partners because I felt drained. It wasn’t till this pattern happened a few times and I had some years to do reflection that I actually woke up to how I was doing this to myself.
All of these are examples of how I sacrificed myself in my own life to give to others. These led me to feel exhausted and drained all the time. I found myself facing burnout and just wanting to hide in the forest on a mountain and get away from everyone and everything. I was depleted and run down with no more left to give others and nothing left to give myself. To be honest, I kind of did check out in some ways, but that's another story for another day.
Things self-care is not….
Working so many hours that you can only think about work
Sacrificing yourself to meet other people's needs
Drinking to make the days turn into a blur.
Binge eating to fill emotional voids and cure boredom
Partying every chance an opportunity arises
Saying yes to everyone and everything
Denying yourself sleep to do everything in life
Just “powering” through
What happens when we neglect self-care?
Drained, no or low energy
Resentment toward others
Feelings of hopelessness
Lack of motivation
Body aches and pains
Sickness sets into the physical body
Easily irritable or angry
Mental health issues get worse
Bad food choices
Bad decisions in general
lead to negative consequences
More susceptible to addictive habits
Back to the main question. What is self-care anyway?
Self-care is the forethought of action we take to enhance the quality of our lives. This starts with basic self-care like brushing your teeth or taking a shower, both hard things to do if you are exhausted and depressed. Then there is more advanced self-care that involves planning, having boundaries, and ultimately getting to really know yourself.
When you spend enough time with yourself you get to really know yourself in a deep way. You learn, from experiences, what you like and don’t like. This allows you to begin having boundaries that you keep for yourself to flourish. Your boundaries help you know what to allow into your life and what not to allow. It is also how you communicate with others on how to interact with you.
Self-care touches upon so many different facets of life. There are physical needs such as food, but what you eat impacts your health both physically and mentally. There is exercise and movement to keep your body moving. There are doctor visits, dentist visits, and different medical needs to attend to also. Basically, anything that impacts your physical health, well-being, and body can be summed up in the physical category.
It’s not all physical though. You have your mental health which can closely be tied to your physical health. Once again, are the foods you eat assisting in good mental health or depleting you of all the happy chemicals your brain desires and needs for you to feel good? If you have a hard time with things or your mental health is suffering then seeing a therapist is considered great self-care. You are doing something to work toward feeling better, being a better you, and growing and healing. Mental health is super important to feeling like you have a good life.
There is also tending to your spiritual health. It doesn’t matter what you believe, what religion you follow, or how you have come to view your life in this universe. This is about your journey and how you tend to yourself for growth. Maybe you are very religious and devout. You enjoy attending church services frequently and following the rituals of what you believe. The act of committing yourself to this is your personal self-care.
It looks different for everyone. Even an atheist can have a personal spiritual practice. It might look like attending a meet-and-greet group that discusses scientific topics or other topics of personal interest. Whatever the activity, if it enhances your life, helps you feel and be a better person, and you are intentionally making space for it, then it can be considered self-care.
Let us not forget our emotional well-being. Learning how to identify, deal with, and communicate emotions can be really difficult and challenging for most people. Self-care seeks to do the inner work it takes to improve emotional maturity so that you can enhance your relationship with both yourself and every other person in your life. Better relationships lend to better overall well-being. Self-care understands this and seeks to find actions that can help to improve how we emote and relate.
Sometimes self-care can feel like a real challenge. It might be saying “no” to something fun that you are aware will make you not feel good for a day or two. It might mean changing some habits because they benefit you better, not because you like them. It might feel selfish when you have to communicate to others that you are going to disappoint them because their ask goes beyond your own personal limits. It’s sticking to something because you know it’s good for you even when you feel like resorting back into a self-sabotaging pattern.
Despite any challenge that your personal self-care practices present for you, the result of continual self-care will pay off over time. You’ll look back a year from when you began your journey and realize how much better off you are. It raises an internal motivation to continue on the self-care journey. Ride the momentum and you will be seeing a side of yourself blossoming that you never knew existed. When you start reaching your heightened potential then you know you have picked up good practices and rituals.
So what is self-care? Oh, so many different things. It looks different for us all. It is an evolving practice on our life journeys. It is life transformative in the most wonderful way.
Self-care starts with knowing what you need and how to meet those needs. Having a box of tools to go to in your time of need can be significant in helping you heal, grow, and nurture yourself. Create your very own Self-care toolkit to go to when you need it. This will help you on those bad days and be a reminder of the things you can do for yourself to fill your cup.