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What Self-Care Is and Isn’t: A Reminder

We hear about how important “self-care” is all the time, whether it’s on the news with a story talking about the importance of sleep and not drinking too much caffeine, or a meme on Facebook with a woman in a bubble bath. Sure, we all wish we could take a beach vacation. It can be a little easier to not be stressed out while staring out at the waves with the sun setting on the horizon. But true self-care is a much more important part of daily life than simply treating yourself to enjoyable things every once in a while. Sometimes the way that people practice self-care may actually do more harm than good, because even good intentions can be misguided, inconsistent, or paired with irrational thinking such as “doing this will fix everything” or “this should make me feel better.

Here are some reasons to consider improving (or starting!) your self-care commitment and routine. Making a self-care routine that is meaningful to you can: 

  • Reduce stress
  • Increase self-esteem
  • Reduce physical ailments
  • Help to cultivate meaningful relationships
  • Reduce anxiety and depression symptoms
  • Help you to live authentically
  • Prevent burnout
  • Increase empowerment
  • Help you to establish what you want out of life and what is meaningful to you. 

There are many benefits to practicing self-care and the outcomes can be far-reaching. The ones listed above are by no means exhaustive.  

So, What Exactly Is Self-Care? 

Self-care is generally anything that you do intentionally to take care of yourself physically, mentally, or spiritually. Going to Hawaii can fall under one of these categories, but the point of self-care is to make it a regular part of your daily routine, not an anomaly that happens occasionally. That is an important distinction when defining self-care: it is a practice, not simply treating yourself to something like a vacation or a massage. Self-care means making certain commitments to yourself and keeping them! This might look like making a commitment to NOT overextend yourself by taking on too many projects at once. Here is some more information about self-care.  

How Self-Care Can Get Confused 

It’s rather easy to get self-care confused with running yourself into the ground, especially if you are an active and ambitious person. You like to be busy, right? But if you never have any down time to reflect, you’re likely not living a balanced life. Essentially, some things on the outside may look like “good” things or self-care, like spending a lot of time at the gym or getting involved in a lot of extra-curricular activities, but down time IS a part of self-care.

Another example to watch out for is if you’re an especially caring person, you may enjoy doing things for other people, even at the expense of yourself. Taking care of others may feel good, but it’s important to maintain a balance and check in to make sure that you are making YOURSELF a priority. Isn’t it good to care for others? Yes, absolutely, but not to your own detriment. Furthermore, there is wisdom in the saying that you can’t pour from an empty cup.

What Self-Care Isn’t

Self-care is NOT self-criticism disguised as “pushing yourself to do and be your best,” being judgmental about your emotional reactions, or trying to change/ignore your emotional responses.  It is not doing one thing nice for yourself, like eating healthy for a day, and then beating yourself up for not seeing the progress that you’d like to see. In contrast, it IS a daily commitment to living well, being kind to yourself, and doing things in a preventative way so that you won’t get to the point where you feel so stressed out in your daily life that you feel like you NEED an escape, such as a vacation. The goal is to intentionally do things that will bring you closer to joy, contentment, and peace. This means doing things consistently. Click here if you feel stuck about self-care to read further about why your methods of self-care may not be working.  

How to Practice It 

Self-care is something done regularly, intentionally, to help increase wellbeing and safeguard against the harmful effects of prolonged stress. If it’s not just bubble-baths, nights out with the girls/boys, or getting a manicure while sipping wine—what exactly do you do? Here are some suggestions that are absolutely part of self-care but can get readily overlooked.

  • Saying no when you want to say no
  • Breaking commitments to take care of your mental health when needed
  • Setting and maintaining boundaries with people (this may look like requiring people to give you a heads up before they show up at your house…and not feeling obligated to allow them in if they don’t!)
  • Practicing communicating in an assertive manner when you don’t like or appreciate the way someone is talking to you and asking them not to do it anymore. This might look like “if we are going to continue this conversation, I am going to need you to stop speaking so loudly.”
  • Disconnecting from toxic people in your life and working through any guilt that may arise because of it.  

Ongoing Help 

It may seem like a tall order to practice self-care on the daily, and it certainly can be! But once you make certain things part of your routine, like being open when you don’t like something, it becomes easier and easier. If you would like to work on or create your self-care routine, make an appointment with Angelus today. A licensed helping professional is a great source of support when making healthy changes in your life.  

Blog Credit: Natalie Drozda, MA, LPC is a PH.D student in Counseling Education and Supervision at Duquesne University & therapist at Angelus Therapeutic Services

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