Self Care: What it is and What it is Not
Self-care seems like a buzzword, but it has its roots in therapeutic measures for daily functioning. According to Psych Central:“Self-care is any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health.”In a way, self-care is to you what parenting is to a child. The parent of a young child makes sure the child is fed, clean, and rested. They also provide healthy outlets and activities for them, like toys and age-appropriate outings. And a parent provides a safe and comfortable place to sleep, and consistent daily routines for care. Self-care is similar—it’s about how to take care of yourself.
Daily routines are at the heart of self-care because they make it an intentional part of daily life. It’s one thing to know that you need food to live, sleep to survive, exercise to be healthy, and rest to flourish, but how do you balance those needs with necessary activities like work and unnecessary but enjoyable distractions like entertainment? Daily routines help balance self-care with the rest of your life.
Since self-care is such a popular idea right now, it can sometimes seem like a meaningless phrase. People even use the term to describe activities that may detract from their well-being, like binge-watching a Netflix show, eating an exorbitant amount of junk food, partying, or drinking a lot.
Depending on the person, any of these activities, if limited, could potentially be a form of self-care. But, the term is meant to be more than that. Self-care is meant to help you focus on how to take care of yourself—how you contribute to your personal well-being instead of detracting from it.
This approach requires balance and intention, and the details will look different for everyone. At its most basic level, self-care is how you accomplish what therapists refer to as ADLs, or “activities of daily living” (Therapists often focus on the necessity of self-care because it is essential for mental and physical health.
If you have a mental illness such as anxiety or depression, a behavioral disorder such as ADHD, or a chronic health condition, self-care may be very difficult for you to carry out, but it is all the more important in the management of your condition and your quality of life.
What Self Care Is Not
It’s not just self-indulgence. When we care for ourselves, the end goal is to be healthy. Self-care is about needs, not necessarily whatever we feel like doing at any given moment. The ability to delay gratification is an important part of emotional intelligence and resilience, as well as being linked to overall success in life.
So, the idea of self-care, which also contributes to overall wellness, should not detract from the ability to delay gratification and do what’s right, rather than what feels good at all times.
Discerning that difference can sometimes be difficult. You might benefit from the help of a qualified Christian counselor if you struggle with anxiety our guilt surrounding your personal daily routines.
It’s not consumerism.
Some companies are capitalizing on the idea of self-care in order to market to consumers, but rest assured that you do not need a product in order to accomplish self-care.
Unless you are in a crisis situation, you have access to food, shelter, and at least some free time. Although simple suggestions of plants or candles or chocolate can definitely be nice luxuries, they are not the key to learn how to take care of yourself. And spending large amounts of money on new products that promise to add to your well-being is definitely not a necessity for self-care.
It’s not just being self-disciplined.
Just as self-care is not about self-indulgence, it’s also not just about forcing yourself to do things you don’t want to do.
In other words, if you don’t want to become a runner, running isn’t self-care for you; but, on the other hand, if you don’t feel like brushing your teeth, you still need to do it. Just don’t extend the idea of self-care to mean that you need to live a perfectly disciplined and self-controlled life.
Most of us have room to grow in our motivation levels and productivity. No one is perfect, and you can still take care of yourself even if you aren’t maxing out on every goal you have.
It’s not selfishness.Finally, self-care isn’t selfish. As Christians, we are called to a life of self-denial (Matthew 16:24), but self-care doesn’t contradict that idea. By assuming responsibility for our well-being, we are exercising stewardship over our minds, bodies, and souls (Colossians 3:23-24, 1 Peter 4:10).
Some people may find the idea of taking care of themselves almost a foreign concept. If you tend to be the giver in relationships, or if you are codependent, you might feel like it goes against the grain to consider your self-care routines.
But, taking care of yourself truly does make you better at taking care of others: ”It is not only about considering our needs; it is rather about knowing what we need to do in order to take care of ourselves, being subsequently, able to take care of others as well. That is, if I don’t take enough care of myself, I won’t be in the place to give to my loved ones either.”
What Self Care Is
Let’s go over some of the basic characteristics of self-care that we’ve discussed so far:
- Self-care is a therapeutic concept. It describes the activities of daily living, holistic health, and the intentional daily routines that make those things possible.
- Self-care can refer to anything you do to actively care for your own well-being (similar to the way a parent would care for their child).
- Sometimes self-care ideas require self-discipline, especially when you are in the process of forming new habits, but self-care and self-discipline are not always the same. Taking care of yourself doesn’t mean that you have to do everything perfectly.
- Self-care depends on the person. What are your proclivities (burnout? laziness?) and how can you implement daily routines to guide yourself towards a more balanced approach?
- Are there any extenuating circumstances that make self-care more difficult for you? Counseling can help you implement healthy self-care routines.
It’s important to remember that self-care is a key ingredient for a well-balanced life: “Self-care is often considered to be an important aspect of resiliency: those who are able to adequately meet their needs are often able to better cope with everyday stressors.
Because people who are able to meet their own physical and emotional needs are typically better equipped to care for others, it may be especially important for parents of children with behavioral challenges or other special needs to maintain a self-care routine.”
Self-care can fall into several different categories: It can apply to the physical, social, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of your well-being. This description might make self-care sound overwhelming, but life-giving routines actually simplify your life.
Practical Self-Care Ideas
Your best routines for self-care will depend on your personality, and whether you tend to be more task-oriented or people-oriented.
Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- To what extent do you struggle with motivation and procrastination (since most of us do struggle)?
- What self-care tasks do you do naturally, and what do you find more challenging?
- Which tasks did you have modeled for you as a child?
- Are you too rigid with yourself, or do you need to lighten up on yourself?
And here are some self-care ideas as you consider implementing healthy routines:
Start small. It’s tempting to want to overhaul your entire life, but try to implement one small habit at a time, or focus on one area at a time. Make a list of 1-3 actions you can do over the next month to improve your well-being.
Be intentional and mindful. Some activities have more value if you focus on their contribution to your well-being, and you purposely set aside time to enjoy them rather than rushing through them. Even necessary tasks like taking a shower or walking the dog can become more valuable just by focusing on their value.
Always ask yourself, “Is this contributing to my well-being?” Having a glass of wine with dinner might be fine for one person, but for someone else, it’s one more step on the road to alcoholism. Every enjoyable activity does not constitute self-care, but self-care activities should be mostly enjoyable, or you should be able to see their benefit.
Focus on consistency. The purpose of starting small is that it will allow you to be more consistent than if you overshoot your goals. Consistency is what will make the biggest difference in the long run.
A few suggestions:
- Find a form of exercise you actually enjoy.
- Make a list of your favorite healthy foods (they might not be the same as the health influencer’s you see on social media!).
- Create a peaceful and enjoyable morning routine, even if it’s only five minutes long.
- Try bullet journaling to keep track of your life (but don’t feel like yours has to be beautiful unless you want it to be).
- Work a small weekly indulgence into your budget.
- Go outside!
If you want help assessing your lifestyle and making self-care a priority, contact one of our certified Christian counselors or coaches today.
“Yoga”, Courtesy of Jared Rice, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Mindfulness,” Courtesy of Lesly Juarez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License “Chillin”, Courtesy of Clarisse Meyer, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Fruit and Smoothie”, Courtesy of Element5 Digital, Unsplash.com, CC0 License