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What is Self-Care?

Updated: Dec 27, 2020

While working on my bachelor’s, I was introduced to the concept of self-care. As a student and mental health professional in the making, I was often charged, along with my fellow students, to make time for myself. This sage advice was usually offered as an afterthought as we walked out class with a fifteen-page syllabus tucked away in our notebooks. It was then I began noticing that self-care was often given a lot of lip service but without any explanation about what it is and how to practice it.

With 2020, the need for taking care of oneself has grown exponentially. Studies are showing that mental health needs are skyrocketing as people face depression, anxiety, grief, and other difficulties amid uncertainty. We all need a dose of good self-care. But what is it? What is good self-care and is it different from pampering?

Well…it depends. Self-care can encompass pampering, but pampering isn’t always self-care.

Pampering is any activity (or non-activity) that makes us feel good in the moment. Sometimes, all we need is to sink into that hot bubble bath with candles as our only companion. Or maybe we crave just fifteen minutes with our earbuds, listening to our favorite music or calming app. Pampering offers us an escape, and that’s definitely worthwhile.

If we walk away from any of these activities feeling invigorated, uplifted, and better prepared for what comes next, then it’s filled the role of self-care by giving us something deeper than what felt good in the moment. Self-care will create space for us to feel restored and freshened as we move into the rest of our day. But self-care isn’t all about pampering.

Self-care is also about stepping up to do hard things. Finishing that difficult project that’s been hanging over us or taking care of that nagging health issue we’d rather forget. Self-care can mean dealing with a toxic relationship, creating boundaries, owning our own difficult behavior or feelings, or having that tough conversation. It can include signing up for that class we’ve always wanted to take but that’s intimidated us, tackling an old fear, or facing a childhood hurt.

This side of self-care is often ignored because it’s challenging. But in the long run, when facing the tough stuff is mingled with a little pampering, it offers us a good balance of self-care leading us to a greater ability to enjoy our life more fully by helping us create the life we want.

As we prepare for 2021, let’s give self-care a meaningful second look. Perhaps you see self-care differently than what's written here. Either way, this is the perfect spot to begin figuring out what we want self-care to look like in the coming year.

Journal prompt #1. What does self-care mean to you?

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