Self-care has become more than just a trendy buzzword in recent years. It is an essential component of a healthy and fulfilling life. Unfortunately, it’s something that we often neglect not only due to schedule and time constraints but from feeling guilty and selfish for taking time for ourselves.
To get over that common barrier, let’s explore what self-care actually is and debunk myths surrounding it, starting with the idea that self-care is selfish or indulgent.
Keep reading to learn how self-care can benefit you AND the people around you. Whether it’s as simple as taking a walk or turning on a favorite playlist, making small choices to prioritize your well-being can have a significant impact on your life and those you love.
So sit back, grab a cup of tea, and let’s dive into real self-care.
What Self-Care Is and Is Not
Recently I’ve been rethinking self-care. It’s something I talk and write about all of the time, but often the real meaning and impact come through during nutrition counseling calls with my clients.
Lately, I’ve seen self-care in the form of:
- Going for a walk to release stress instead of binge eating
- Coming home after a drink to have a cup of tea and get a good night’s rest
- Inviting a friend to try out a new healthy restaurant over the usual dive bar spot
- Scheduling fun fitness classes for a few days a week after work
- Taking a day off from work to rest and recharge
It’s these impressive (and often small) choices that we make to take care of ourselves. From nourishing routines and activities that prioritize feeling good and fulfilled, self-care is one of the few things we have control over on a daily basis.
It’s not a long checklist of things to do each day but finding what personally works to reduce stress, improve mood and energy levels, support healthy relationships, and prevent burnout.
Self-care is not selfish. While the choices/time commitment/sacrifices might be uncomfortable (and often involve saying no to something else), that doesn’t make them selfish. Let’s unpack this common misconception.
Self-Care Is Indulgent
Self-care activities are often misunderstood as being indulgent, a waste of time, and/or selfish. This is especially relevant when it comes to spa-like activities.
Some people might see things such as taking a bubble bath or getting a manicure as selfish or unnecessary. However, this is far from the truth. Activities like these can be a great way to relax and reduce stress.
By engaging in self-care activities, you’re investing in your own well-being, which in turn can make you better equipped to handle the demands of daily life. Plus, it’s fun and feels good.
Self-Care Takes You Away from Others
Another common misconception is that self-care takes away from responsibilities or the needs of others. However, self-care is not an all-or-nothing concept. It’s about finding a balance between taking care of yourself AND meeting your responsibilities to others.
You can take care of yourself AND be there for others.
Engaging in self-care can actually improve your ability and capacity to do the things you want (and need) to do. When you take care of all aspects of yourself, you’ll have more energy and focus, and be more efficient and productive.
Self-Care is Only for Mental Health
Self-care is often thought to be only for people with mental health conditions. However, everyone needs self-care. It’s not just about addressing mental health concerns, but also about maintaining a holistically healthy lifestyle and preventing burnout.
Intentional self-care can help you feel more centered, reduce stress, and improve your overall quality of life.
Just as a healthy diet, regular physical activity, and adequate sleep can promote good physical health, self-care practices promote good mental health and emotional well-being.
They could also be seen as protective, especially for someone who has risk factors that make them more susceptible to common conditions like depression or anxiety.
Note that most mental health conditions have underlying causes and etiology beyond self-care. Healthy habits can be beneficial in managing mental illness symptoms, especially when used in combination with other evidence-based treatments like medication or therapy, but they are not a cure.
Self-Care is Selfish
Finally, some people view self-care as selfish and inconsiderate. But, by prioritizing your own needs, you can show up fully and intentionally for others.
If it’s important for you to be able to support and be there for those you care about, self-care should be an essential part of your day.
Self-care is not selfish or indulgent. It’s not a waste of time. It’s how you find a balance between taking care of yourself and meeting your responsibilities to others. Look at it as a powerful way to better care for yourself and those around you.
Self Care is NOT Selfish. Self Care is Selfless.
When I think of selfishness, I think of someone who puts their own needs above others or even does something at the expense of or disregards others. Selfishness is taking advantage of others, blaming others, and not listening. That’s not self-care.
Sure, we’re all a little selfish now and then, but being selfish doesn’t mean you’re a selfish person. Building self-care routines and habits into your day are definitely not selfish.
Self-care might actually be the perfect antidote to selfishness. Doing the things that support all aspects of your health and well-being allows you to be your best self personally and for others.
How Effective Self-Care Benefits Others:
- Better mood → more patience and positivity, plus, good moods are contagious!
- More energy → greater capacity to focus on, support, and care for others
- Reduced stress → feel calmer and more centered, being more available for others
- Improved health → less likely to get sick, making you more reliable
- Self-respect → shows others how to value themselves and prioritize self-care
- Self-compassion → be more understanding, supportive, and compassionate toward others
- Self-awareness → skillfully adapt and respond to others
- Social Support → motivate and inspire others to take care of themselves
As you can see, practicing self-care not only improves how you feel but also how you are able to exist and interact with others and the world around you. If you struggle to practice self-care for yourself, consider trying it for others.
The Roots of Self-Care
We can’t ignore the fact that having to rationalize self-care as a service to others is interconnected to the patriarchal, capitalist society that we live in.
There are underlying cultural messages that encourage women to put the needs of others before their own, be the quiet, passive “good girl,” and be the primary caregiver. It’s almost as if we have to practice self-care so that we are able to do more for others, rather than for our own worth and health.
We also need to acknowledge that self-care has roots in the civil rights movement. Self-care was and continues to be an important aspect of the fight for equality, as individuals sought to care for themselves and each other in the face of ongoing oppression and discrimination.
Self-care is a complex topic with deep roots that are much beyond the scope of a casual blog post like this. Here are some good reads that further explore self-care in a larger, societal context:
- How You Can Honor the Radical History of Self-Care
- Self-care is important – but we shouldn’t mistake it for feminist action
- The Politics of Self-Care and Feminism
- The Politics of Conspicuous Displays of Self-Care
Ultimately, without self-care, being part of a culture that encourages us to put others’ needs before our own and to work relentlessly is a recipe for burnout and poor health and well-being.
Self-Care Prevents Burnout
Burnout is a real struggle, especially for those of us who often juggle multiple roles and responsibilities. Chronic stress and overwork can cause burnout, but self-care can be a powerful tool in preventing the progression to burnout.
How Self-Care Prevents Burnout
- Reduces stress
- Increases personal resilience
- Provides a sense of control
- Increases energy
- Improves overall well-being
Whether it’s going for a walk, practicing yoga, or simply taking a few deep breaths, self-care can make a big difference in your overall well-being. Plus, it’s a chance to reflect, evaluate, and make changes that are needed for you.
Overcoming Guilt and Shame
It can also be hard to take time for ourselves without feeling guilty or like we’re neglecting our responsibilities. It can also create a sense of shame around the idea of self-care, making us feel like we’re flawed or unworthy if we need to take time for ourselves.
However, setting boundaries and prioritizing self-care are essential for preventing burnout and maintaining our well-being. By defining what is and what is not okay from others, we can protect our time, energy, and mental health.
This means learning to say “no” to things that don’t align with our priorities and being honest with ourselves and others about what we can realistically take on.
Another key aspect of overcoming guilt and shame around self-care is cultivating a sense of self-worth and self-respect. We need to remind ourselves that we are worthy of love and care and that taking time for ourselves is not a selfish act.
By prioritizing our own well-being, we can model healthy behaviors for those around us and inspire others to do the same.
Setting boundaries and prioritizing self-care can be challenging, but it’s essential for our well-being and the well-being of those around us. Give yourself permission to prioritize your own needs.
Self-Care in Practice
By now, you’re hopefully ready to start integrating some self-care into your days, because it’s not selfish, but because it’s one of the most important ways to prioritize your holistic health.
5 Steps to Start Practicing Self-Care
- Determine what types of self-care are most needed and important to you. Try my self-care wheel activity to learn exactly how to do this.
- Set aside some time for yourself. Schedule it if that helps!
- Do things that bring you joy instead of things you feel that you “should” do.
- Connect with others. Ask a friend or family member to join, support, or hold you accountable.
- Work on your foundation first: sleep, movement, and diet.
Ultimately, you can start whenever and wherever you like, but it must work for you and be something you’d like to turn into a routine or habit for it to be successful.
To make it easier, you might want to read about the types of self-care and tips to incorporate self-care into your daily life.
Self-care is not selfish. It is a necessary practice that allows us to nurture our holistic well-being. By making self-care a priority, we not only take care of ourselves but also become better equipped to take care of others and fulfill our responsibilities.
It is time we stop feeling guilty for taking care of ourselves and start recognizing that self-care is a crucial part of a healthy and fulfilling life. So, take a break, do something you enjoy, and consistently take care of yourself. You deserve it.