These days, it feels like we can’t go a day without hearing the word “self-care.” And while I love that mental and emotional health are starting to get their much deserved time on the stage, I can’t help but feel like something is missing in the self-care conversation.
The majority of articles on self-care seem to mention the same things. “Get a manicure, take time off, call a friend, book a vacation, run a bubble bath, take a walk, eat your favorite ice cream.” And while I think these are all good and possible ways to engage in self-care, I don’t think they’re enough.
There’s more to the self-care story.
I think we’re confusing self-care with indulgence. We’re mistaking self-care with the ever popular mantra, “Treat yo self.” We’ve oversimplified a fairly nuanced and complex process, and we’re missing something important.
The dictionary defines care as “the provision of what is necessary for the health, welfare, maintenance, and protection of someone or something.” Reread that one more time. “The provision of what is necessary for the health, welfare, maintenance, and protection of someone or something.”
Health. Welfare. Maintenance. And protection. Each of these four words is important.
Let’s look at an example for a second. If you are tasked with caring for a child, either as a parent, an aunt, a grandparent, or a babysitter, it’s a huge undertaking. It involves responding to their health, their welfare, their maintenance, and their protection.
It isn’t about giving them everything they want, having ice cream for dinner, and letting them stay up late all the time. Caring for a child involves responding to their needs. Physically, mentally, and emotionally.
And these needs are complex, requiring a lot of attention and awareness on your part. Because you can better care for a child when you know their specific and unique needs.
Sometimes caring for a child means saying no. Sometimes it means saying yes. Sometimes it’s dessert before dinner; other times it carrots and peas or nothing. Sometimes caring for a child involves gentle words of comfort; other times it’s an enthusiastic pep talk.
The type of care depends on a million different things. It’s not a one size fits all.
Self-care is the same way. It’s not just about a bubble bath, a mud mask, a new outfit, or a day off. Sometimes it might be, but it’s often so much more.
Self-care is about the way you talk to yourself when you’re struggling. It’s about prioritizing sleep. It’s how you fuel your body. It’s about practicing mindfulness. It’s about saying no. It’s about saying yes. It’s giving yourself a break. It’s holding yourself accountable.
Self-care might be a Netflix marathon one weekend and screen free weekend the next. It might mean having a tough conversation one day and then turning your phone off for a night. It might be saying no to something material and saving instead. Or it might be setting aside $10 for something completely frivolous and fun.
Self-care is about responding to your health, your wellness, your maintenance, and your protection. What constitutes self-care varies wildly, and it changes based on what you need, where you are, and how you feel.
If you want to get serious about self-care, go beyond the treats and the typical suggestions. Start paying attention to how you’re feeling, where you are, and what you really need. (This is where emotional check-ins come in very handy.)
Notice what would provide for your health and wellness. For your maintenance. And for you protection.
You deserve good, healthy, nourishing self-care. And sometimes that involves a pint of mint chocolate chip ice cream or a pedicure. But often, it involves so much more.
How do you self-care, and how might you begin to go about it differently?