What is Self-Care?

Against my better judgment, I still have a Tumblr blog, and lately on my dashboard one of the topics of debate has been what exactly self-care entails. If you haven’t heard of the term before, it is often used in relation to people with mental illnesses, particularly depression. It is meant as a reminder that it’s okay to be selfish at times and take care of yourself.

But what activities qualify as self-care? Some people say it is letting yourself binge-watch Netflix, eat your favorite junk foods, lounge in the bath, wear pajamas all day, or splurge on something you’ve had your eye on.

Others argue that practicing self-care means you shouldn’t be easy on yourself. Wash that sink full of dishes! Exercise! Clean your apartment! Make an effort to eat healthy!

Both of these approaches have their good points. However, anything taken to the extreme can have negative effects. So here are some of the qualifications I think self-care should have:

Self-care should ultimately make you feel better.

A serving of your favorite dessert may seriously brighten up an otherwise dreary evening. But an entire carton of ice cream will only leave you sick. Staying up a little late to have a phone call with a friend may cheer you up and let you fall asleep smiling. But staying up all night to marathon a show will exhaust you and make your mood worse than it was before. Make choices that you know you won’t regret later.

Self-care should be realistic.

Sure, buying new shoes might be exhilarating, but maybe your bank account can’t handle that right now. You might have a hefty pile of dirty clothes, but your laundry can’t be conquered all in one night. And if you could, you’d love to take a mental health day from work and clear your head, but not every company can give you that option. Your self-care should be easily attainable, something that won’t leave you broke, physically drained, or without a job.

Self-care should be unique to you.

Everyone likes to sing the praises of yoga, but you’ve never understood the hype. Many people think eating steak is a luxury, but you’d prefer to spoil yourself with a different kind of meal. Pick something that you like and that will boost your mood, even if other people don’t understand.

Self-care should be integrated into every day, even if it’s small.

For me personally, driving to work in the morning with the windows cracked and a good song playing is an act of self-care. It’s a little thing, but it’s something I do just for me, to put me in a good mindset for the rest of the day. One day this week, I had to stop at Walmart for a few things, and while there I impulse bought a piece of red velvet cake. Savoring a few bites of it with my supper greatly elevated my mood. It could be a rare indulgence or a regular habit, but self-care should make a daily appearance.

Self-care is what you make it.

If tidying your home brings you relief, then that’s self-care! If reading a book helps you unwind before bed, that’s self-care too! It’s tempting for humans to want a written definition for everything, so that what’s “right” or “wrong” is clear, but many things are up to the person doing the defining. Love, happiness, self-care… they’re all subjective!

Discussing guidelines in a post like this isn’t an attempt to impose limitations. It’s an effort to promote understanding. It’s a reminder that things aren’t always so black and white. So in response to Tumblr arguments: maybe watching movies all day isn’t the best self-care, but maybe pushing yourself too hard to knock out your to-do list isn’t either. It’s important to find the balance that works for you! We are all individuals, so it only makes sense that we all do self-care differently.

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