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Reclaiming the Term “Self-Care” and Discovering What It Means to You

In our society, the term “self-care” has become a phrase loosely thrown around by many who may not actually know what self-care truly encompasses. In a previous blog post titled, “What’s the Deal with Self-Care?” I discussed the 4 different types of self-care: mental, emotional, physical and spiritual. After gaining a better understanding of the different ways self-care can show up in our daily lives, we can then begin defining what self-care means to us and how it’s best incorporated in our individual day-to-days. 

With how much the term has been used, both correctly and incorrectly, it has inevitably created a stigma around the word. Self-care now elicits thoughts of spa days, pedicures, massages and facemasks. We’ve continued to move away from the initial integrity of term. “People think self-care is a luxury, is selfish, takes too much time, is expensive, is another word for not being productive, and the list goes on…” says Dr. Judy Ho, Ph.D., a triple board-certifed and licensed neuropsychologist. Self-care has become associated with privilege which is isolating and excludes much of the world’s population. 

When Beth Tyson, MA, a grief and trauma psychotherapist was asked what her definition of self-care is, she responded, “Self-care to me is more about learning self-compassion as well as how self-soothe.” Judy Ho answered the same question, “I simply describe self-care as any practice that allows you to be your very best in your career, relationships, social life, and healthy behavior pursuits.” Sophia Burke, LCPC, a psychotherapist, replied, “… self-care is anything your future self will thank your present self for doing. That could be as simple as doing the dishes before going to bed so your morning-self doesn’t have to worry about them”. As you can see, there are many ways to define self-care depending on each person’s individual needs and lifestyles. So, that being said, how can we go about defining what self-care means to us and begin establishing a self-care routine that fits with our lifestyles? 10 new steps to be begin answering these questions are listed below.

  1. Determine works for you as a unique individual

Many people will tell you what they think is the “best” form of self-care. What they really mean is __ form of self-care is what works best for them. While trying out different forms of self-care can be effective, don’t get discouraged if what works for your best friend or partner doesn’t work for you. Finding what works best for you, and fits best in your life, will likely include some trial and error. Trust your gut and be kind to yourself. The process may be tedious but it is worth it. 

  1. Tackle what you’re avoiding

If something came to mind when reading this step, you’re not alone. If we’re following Sophia Burke’s definition of self-care, the goal is to help our future selves. This can mean doing the laundry, starting a project, or calling a relative. If you’re already dreading doing something tomorrow, try doing it today. Your future self will thank you. 

  1. Shock your system

While hot baths fall into the stereotypical definition of self-care, taking a cold bath or shower can be incredibly effective in its own right. “Cold water can help ‘reset’ the brain, halt anxiety, and release calming hormones in the brain.” Shocking your system for a brief period of time can bring about long lasting positive impacts. 

  1. Replace negative self-talk with positive

If you take the time throughout the day to acknowledge the thoughts that come up, unfortunately you’ll likely notice much of the thoughts consist of negative self-talk. We are often our harshest critiques and can cause much anxiety and unpleasant feelings despite external self-care activities we take part in. Part of self-care is identifying the impact our minds have in how we feel and working to shift our perspective and self-talk. Keeping a journal or speaking to a therapist are both good ways to begin rewiring negative thought patterns. 

  1. Implement boundaries

Boundaries is another word that has begun to take on its own meaning in society. However, in a time while many of us are working from home and our external worlds are ever-changing, implementing boundaries is vital to our mental health. Setting boundaries can look different to various people but frequently include time restrictions around work and cultivating the ability to say no. 

  1. Brain dump

Taking a moment out of your day to write down anything and everything can come to mind, even if it’s nonsensical, can clear your mind in an incredibly effective way. Doing this “…leaves room for the use of the executive functioning portion of the brain, or the area that deals with logic and reasoning”.

  1. Rest

Give yourself permission to pause. This may sound silly, but our society has glorified burnout culture which can make us feel inadequate if we’re not moving 100 mph. Taking a break and releasing the pressure to perform can do wonderful things for the mind and body. 

  1. Listen to your anxiety

While anxiety is an unpleasant feeling, it’s typically trying to tell us something. If your anxiety is telling you to isolate, people-please or keep quiet, do the opposite. “… self-care is doing the opposite of what anxiety wants”. 

  1. Implement happiness scrolling instead of doom scrolling

We are in charge of what we look at on social media platforms. Take time to unfollow accounts that make you feel badly about yourself and instead follow accounts preaching positivity in all forms. Whether this takes the form of a funny video or an inspirational quote, choose to make scrolling something that elicits feelings of happiness instead of feelings of doom. 

  1. Prioritize finances

Invest in your future not just the present moment. Financial planning to work towards financial stability can allow you to feel safe and secure in case a situation out of your control arises. “… the act of planning and progressing toward your financial goals can be therapeutic.” These goals can be the overall feeling of financial stability and/or a vacation or luxury item you may be wanting. Taking steps forward allows us to feel in control and step into our autonomy as unique, individual human beings. 

If you or someone you know is struggling to implement self-care into their daily routine, or determine what self-care means to you, it may be useful to connect with a therapist. Visit or call 312-578-9990 to make an appointment with one of our skilled therapists today!

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