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Four Ways to Be Realistic about Self-Care

Danielle Bertini, LPC

Self-care is a topic that has received a considerable amount of attention over recent years, especially in fields like health care and human services. However, many people still struggle to not only understand the topic, but to also know how to get enough of it. Dr. King (2019) offers four rules to help you stay on track with self-care.

Rule #1: Self-care includes self-talk.

A big issue people find with trying to incorporate more self-care into their lives is that they believe they don’t have enough time to take an exercise class or don’t have enough money for a massage. Although these things might be true, it’s missing an important point that self-care is not always what you do for an hour or two each week. Self-care is more so about the way you live your life, which includes how you relate to and talk to yourself each and every day. 

Self-talk does a lot to shape our mood, stress levels, and whether we feel overwhelmed or in control. For example, a busy day can either be experienced as one that is anxiety-provoking and burnout-producing, or it can be seen as a challenge to rise and use our strengths. No tangible self-care behaviors will be effective if you are in the habit of stressing yourself out over and over again. Even if you are getting that expensive massage, if you are thinking about work the entire time then it almost becomes pointless. 

Rule #2: Distraction can be helpful, but only for a while.

Some people believe that self-care means distracting yourself from stressors. This can be things like binge-watching a show, reading a book, or going to the movies. In fact, there is nothing wrong with doing any of these things on occasion, especially when emotions are running high or you’re completely exhausted. In these times, distractions can be a helpful form of self-care.

However, problems begin when the only self-care activities you do involve being able to be checked out, numb, avoidant, distracted, or ignorant of your stressors. If this goes on too long, you will most likely find yourself having a pool of unprocessed feelings that can cause stress and burnout to worsen rather than improve.

Rule #3: Find ways to emotionally process your experiences. 

To piggyback off of the previous rule, try looking for activities that help you process different experiences in your life. For example, if you are overwhelmed by certain deadlines you have coming up, no amount of distraction is going to help you in the long run. Things need to get done. Instead, try engaging in things that work directly to address your intense stress, like guided meditation or a conversation with a colleague. 

An important part of self-care is that you are giving attention to your emotions, including doing specific activities to help with emotional processing. This can be things like journaling, drawing, seeing a therapist, dancing, exercise, or even having a good cry. When considering different self-care activities to fit this category, it’s important to ask yourself, “Have I accessed my own thoughts and feelings, and do I have a somewhat better perspective, a sense of relief, or emotional release, after doing this activity?” If the answer is yes, great! If not, trying considering doing something else.

Rule #4: Take care of your physical health.

There is sometimes the belief that self-care means you need to add something new and dramatic to your life. Although it can be helpful to spend money on massages or try new hobbies in the hope to find something that excites you, it’s important to not overlook the simply daily routines that help keep you physically healthy. 

Since you need to eat, sleep, bathe, and dress yourself anyway, these can be good places to improve your self-care. What if you chose food that really nourished you? What if you changed your bedtime, or finally bought that new pillow, to help you sleep better? All of these little things can turn your daily routines into opportunities for self-care.

This is all to show you that you don’t necessarily need a lot of time, money, or new activities to improve your self-care. By starting with your self-talk, taking care of your health, and achieving a better balance of distraction and emotional processing, you can be well on your way to living a life full of self-care.


King, K. (2019, September 1). Four Realistic Rules for Better Self-Care. Retrieved from

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