Self-care is a term that gets thrown around a lot. We might think it’s synonymous with bubble baths, manicures and massages. And sometimes self-care might be these things. But at the heart of it, at its core, self-care is self-preservation. It is shielding ourselves from harm and danger. Which could mean anything from surrounding ourselves with trustworthy people to seeing a therapist for managing our ADHD to eating when we’re hungry to taking regular relaxation breaks.
It is supporting ourselves. It is having our own back. It is making sure that you’re OK mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually. It is putting ourselves first, which I know feels very unfamiliar and uncomfortable for many of us. But self-care is actually an act of love for others, too. I was reminded of this recently when I interviewed therapist and Psych Central blogger Aaron Karmin for another piece. He said:
Self-preservation means, “I take care of me so I can be there for everyone else.” To be a good husband/wife, father/mother, son/daughter, brother/sister, friend/employee, you have to care for your own needs first. Self-preservation is like when you’re on an airplane and they go over the safety instructions. Selfish is only putting your air mask on while everyone else chokes. Selfless is putting everybody else’s air mask on while you choke. Self-preservation is putting on your air mask first so you can then help those around you.
So often we think that we need to put everyone else’s needs ahead of our own. Our kids. Our spouses. Our loved ones. We think this is the right thing to do. Even more so, we think it’s the only way. Maybe your mom was a martyr and you learned to see that kind of behavior as virtuous and ideal and what you’re supposed to do and be. Maybe it’s not a conscious or deliberate decision on your part. You simply find yourself being pulled by other’s schedules, wants and whims.
Self-care is about protecting, supporting and sustaining yourself, which helps you be there for others. It is about prioritizing your time and being thoughtful and intentional about your days. It is about listening to your needs. When you practice self-care, you are preserving your health and well-being. You are filling the bucket so there are resources—energy, attention, brain space—to devote to caring for others and cultivating your relationship with them.
What would happen if you started viewing self-care as self-preservation? As a way to sustain your health and well-being? As a way to support your mental, emotional, physical and spiritual needs? How does this shift your behavior? How might you care for yourself right now?