A common definition of self-care is: engaging in activities that boost one’s mental, physical and emotional well-being. It’s also common for certain activities to be excluded from that definition—such as vegging out on the couch, and eating a slice of cake. Instead, people talk about “healthy eating” and exercise as self-care activities, while couch time and cake don’t qualify.

(On a side note, I think “healthy eating” tends to have a rigid, narrow definition, which is harmful. I prefer Ellyn Satter’s “normal eating.”)

But here’s the important part about self-care: It is varied and vast. Self-care looks different day to day, because our needs will differ day to day (like the weather does). Of course, you might have some nourishing rituals, such as meditating, writing morning pages and reading scripture. But overall self-care depends on how you’re feeling and what you need.

I really like Agnes Wainman’s definition of self-care: “something that refuels us, rather than takes from us.” It’s simple and straightforward, and provides a great barometer. It also brings up a powerful question: What will refuel me today (instead of take away from me)? 

On some days that might be sitting on the couch for a few hours while savoring a slice of cake, and watching “House Hunters.” On other days it might be taking a long walk around the lake, and taking pictures of the beauty you see.

On some days self-care will be sitting with painful feelings. It will be crying on the phone to a friend. It will be playing tag in the backyard.

On some days it will be getting a massage and manicure. It will be saying no to invites and requests so you can say yes to what really matters to you.

On some days it will be waking up early to create. On other days it will be sleeping in and giving your body a much-needed rest.

On some days it will be going on an adventure. On other days it will taking it easy and staying in. On some days it will be going to a party. On other days it will be being alone, and enjoying your own company.

I think the key is to remember that self-care is very personal. It does go beyond bare essentials. But what it looks like is really up to you. And knowing what that is starts with asking every day, several times a day: What do I need?

Photo by Aaron Burden.