Some “self-care” activities or actions tend to get put on a pedestal. They’re seen as virtuous, and we’re thereby seen as virtuous for practicing them. Going to the gym. Taking a yoga class. Eating a salad. Meditating. Reading literature. Waking up at 5 a.m.

Other activities are looked down on. They’re seen as frivolous or unhealthy or slothful. Eating a slice of cake at your favorite bakery. Watching an entire season of a sitcom. On the couch. Watching funny, random videos on YouTube. Shopping at your favorite store. Napping. We might even feel silly or embarrassed or lazy for practicing or engaging in these activities, even though they really do replenish us.

Self-care isn’t about what you should be doing, as in I really should exercise, because it’s good for me. I really should eat a salad instead of a slice of pizza. After all, it’s more nutritious. I should get up early and run. It’s better than sleeping in. I should meditate right now. It’s the right thing to do. 

Self-are isn’t about obligation. It isn’t about doing things that are “right” or “good” for us, all the while feeling bored, blah, maybe even miserable at having to do them.

Self-care is about what you need at any given time. This will vary. But filling our days with shoulds rarely replenishes us. Usually it leaves us just as exhausted as we were before—along with a heaping side of resentment. Of course, moving our bodies and eating nutritious foods are important and wonderful things to do—but they’re less important and wonderful when you’re not into them, when you’re just not feeling it.

The next time you’re planning on engaging in a “self-care” activity, consider these questions to see if it’s worth your time, to see if you’re doing something because you think you should:

  • Am I doing this for me?
  • Am I performing this activity because it’ll make me look good (i.e., I’ll be seen as virtuous or worthy or cool or healthy)?
  • Am I doing it because I feel obligated, because I’m supposed to?
  • Why am I doing this?
  • What am I needing or yearning for right now (e.g., rest, calm, excitement, wonder, connection)?
  • Will this activity meet this need or yearning?
  • Will I enjoy the process?
  • Do I have the energy to engage in this activity right now?
  • What will fulfill me emotionally, mentally, spiritually or physically right now?

Self-care is a commitment to yourself. It is a commitment to honor and respect your needs. It is a commitment to contribute to your well-being, and what this looks like is up to you. One day it might be spending half the day laughing your butt off watching your favorite show. Another day it might be taking a long walk around a lake.

Both of these are ways to slow down, to slow down time, to linger. Because some days, you just want to linger and lounge and feel like you don’t need to be anywhere but exactly where you are, taking your time. Some days this desire for lingering will be couch time. Other days it will be a walk. But neither of these activities is better or superior to the other.

What really matters is how you feel during and after your self-care activity. Because saying we should do a certain self-care activity is actually the opposite of self-care. Because self-care is about what you want to do, in your heart of hearts.

Ultimately, let’s not turn self-care into another task on our to-do list, or another thing to feel guilty, inadequate or insecure about. Let’s not batter and berate ourselves about what we find to be rejuvenating or relaxing. Let’s focus, instead, on nourishing ourselves. Whatever this looks like.

Photo by Sabri Tuzcu.