We tend to think of self-care as another word for pampering. And that’s true: Pampering practices can absolutely be part of caring well for ourselves.
Maybe that’s getting a massage or manicure. Maybe it’s taking a bubble bath, burning a lavender candle, listening to calming music, and reading your favorite book. Maybe it’s buying yourself high-quality sheets.
But pampering is just one part of self-care.
Self-care is many things, and some of those things don’t exactly feel like self-care in the moment. Some of these activities and actions aren’t pleasurable or even pleasant.
In fact, they’re the complete opposite. They feel uncomfortable and awkward and intimidating and even frustrating. And yet they’re vital in caring for our various needs, in caring for our health and well-being.
These are just some examples of self-care practices and behaviors that don’t exactly feel like self-care:
- sitting with feelings of sadness, shame, anger, or loneliness (anything that feels like a “negative,” tough emotion you’d rather avoid, and often do); and not calling yourself stupid or ridiculous or a crybaby or a loser or a weakling for feeling this way.
- seeing a therapist for anything that’s bothering you or you think could be better
- scheduling your medical and dental check-ups
- setting any kind of boundary, especially if you tend toward people pleasing, such as telling someone they can’t borrow money (because they never pay you back); or you won’t be visiting your mom next holiday season; or you won’t listen to your “friend” berate your partner anymore. (This piece provides a pep talk on setting boundaries for people pleasers; and this one provides specific, practical tips.)
- taking medication that helps with your blood pressure or bipolar disorder or ADHD
- having a difficult conversation in a calm, clear manner
- facing your anxiety head-on
- examining your drinking and any other habits you might be using to distract and disconnect from yourself, from something challenging, from your life
- quitting smoking or any other habit that hinders your health
- saying “I need help”
- reading self-help books that address something you’re struggling with
- joining a support group
- limiting screen time
- hiring a financial planner
- setting a budget and sticking to it
- knowing that something isn’t working, isn’t nourishing you, and taking a tiny step to change it today
- decluttering and organizing your home
Self-care is personal. There are many, many ways to practice it, and what resonates with one person, of course, won’t resonate with someone else.
But the key is to remember that caring for ourselves doesn’t only include feeling good and relaxed and inspired and excited in the moment. Because there are plenty of ways we care for ourselves that feel uncomfortable or annoying or hard but are vital for our health and well-being, for our growth and learning.
This is why it’s important to regularly examine what you really need, and brainstorm how you can respond to those needs in a loving, compassionate way. Think of yourself as a parent who’s nurturing and caring for their child. Think of yourself as someone who has your best interests at heart. Always.
And proceed from that perspective. It just might change—for the better—how you care for yourself, and how you feel, and what your days look like.