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The Whole Picture of Self-Care

We tend to have a narrow definition of self-care. We think self-care means engaging in healthy habits: getting enough sleep, eating nutrient-rich foods, meditating, and moving our bodies.

Or we see self-care as synonymous with pampering and little luxuries: massages, manicures, long baths, shopping trips, soft pajamas, mid-day naps, fancy face masks and creams, beautiful flowers.

Or we think self-care is taking breaks and savoring solo time. Or we think self-care is all about saying no. Or we think self-care is anything that relaxes and soothes us.

Self-care can be all these things. And it can be other practices, too.

Why does having an accurate definition of self-care even matter?

Because how we describe self-care shapes how we tend to ourselves. Expanding our self-care description helps us to create fulfilling days and make more nurturing decisions. It helps us figure out how to spend our time (effort, and energy), and where to direct our attention (e.g., toward solo, soul-soothing walks, reading sessions, and Zoom chats with friends).

Here’s a list of questions to help you identify how you’d like to care for yourself today, this week, this month, and overall:

  • What sights, sounds, scents, tastes, and textures fulfill you?
  • What inspires you to be who you want to be?
  • What do you need more of in your life?
  • What are your favorite things to read?
  • What excites you?
  • What boosts your mood?
  • What comforts you?
  • What helps you to healthfully process your emotions (e.g., talking to a friend, crying, drawing, journaling)?
  • What provides you with meaning?
  • What meets your spiritual needs?
  • How can you  be kinder to yourself?
  • What are you awed by?
  • How can you empathize with your struggles?
  • Which connections do you want to cultivate and strengthen?
  • What resources do you need to feel better (e.g., therapy, yoga classes)?
  • What can you stop doing?

Your responses to these questions make up self-care for you. 

Take some of those responses—a few activities and practices—and put them in your planner for the upcoming week. Think of them as critical appointments you can’t miss.

You, like anyone else, deserve to be taken care of. You deserve to be pampered and fulfilled. You deserve to rest and to feel safe. You deserve to have meaning and wonder in your life.

And if you don’t believe that, that’s OK. Care for yourself, anyway. We don’t need to change our beliefs in order to behave in nurturing ways. Yes, it would help immensely. But don’t wait until you’ve shifted your mindset to practice compassionate self-care.

Act. Act now.

Photo by Allef Vinicius on Unsplash.

The Whole Picture of Self-Care

Margarita Tartakovsky, MS

Margarita is an associate editor at She writes about everything from taking compassionate care of yourself at any weight, shape, and size, to coping healthfully with difficult emotions. Her goal is to give readers practical, empowering tips to better their lives, and to remind you that whatever you're struggling with, you're never, ever alone.

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APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2020). The Whole Picture of Self-Care. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 29, 2020, from


Last updated: 10 May 2020
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