What is self-care?
“Self-care” means different things to different people. For some people it means keeping in shape or eating more nutritious meals, doing yoga, or just “vegging out” after a stressful day. Others think “self-care” sounds selfish or self-centered, so the whole idea of self-care can be a turnoff and viewed negatively. Others say that self-care is like that message on a plane before taking off that asks passengers to put on their own oxygen masks before helping others. It seems like everyone has a different understanding of self-care!
So, what is self-care then?
Maybe how we think about self-care depends on how we define it, so let’s consider some basic questions. What is self-care, and why might it be important? We often think of self-care as external activities that we “do” in order to stay healthy, like exercise or changing our eating habits—things we do because we think we “ought to.” But there may be other things that are meaningful that don’t fit in the “ought to” category; things that represent self-care that may not immediately come to mind.
Self-care is about doing something that refreshes and restores you, that brings you deep peace and joy, and that takes you out of yourself.
It’s about letting your guard down and being free to be yourself. It’s doing something where you don’t have to measure up or look good, or accomplish or achieve anything, where you don’t have to be perfect. Self-care is about finding something that “feeds your soul,” that takes you out of your everyday existence and gives you a new perspective.
As you might imagine, self-care can take many different forms. It might be having coffee with friend, taking a nap, or painting a picture. For some people, finding a place to withdraw (real or imagined) that provides safety and freedom can be a form of self-care. Being in nature can provide a space for reflection and peace for some people. For others, doing something creative may be a form of self-care. It could be active exercise with a group or spending a quiet day alone.
Self-care can be more
But self-care also extends beyond these exercises. For example, an aspect of self-care that is important for many people is saying “No.” Life is full of so many demands, time constraints, and even great opportunities. It’s often hard to turn down what seem like options that may never come again. But how freeing might it be to say “No” in order to create space for something new, or open the door to who knows what? Saying “No” may provide the luxury of time and space to get more clarity about yourself and what you care about most.
For many people, coming to counseling is a form of self-care. It’s somewhere where you can learn more about yourself in order to grow more into the person God created you to be; to get free from some of those “shoulds” and “oughts” and to see life and yourself more clearly; to make some life-giving decisions because you are able to say “No” and to listen to your own voice.
Lighten your load
Forgiveness can also be a powerful form of self-care. If you are carrying around a load of guilt and shame that holds you back and keeps you from living, loving, or enjoying life as fully as you might like, forgiveness may lighten the load. Forgiving someone or perhaps forgiving yourself can be a very important part of self-care.
More than anything, I would encourage you that whatever path you choose for self-care, you do it! If self-care is lacking in your life right now, stop and consider: Is there anything that’s keeping you from caring for yourself right now? If so, it might be good to remember what Jesus said—that we are to “love our neighbors as ourselves” (Mt. 19:19).
Dr. Cynthia McRae, Ph.D. specializes in helping adults with life transitions, particularly those related to health issues, long-term illness, grief, and providing care for a loved one. In addition to seeing patients at Grace Counseling, Dr. McRae also teaches at the University of Denver.