What is Self-Care Really?

Buckle up folks because I’m about to get all sorts of salty. I’m sick and tiered of seeing pictures of bubble baths, face masks, cheesecakes, glasses of wine and pretty nails with #selfcare. Those things are really just treats if I’m feeling gentle or hedonistic indulgences if I’m not. Self care has mostly morphed into and excuse to do what you want when you want. Here’s the thing self care is actually super important for your mental and PHYSICAL health so I think it’s high time we dive into it. The term self care actually comes from the medical community and is an antonym of physician’s care not a synonym for indulgence. Don’t believe me go read the Wikipedia page for self care, I’ll wait. So as a new year starts once again I want to get you thinking differently about that self care resolution on your list.

The actual definition of self care

The root of the term as mentioned is as an alternative to physician directed care especially in patients with chronic health conditions. Self care really represents the day to day decisions that patients make to manage their illness. It plays a big role in mental and physical disorders. Of course the specific actions varies widely from patient to patient and illness to illness. It could be a diabetic patient checking their sugars, watching their diet and limiting their caloric intake to drop excess body weight. For almost everyone it could include taking your medications as prescribed. For someone with depression self care can include daily cognitive behavioral therapy exercises, engaging in social situations to minimize feelings of isolation or maintaining a reasonable sleep schedule. Not as sexy as hair extensions right? 

So self care is really what you do everyday to stay healthy away from the doctor’s office. I could be using charts and other organizational tools to make good choices, tracking your food or mood or making sure you have healthy food in the house. For almost everyone it can be prioritizing getting a healthy amount of exercise and trying different options until you until you find something you can stick with that you love. It can mean cutting out unhealthy diet items or habits and doing whatever is necessary not to give into temptation. Self care can also be researching your condition in a critical and unbiased way and improving your overall level of health care literacy like knowing what your medications do and how catastrophic thinking affects patient outcomes.

A lot of pages have been written on possible barriers to self care, like libraries worth. Doctors get that certain things like age, financial limitations, co-morbid conditions and even a patient’s prior experiences can all influence their adherence to self care protocols. Which is to say they get that it can be hard. A similar amount of paper has been used documenting and quantifying outcomes in patients for every imaginable condition based on their adherence to self care. Spoiler alert poor adherence in certain conditions can actually cost you your life!

What is is today

Time for a mud bath!

It’s a hashtag, an excuse and a buzzword but very rarely is it actually self care. While I do think it’s great that people are talking about it and recognizing that it’s important I don’t think we’ve hit the nail on the head just yet. Really now #selfcare is all about sharing your indulgences under the guise of taking care of yourself. Self care has pretty much been coopted by the humble brag crowd. Remember by the very definition of the word self care is something you do for yourself to make you healthier. Remember that the next time your looking at brunch mimosas after a late night out. Rarely if ever do they show something hard maybe with the exception of workout photos and a lot of self care is hard. This might sound a little harsh but the thing is it’s super important and while it’s good we’re finally talking about self care we’re actually doing it wrong.

Self care is not

Alright it’s time to get a bit salty and direct now. For illustrative purposes these are the kinds of things we have to stop thinking about as self care. For some of these things, some, I’m sure you can come up with a scenario where it could be a good self care behavior. We’re talking generally here so calm down and take deep breaths.

  • Taking recreational drugs prescription or not
  • Having a diet high in junk foods
  • Putting off something you should do with something you want to do
  • Getting wasted
  • The general use of bath bombs
  • Cosmetics and extreme examples of grooming including masks
  • Crystals and essential oils
  • Drinking too often or to excess
  • Unhealthy food whatever that means for you
  • Pretty much any specific outfit
  • Not found for ones self on instagram 
  • Getting skin damage from tanning
  • Retail therapy
Post mud run bath bomb and (near) bear. Wait are mud run’s actually the ultimate in self care?? Maybe!

Self care is

Instead of that list of indulgences actual self care often looks a lot more like this. Not quite as much fun and often hard to take a picture of even if you wanted to share.

  • A responsible vacation be it from work, tech, drugs, alcohol or social media
  • Buying groceries or meal prepping so you don’t order out… again
  • Going for a reasonable run or to the gym
  • Imposing limitations on your diet
  • Meditation even if you don’t think it’s working
  • Opening bills that scare you and dealing with them
  • Creating a budget with smart priorities built in
  • Getting out and being with people even if you don’t want to
  • Avoiding things or people that are bad for you but exciting
  • Setting hard goals and doing the work to achieve them
  • Staying in when you want to go out or going out when you want to stay in
  • Following your doctor’s advice

Why ACTUAL self care matters

Self care, the actual kind, is super important for everyone’s mental and physical health. It doesn’t always have to be hard or complicated. Sure it can include the odd bubble bath, bath bomb or face mask but that is woefully inadequate. Getting into a lifetime fitness routine, maintaining a healthy body weight and eating a balanced diet should all come first for physical health. For mental health everyone needs to find something they are passionate about, get real about who they are and their relationships and find a healthy way to pass some time when you’re bored. After all that’s done, sure go for it and have a spa night. Not only will all of those things make you live longer they’ll add so much enjoyment to your life. Think about it for a second… how much better would your life be if you did all that?

The stakes get higher if you’re dealing with an actual health condition. First and foremost you NEED to go to the doctor AND then follow their advice! Almost every condition you can think of has an element of self care necessary for the best outcomes. Anxiety requires practicing coping strategies, high blood pressure dietary changes, depression requires doing things when you don’t want to and people with arthritis would do well to take a daily walk. I could literally go on forever but you get the idea. Self care improves the outcomes of pretty much every condition out there, remember that wiki page? What are we talking about with bad outcomes here, well the ability to work, quality of life and even early death. 

First day paddle boarding, way outside the comfort zone!

So please, please let’s take how we think about self care back from instagram it’s just too important a concept to lose track of like this! For me, like everyone I could do better in the self care department. I obviously workout to deal with stress, stay healthy, feel better in my own skin and get some alone time. I also make sure to eat a diet that at least doesn’t hurt my body most of the time. I make it a point to do mindless chill things an hour a day because if not I would literally work all the time. I try to be realistic about my relationships as they are rather then how I want them to be. I’ve quit a number of bad habits like smoking and drinking for my mental and physical health years ago now. And yes I do love me a good bubble bath/mask night from time to time. Did this make you feel differently about self care? What’s the number one thing you do for self care and what does it do for you?

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