The phrase self care gets thrown around a lot... but may not used as often. There are quite a few misconceptions as well not only what self care is but also when it should be used. I'm going to take some time to share what self care is, when it should be used, and some of my personal favorites.
When I ask clients what their self care practices are, more times than not there is a pause as they think about what this even means. What typically follows are the common mental health prescribed self care suggestions. But first let's see what self care is defined as.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, self care is defined as the following:
the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one's own health. the practice of taking an active role in protecting one's own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress.
I love this explanation because it's simple and potentially broadens the idea of self care. Your self care doesn't have to be an all day trip to the spa. I don't know how your bank account is set up but the way mine is set up, that would mean that my self care would be pretty rare.
It also doesn't mean that your self care may look the same as mine. What helps you improve your well-being, happiness, and health may be very different than what works for me. For example, I absolutely love my bed and downtime. I could stay in bed and read my favorite book (currently reading Becoming by Michelle Obama) for hours. Happily. My husband on the other hand is completely different. He gets cabin fever when he's indoors too long and especially if he's in bed too long. Keep in mind that too long is too long for him. Obviously is not the same definition for me. What helps him is going for a walk. He can go for long walks around the neighborhood that has him end up subways stops away from our place.
The definition by Oxford also touches on when self care should be used. (Go 'head, Oxford!) But I also think that many people believe that when your therapist is asking you about self care, they are inquiring about what you do to help yourself in times of stress. What's interesting about this is that we still don't use self care at times of stress all the time. Yep, I include myself *face palm*. It can be because we are not really recognizing that we are in fact stressed. It can also be that we're not used to doing these behaviors so in times of stress, we're not thinking, "What is that thing that I typically don't do but my therapist and I talked about a few weeks ago?" Especially when we aren't thinking straight. We're talking high levels of cortisol, fight or flight responses, rapid heart rates, upset tummies, etc. One tip I have about this is creating a space in your phone, journal, or posting a sign where you look a lot reminding you of your self care strategies.
Another tip that might help with this is something that gets overlooked and is not as much a tip as an overall recommendation. Self care shouldn't only be used in times of stress. It is an ongoing, consistent strategy. Think about it like this, do you only get your oil changed after your engine is blown? (I literally learned my lesson from that one time. It was horrible! But that story is for another day.) Your self care shouldn't be an only-when-I'm-about-to-lose-my-mind activity but a repeated behavior that will help make you less likely to get stressed in the first place as well as help you remember your self care and coping strategies in times of elevated stress. So go get your mental oil changed daily if possible!
There are many things that can be considered self care and some of those things are healthy and some of those things... not so much. But if you remember back to the definition, self care is about improving your health! So if you're choosing some unhealthy self care activities, although it may feel good in the moment, you're not actually practicing self care because it probably won't be good for your health overall. This could be overeating, substance use, or even exercising excessively.
If you Google self care ideas, you'll find a bunch of results. That might be a good place to start if you're not sure what works for you. Another idea is reflecting back to previous times of stress and thinking about what activities made you feel good and potentially get you back to a better space. Here are some of my favorites:
Reading or enjoying a podcast (one of my favorites is Small Doses by Amanda Seales)
90's hip hop and R&B
Petting or cuddling with a dog
Hanging out with positive people
Laying in the sun
Watching home decor videos on YouTube
Exercise including spin classes, Zumba, swimming, kickboxing
Showering with my favorite scents
Giving myself a mani/pedi
Going for a walk
Getting much needed sleep
Enjoying scented candles
Pinning on Pinterest
Cleaning my apartment
Enjoying a delicious meal (sushi lover here!)
My own therapy
What are some of yours?