The Art of Self-Care

By: Elizabeth Davis, Extension Assistant Professor

sign that says self care

The term “self-care” is often misunderstood. This might be because it is often leveraged as a marketing gimmick. Advertisements promise us health, happiness and contentment if we just purchase the product they’re selling under the guise of self-care.

So, what is self-care? If it’s not the chocolate cake, glass of wine, exotic vacation or new piece of exercise equipment, then what is it?

Succinctly stated, self-care is any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, physical, social and professional health. This may include a wide array of activities, and is likely to change as our circumstances and needs change. Relationship expert John Gottman says, “By engaging in proactive self-care, we can create the conditions necessary for deep, mutually fulfilling connections with ourselves, our partners, families and friends.” (1999). So, by proactively taking care of ourselves we are more able to care for those people most important to us. Here are some tips to help you improve your self-care.

  • Identify what you need. The Self-Care checkup found here can help you identify an areas of focus.
  • Choose one specific thing that you WANT to work on.
  • Don't "should" yourself.
  • Make a plan that is realistic to your life and circumstances.

Identifying legitimate self-care can be tricky. Below is a chart of examples of real versus fake self-care. 

Real Self-Care Vs. Fake Self-Care

Fueling your body with food that gives you energy and helps you improve mentally and physically Extreme Dieting
Drinking water Alcohol or Drugs
Being kind to yourself Talking cruelly to yourself to "motivate" you
Setting boundaries Saying yest to everyone because you're a "nice person"
Spending time with people that enrich your life Socializing because of FOMO
Treating yourself to something new because you love yourself Impulse buying anything that promises to make you love yourself more
Moving your body because you can Working out as a punishment or attending a class that shames your eating habits/appearance


As you navigate self-care and the challenges and benefits that arise from an increased effort to take care of yourself remember the quote from author L.R. Knost, “Taking care of myself doesn’t mean ‘me first’ it means ‘me, too’ (202.)

References

  • Brown, B., (2010). The Gift of Imperfection: Let go of who you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are. Hazelden Publishing.
  • Gottman, J. M, Silver, N. (1999). The seven principles for making marriage work. New York:Three Rivers Press.