What is the definition of self-care? To some it means self-indulgence or selfishness. A new phrase coined to give yourself permission to procrastinate or slack off. To others, especially of my generation, the idea is so foreign they have no idea what it is or how they would go about it. By now, we’ve all heard of it, and maybe you don’t really have a negative or positive reaction to the term. You just accept that some people are learning that its okay to take care of yourself and treat yourself to some self-focused kindness and grace. You may even apply it to yourself occasionally and take an afternoon off or sleep in a bit. You might take a bath instead of a shower or eat a cookie instead of a carrot stick; but not too often, and you won’t necessarily tell anyone.
According to Tami Forman in an article published on pathforward.org: “self-care as a concept is almost exclusively aimed at women (generally wealthy white women who can afford the goods and services that get marketed to them as self-care). The not-so-subtle suggestion is that women need to be reminded to care for themselves because, after all, they are so busy taking care of everyone else. And the even less-subtle suggestion is that while we should be taking care of ourselves, that doesn’t absolve us from taking care of everyone else.”
Here’s the thing… whether you agree with Ms. Forman or not, it’s not indulgent, it’s not selfish, nor is it something to consider occasionally because you think you’ve earned it. Indulgence connotes expensive chocolates or an occasional weekend getaway. Self-care is essential. Self-love is essential, and you express that love with your actions. Just like you do for every other person in your life that you value.
When we care for others, we feel a sense of satisfaction. Sometimes we even get rewarded with a thank you or a compliment. But even when we don’t, we still know that we are doing our best to show those that we love that they are valued and important. When we care for ourselves, we often feel guilty. As if we’re doing something for ourselves that we should be doing for someone else. Or spending our time on ourselves when we could be doing something productive.
Self-care takes discipline and commitment. Just like caring for others, self care requires dedication to your own well-being and to your future self. According to Forman, it can look something like this:
Turning off the TV instead of watching another episode of “The Crown” because the alarm is going off at 5am so you can get to the gym.
Saying “no” to the thing you don’t want to do even if someone is going to be angry at you.
Maintaining financial independence.
Doing work that matters
Letting other people take care of themselves
It can also look something like this:
Being kind to yourself when you make a mistake.
Taking a yoga class.
Learning a new skill because it interests you.
Understanding that you are not perfect and that you’re not supposed to be.
Setting healthy boundaries for yourself and others
The concept of self-care is a relatively new. To embrace the idea that self-care isn’t a luxury, but an essential aspect of emotional and mental health is practically radical. Being good to yourself and making your health and wellbeing a priority isn’t always going to be easy, but I promise, it’s worth it; for you and for your loved ones. Some of the benefits of self-care are better reactions to stress, higher self-esteem, over-all better health, and a more resilient immune system. Attributes that we can all agree are even more essential as our world seems to be growing smaller and more chaotic every day.
Regardless of how we define self-care, we are each inherently valuable and worthy of self-love. We may have others in our life that care for and love us, but ultimately, it’s our responsibility to protect our own health and well-being and ensure our own happiness. As we consider the positive impact of loving and caring for ourselves can have on our habits and ultimately, our life, hopefully we can teach others. Especially the rising generations. Rather than the media and marketplace being the driving force behind how, when, and why our children care for and about themselves, let’s set the example and conscientiously teach them that they are worthy of self-love and what self-care really means.
“Self-care is never a selfish act-it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer to others.”
Written By: Janet Harkness
IM Wellness Coordinator
Westlake High School
Saratoga Springs, UT
Janet Harkness is a wife, mother, grandmother, and trained counselor with a degree in Human Services. She has experience working on the Clinical Behavior Health Unit at Calvert Memorial Hospital. Janet has facilitated support groups for substance physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.