Self-Care 101 - Next Step Counseling

The dictionary defines self-care as “The practice of taking action to preserve or improve one’s own health”. In the counseling field, self-care is a concept that is ingrained in every theory, skill, and intervention. This concept is essential for creating healthy routines and placing one’s mental health on the same level or even at times above work, family, and friends. The idea is to learn to put yourself first and gain insight into what it means for you to participate in “preserving or improving” your own mental health.

“For me, it is vital that I have alone time once a day in order to unwind and reflect. I know that I need to start participating in my own self-care when I am feeling anxious, or not in touch with my own body and mood. It took me a while to learn that although others might enjoy running for their self-care, I cannot judge myself for knowing that I needed to find my own ways to recharge. This can be an exciting adventure into learning more about oneself and one’s own mental health.”

Is self-care selfish?

We often feel uncomfortable when we participate in self-care because we feel that it comes at the expense of other things or people. Why am I taking a bath instead of spending time with my family? Although both are important, it is essential that we not turn our self-care into an either- or situation. Self-care must be viewed as a part of one’s routine and by doing so it places priority on mental health. Self-care is not a selfish because it allows for someone to regain their energy to participate in all other realms of their life at maximum authenticity.

What happens when self-care feels like a chore?

When we feel stressed or tired, self-care is the first activity that gets shoved down on the list of priorities. Why? A lot of time individuals feel as though they are not being productive enough with their self-care routines. They feel they are not doing self-care “right” or that they don’t have time to fit it in. In reality this contradicts what the basis of the concept stands for. As a society, we feel an immense pressure to be doing something “productive” at every moment of the day. And when we’re not being productive we’re often “checking out” by watching tv or getting lost in social media. However, putting our mental health first is a productive act and should be a priority no matter what it looks like for each individual person. We have to constantly be going, creating, inspiring, and succeeding. And although self-care looks different for each person, it fills us up in order to create, inspire, and succeed.

So what does self-care look like?

Self-care looks different for everyone. It encompasses a range of behaviors, feelings, and thoughts. Self-care can look like cutting someone toxic from your life, saying no to plans, calling a friend, cooking, working out, or simply walking outside once a day. This might also look like participating in activities you did as a child, re-enrolling in that hot yoga class that made you feel relaxed, or simply exploring a new part of your city. It can also mean checking in with your emotions, meditating, journaling or asking for help. Whatever this might entail, it is important to tailor your self-care routine to fit your needs regardless of others. In order to find what works best for you, look back to the last time you felt relaxed or happy. Where were you? Who was involved? What emotions were you feeling? Reflect on why you felt centered at this moment in time and explore ways you can get back to feelings of authenticity in your daily life. Or if you are not sure what helps you feel good, centered or energized try a few of the above ideas to see what works. It’s best to have a few go-tos because the same self-care act may not work the same way every time.  Self-care is a journey in which one creates a healthier relationship with themselves and in turn the world around them.

Creating your own routine

At the end of the day, self-care should not feel like a chore but something that allows you to reconnect with your authentic, centered self. We must make ourselves a priority and this will lead to healthier coping mechanisms, greater emotional intelligence, and more insight into what we need as a human being in order to be fulfilled and happy. The stigma surrounding anxiety, depression, and unpleasant feelings creates a world in which prioritizing mental health is seen as a weak, unnecessary, or even feels unproductive. This is not the case and in fact those who do not prioritize their own needs will often face stress, overwhelmed feelings, low frustration tolerance, or even burnout. Somedays putting on an expensive face mask will fulfill your self- care for the day and some days this might require more action. No matter the self-care activity for you, it is important that we listen to what we need and what will fill us up in order to keep moving forward.