Self-Care, What is it Really?

Self-Care, What is it, Really?

During a coaching session a few months back, a client told me she didn’t know what self-care meant. I blinked a couple of times—she couldn’t see me because we were coaching over the phone—and then asked something along the lines of, “What do you think it is?”

She reiterated that she didn’t really know and that she was uncomfortable with the idea of being unproductive, having grown up with role models who demonstrated the value of hard work and staying busy.

As a self-care proponent, I thought her take was interesting. While practicing self-care might not appear productive in the sense that “I have to finish this report because I promised it to my boss,” I believe it’s very productive when you think of it in terms of providing for your well-being so you can bring the best of yourself to the world.

It’s kind of like the well-known airline edict to put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others.

This coaching session got me thinking, however: If my client was struggling to understand the concept of self-care, surely others must be as well.

So I ask you, dear reader: Do you understand the value of self-care, or do you feel like you’re missing something? Do you prioritize your self-care, or do you treat it like one more to-do item you can’t find time for? I’m genuinely curious, so please feel free to share your thoughts at the bottom of this post.

In the meantime, I’ll continue my story. During our session, I asked my client to tell me about a time she felt healthy, nourished, and at peace. She recalled participating in a 5K with her friends and spouse.

I then asked what, in particular, felt nourishing about that experience, and she told me it was having something to look forward to, spending time with loved ones, and getting good exercise. From there, we were able to brainstorm a list of 15 things that could serve as self-care for her—because, you see, it’s unique to each person.

As self-care mentor Christy Tending writes, “I hear the myth repeated often that self-care is all about bubble baths (or similar indulgence).” That makes it sound silly and unnecessary, doesn’t it? But really, caring for yourself is one of your primary responsibilities in this life. If you don’t take the initiative, after all, who will?

And while my brand of self-care includes reading, quality time with my husband, long walks in nature, and yes, soaking in hot water, I know that may not be your definition, as it wasn’t for my client.

So, if self-care isn’t all bubble baths and self-indulgence, what is it really? One of my favorite definitions comes from a publication of the University of Kentucky, which says, “Self-care includes any intentional actions you take to care for your physical, mental, and emotional health.”

In determining what self-care means to you, consider this: When do you feel nourished? Is it when you visit friends, practice yoga, run a mile, or something else entirely? Whatever that is, that’s your version.

Practicing self-care pertains to every aspect of life. It could mean setting boundaries around when you’ll answer client phone calls or schedule meetings, choosing to eat food your body likes vs. what momentarily tastes good, getting an appropriate amount of sleep, or ensuring that you have adequate time alone or with your family and friends.

As I’ve written before, however you choose to practice self-care, make sure you’re doing something you want to do, and something that makes you feel good both during and after the activity. Taking care of yourself works best when it feeds your soul, not when it’s another “should” on your to-do list.

In asking my client’s permission to share her experience in this post, I also checked in to see how her own self-care practice was coming. She replied that she’d tried most of the items on our list and that she now chooses not to label these activities as self-care, but rather as things she does when she needs an energy boost, a mood shift, or just to take care of herself. There ya go, folks, that’s self-care, whatever you choose to call it.

Like this post? Share it with a friend or leave a comment.

Kate Watson