Uncomplicating Self-Care

By: Jessica Serber

www.mindfulcbtcalifornia.com / @yourmindisamuscle

I got my first introduction to the idea of self-care when I was in graduate school to become a marriage and family therapist. The importance of it was preached to me in many of my classes and for good reason. As a mental health professional, I support others in taking care of themselves, learning about who they are and how they came to be that person, and healing and, in the process, carry not only my own emotions through life, but also theirs. So yes, I understood that managing my stress and taking care of myself too would be important for my wellbeing, but what does it mean exactly and how do I do it? Where do I fit it in between school, work, and my other responsibilities? If these are the questions running through your mind too, you’re not alone.

Enter: wellness culture. In recent years, the world of self-help has multiplied and exploded. There are tons of blogs, workshops, retreats, Instagram accounts, modern-day gurus, apps, and marketing campaigns all emphasizing the necessity of self-care and promising it to you with their tip, product, or service. While I absolutely love that the the concept of taking care of ourselves and prioritizing our needs over the demands of a busy life has gone mainstream, I also think it has created a lot of confusion around what self-care really is. 

Self-care is not about a life of luxury. Every day does not need to be “treat yourself” day. You don’t need to find hours of time in your busy schedule (probably the reason you’re needing to even think about self-care in the first place) in order to care for yourself. 

These misconceptions led me, and I imagine many others, looking and paying for self-care in places far and wide. I had an acupuncturist, naturopathic doctor, regular doctor, was switching therapists to find the perfect one, working with a trainer, trying new health + wellness trends by the week, reading blog after vlog after IG influencer posts after self-help book. I was essentially drowning myself in information and appointments in the name of self-care. And, as you might imagine from reading that list, was feeling more stressed. 

Yes, the stress of trying not to be stressed was stressing me out!

So, what gives?! Here’s what I learned: self-care is not always about doing more. It’s most often about doing less. 

We live in a go-go-go, grind Monday through Friday and then grind a little more on the weekends too ‘cuz why not type culture. We also have so many amazing resources available to us now, more than we’ve ever had before. We’re attached to our cell phones and might feel like scheduling an appointment for self-care is the only way to take a break. Plus, who doesn’t enjoy the sound of getting a massage or buying some new skincare products? And it’s in the name of health and wellness?! Even better!

There is absolutely nothing wrong with anything you or I might try for self-care. None of those things in the list I wrote above of all my self-care activities was inherently wrong or bad for me. In fact, I still do some of them - the ones that work for me. I repeat: the ones that work for me. But it’s also important to remember that self-care is about more than just what’s in that list. It’s about checking in with yourself and doing what works for you. For some, that will mean adding things in (more time with friends, more time in nature, more fun) and for others it will mean taking things away (trading in sending that one last email for more sleep, getting 5 minutes behind at work so you can take a bathroom break, or spending time in silence). Self-care is not any one thing and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Self-care is about knowing and then meeting your individual needs, with or without all the bells and whistles.