Self-care or Selfish? 

A commonly used term now-a-days is self-care. Everyone talks about the need for self-care, but what does that really mean? I hear and see over and over from friends, social media, media outlets etc. how self-care is an important part of a persons daily routine and everyone should be making time for it. The most prevalent saying attached to self-care seems to be “You can’t pour from an empty cup”, which I totally agree with! Before I get into talking about is it self-care or being selfish, I want to just preface that I am not saying self-care is a bad thing at all, I am just trying to point out some concerns with how it is being utilized and promoted currently.

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The Psychology Definition of Self-Care

The concept of self-care originates from psychology theory, and is commonly used in treatment of individuals who are dealing with high levels of stress and hectic lifestyles. Burnout seems to becoming more and more common, especially in professions where individuals care for others – sometimes it is called compassion fatigue. Of course it would be great to take an extended period of time off from work for their mental health, but bills need to be paid and this is seldom an option. This is where self-care comes into the picture.

Self-care is a daily or frequent act of mindfully taking time to pay attention to your needs, and making sure that they are being met. It is interesting to note that I looked at a number of definitions of self-care and it always states that it is not to be undertaken in a narcissistic way. So what does self care include? Below are just a few examples of self-care activities:

  1. Eating Well. Eat good healthy meals that serve your body well, while integrating favourite foods into your diet. You need food for energy to function, so make a priority of eating throughout your day.
  2. Get Physical. You don’t have to run triathlons or lift hundred of pounds. Going for a walk, or have a light workout just to get your body moving is enough to do the trick.
  3. Get Sleep. Everyone always complains they can use more sleep, but is there something you can do to increase the amount of sleep you get per night? Maybe go to bed a little earlier, or watch one less show on Netflix. Being well-rested is an important aspect of caring for yourself.
  4. Decompressing Throughout the Day. This can be any small act to step away from work or a stressful situation. This may be a short walk in the office, texting a friend, or just taking some deep breathes. It is important to check in with your mental health needs throughout the day, and not just once.
  5. Debriefing after Work. Whatever helps you to transition from work mode to home mode. My sister and I have talked about how we transition after work. She is an introvert, after a long day of working with patients she needs silence to recharge. I am an extrovert, after a long day of working with patients I generally want to talk to my husband or who ever is around to recharge. Find what helps you settle into your evening and move on from your work day.
  6. Find your Fun. What do you enjoy doing? Maybe its scheduling a dinner with friends on a Friday night or maybe it is snuggling up and watching a movie with the kids. If you have a hobby you enjoy integrate it into your week. Even though work and stress seem to take over, it is important to take time for the things you enjoy.

The Instagram Definition of Self-Care 

The self-care definition and activities listed above relate more to psychology practice, and seem a lot tamer than the self-care we see on Instagram. For fun, I typed in #selfcare to see what would come up. There were 9.9 million posts with this hash tag. There were some posts of good self-care practice, such as someone working out or relaxing with a cup of tea. But, there were an overwhelming number of self-care posts that were materialistic, self-centred or selling a product. There were two types of posts that came up most frequently: posts selling an expensive product that you “need” for self-care, and posts of smiling extremely athletic people (also, a lot of time selling some sort of health or nutrition product).

The products you “need” for self-care. These posts are the $15 bath bombs, the $100 skin cream, or the perfectly manicured nails with detailed designs that I am not sure I have ever actually seen on anyones nails in real life. These products are generally luxurious, and may feel great at the time, but will probably cause more stress when you look at your bank statement. I am not saying there is not a place for treating yourself once in awhile, but this generality falls in the narcissistic category, and doesn’t benefit your mental health. Make sure your basics are cared for first: eat, sleep, move, decompress.

The extremely happy athletic people. Again, on the surface this is self-care. Working out and taking care of your body is a great form of self-care. But, where the trouble comes in is when it is distorted by Instagram. To achieve self-care, you do not need a 6 pack, high protein supplements, or something green in smoothie cup. Going for a walk, or a light workout will do just fine to help maintain your physical health. Don’t bring comparison with high performing athletes into your self-care routine. Remember, self-care is about knowing yourself and your needs, and participating in activities that help nurture and care for yourself.

Where the Two Meet

Self-care doesn’t always have to be strictly in one column or the other. The whole point of self-care though is to care for yourself, and de-stress your life. Make sure your self-care is always focused on improving your resilience and ability to cope with life stresses without giving you new stresses of comparing yourself to others or purchasing unnecessarily expensive products. Take time to focus on getting to know yourself, and focusing on what you need to live a more stress-free and balanced lifestyle.

What does your self-care routine look like?

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2 thoughts on “Self-care or Selfish? 

  1. I definitely agree that instagram self-care can be materialistic, but I think there’s a value in it too. I find treating myself to luxury every once in a while (like that expensive bath bomb) can help remind me of my own self-worth and appreciate myself. However, I don’t think that is what daily self-care looks like. Daily self-care looks like a cup of tea, getting enough sleep, making time for a spin class, etc. The luxuries are not sustainable daily but are still a great part of self-care.


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