The roots of self-care emphasize physical, emotional, and spiritual health and resilience. It’s not self-indulgence; it’s self-discipline. It takes discipline to get up early to run or meditate. It takes discipline to set boundaries and say "no." And it takes discipline to stay strong and balanced in an ever-changing world.
In this article, we’ll break self-care into four different domains: care for your body, relationships, emotions, and spirit — with tips from some of our therapists. You’ll see how a fresh take on self-care can return you to the term’s origins of physical and emotional self-preservation.
People often think of self-care as something special tacked onto real life — a relaxing bath or glass of wine after a stressful week. But at its core, self-care involves the basic things you already do every day: sleeping, eating, and moving. Self-care means you do these things in ways that make you healthier. And it shouldn’t take a lot of time or money. The simpler and easier the changes, the more likely you are to stick with them. Some ideas:
COVID-19 forced some families to live closer to each other and others much farther apart. Some marriages and romantic partnerships crumbled while others got stronger. Separation sometimes frayed “weak-tie” friendships — those on the periphery of life — and deepened longtime ones. Other relationships might be in a temporary holding pattern or newly ready to take off. In short, there’s a whole lot of social reshuffling going on.
For some, the result of all this relationship turmoil sparked by the pandemic may actually be positive. We had a chance to re-evaluate the people we spend time with and the quality of those relationships. You might notice for the first time that some connections are draining and destructive instead of mutually fulfilling, says Linda Larkin, MA, LPC. “Your relationships should uplift you, not deflate you,” she points out. Despite everything the pandemic has taken away, it may have given you the chance to hang onto relationships that are healthy and let go of the ones that aren’t.
Here are a few ways you can practice self-care, even in a relationship or family dynamic, according to Lawrence Martin, MA, LPC:
Facing and reflecting on your feelings is hard work, and most people aren’t very good at it. Yet this may be the most transformative part of self-care. Allowing yourself time and space to inspect your emotions — even the distressing ones — can be instructive and healing. Below are a few ideas to get started:
Strong emotion can be a powerful agent for good, but not when it’s suppressed or turned inward.
Larkin says that if you can’t figure out what you’re feeling or continue to struggle with your emotions, it’s even more important to pay attention to them. She suggests talking to someone you trust or writing or making art about your feelings. Sometimes describing a thing calmly, without judgment, can help you name it.
“This form of self-care applies to everyone, whether or not you’re spiritual or religious,” Larkin says. “It includes activities that connect you with and nurture your inner spirit, essence, or heart.”
You can also think about spiritual self-care as a way to connect with what is deepest and best in you — a way to give your true nature a chance to grow and flourish. Caring for your spirit looks different for everyone:
The important thing is to find an activity that can help you reveal the truth of the present moment without troubling emotions or judgment getting in the way.
When you commit to self-care as a daily practice, your immune system, energy, and mood get a boost, improving your overall health, according to Larkin. You may find that you have the strength to be a better, more involved parent, partner, friend, and colleague. And your connection to yourself, your community, and the wider world becomes stronger and more meaningful.
Preventive Medicine Reports: “How socioeconomic status influences self-care for Black/African American women: A differential item analysis.”
Todd Miller, MD, cardiologist, professor in the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, and co-director, Mayo Clinic’s sports cardiology clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
Psychological Science: “Early Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Relationship Satisfaction and Attributions.”
Linda Larkin, MA, LPC, Colorado-based psychotherapist, and art therapist.
Lawrence A. Martin, MA, LPC, Colorado-based therapist.