What the Hell Is Self-Care, Anyway?

Content/trigger warning: cursing, discussion of ableism

There’s been a lot of kerfuffle over what the clinical/psychological definition of self-care actually is. I don’t believe the term has been so watered down that it is meaningless, as I’ve seen some anti-saneism activists claim, but I do think it’s important that we set the record straight on self-care. I see some people saying that self-care is relaxing and taking it easy. I see some people vehemently screaming that self-care isn’t “drinking tea, taking baths, and lighting candles,” it’s pushing yourself to do chores. Both are wrong, although the vehement screamers are more wrong. Let me explain.

In Psychology Today, the magazine in which Carrie Fisher joked about being the centerfold (gods I miss her), there is an article called Self-Care 101, written in 2018 by a PhD and LiCSW named Dr. Maria Baratta. In this article, Dr. Baratta describes self-care as “the mindful taking of time to pay attention to you…in a way that ensures you are being cared for by you.” I like this definition. Notice that it doesn’t list any specific activities. This is because self-care is going to be different for everyone.

Self-care requires self-awareness. In order to do proper self-care, you need to know when you need self-care. Some people wait until they’re burned out to start doing self-care, at which point it may not be helpful anymore. (I’ve found that in order to avoid burnout, it may be a good idea to try to do self-care every day.) Also in terms of self-awareness, you may have to try several activities before you figure out the ones that do the most for your mental health and/or replenish your fuel.

Here are some self-care activities that work for me:

  • Taking baths, usually accompanied by familiar music
  • Snuggling with my wife (oh yeah, I’m married now…that happened)
  • Listening to my cat purr
  • Reading a comfort book
  • Painting my nails
  • Writing, especially journaling
  • Knitting
  • Taking short naps or just resting in bed

You’ll notice none of these involve leaving my apartment. That’s because I’m an introvert. Going out and interacting with people (who aren’t my wife) depletes my fuel. However, here are some activities that others may find improve their mental health or replenish their fuel:

  • Walks
  • Watching the sun rise or set
  • Going out with friends
  • Exercise (okay, fine, this one does work for me sometimes, but I don’t talk to anyone at the gym) or stretches
  • Low-key social activities like game nights or hanging out at a coffee shop

Some people find that their mental health suffers when their living space isn’t clean or when they eat a lot of fatty or greasy foods, and may feel replenished after vacuuming or making and eating a quinoa salad. But I urge people to exercise caution when thinking about chores as self-care. If some chores are self-care for you, great! But…well, I’m going to circle back to the idea that self-care isn’t “drinking tea, taking baths, and lighting candles,” it’s pushing yourself to do chores. 

FUCK. NO.

Okay, I’ll elaborate. The idea that self-care actually or necessarily means being “productive,” especially according to capitalist ideals of “productivity,” is dangerous and harmful. Self-care can mean giving the finger to those ideals because you need a damn break. My therapist once told me I had practiced good self-care when I left work early after a bad trigger. To me, self-care means understanding that taking care of one’s mental health flies in the face of society’s bullshit. 

Sometimes self-care means ordering out because you don’t have the fuel to cook. Sometimes self-care means asking a roommate, friend, or significant other to help you vacuum because your bad back hurts too much for you to do it yourself. Sometimes self-care means Febreeze-ing a blouse you already wore once and wearing it again because you can’t do laundry. Taking care of yourself now, even if you look “unproductive” or “lazy” (I need to do an entry on how the idea of laziness is ableist), will result in your health being better later.

Go forth and take good care of yourself.

Many thanks to my Patreon supporters: Ace, Emily, Hannah, Karina, Max, and Sean! To be as cool as these people, visit Patreon.com/arzinzani to pledge. Even a dollar a month is massively helpful, and will mean you get to see these entries early AND get to read my Patreon-exclusive novelette series!

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