Stop Telling Me What Self-Care Is and Isn’t (Please)

blue jeans and white sweater, self-care is personal

Before I get too far into my rant, let me first say this: Self-care is personal. As a registered dietitian and lifestyle coach, I’m thrilled to see so many bloggers and journalists reporting on this very important topic. It’s a powerful preventive health tool, and it deserves to spend some time in the spotlight. But the should-y articles with critical undertones really need to stop.

They usually start something like this:

“Self-care isn’t about [insert any number of judgy examples of improper self-care choices]” and then quickly launch into acceptable examples of what self-care should look like — all the while shaming readers who opt for a bubble bath or pedicure from the endless menu of approved self-care activities.

Well, eff that.

Self-care is personal

At its core, self-care is a tool that we can use to support our well-being. With health being the desired outcome, anything that’s self-harming or harmful to others is naturally excluded. But otherwise, there are no rules when it comes to self-care. For some people, it’s a collection of small gestures of kindness; for others it’s much more radical.

Given that the overarching goal of the self-care movement is to reunite individuals with their intuitive ability to care for themselves, developing a self-care plan can require a bit of work. You must first consider your unique needs, preferences, limitations, and desired lifestyle, and then conduct a series of experiments to see how you respond. Only then can your outline effective and realistic self-care strategies that support your health and well-being fully.

So when it comes to choosing specific self-care activities that best support our needs and goals, we must decide for ourselves what strengthens and nourishes us. A list of “approved” self-care activities just doesn’t exist.

Need some new self-care ideas? Here are 366 of them: Click To Tweet

Who defines self-care?

According to the World Health Organization, self-care is “the most dominant form of primary care in both developed and in developing countries,” and it has been estimated that “65% to 85% of health care is provided by the individual or the family without professional intervention.” In the UK it’s been estimated that 80% of all care is self-care.

While many definitions of self-care have been proposed, a single definition hasn’t been widely accepted.

My definition is this: a preventive health strategy involving actions and behaviors that improve, restore, or maintain good health. This also includes those who may be managing existing health conditions, since self-care can reduce symptom severity and prevent the progression of disease.

wheel of self-care

But what exactly self-care looks like is left up to us as individuals — and rightly so. The real definition of self-care is your definition. You are the authority on you.

Self-Care Reform

There’s clearly a self-care movement on the rise. Not only are everyday Americans becoming more committed to caring for their health, but healthcare providers are also seeing the value of empowering their patients.

Self-care is defined by each of us as individuals -- not by journalists or doctors or friends or social media. Click To Tweet

Each of us gets to decide for ourselves what self-care looks like. Our activities and strategies may look very different, and that’s okay. In fact, it’s more than okay.

The more individualized our strategies, the more in touch with our needs we become. And that’s a sweet spot when it comes to preventive care. Being able to recognize early signs of illness and making necessary behavior changes helps preserve our health — and it can also prevent the costly medical expenses that often come with healthcare.

Learning to Trust Yourself

As a healthcare provider who has been on both sides of the sheets when it comes to professionalized care, I know that self-care isn’t something that can be dictated or prescribed. Yes, there are multitudes of professionals who are equipped to help us when we need support and guidance. But ultimately, self-care must be defined by each of us as individuals — not by journalists or doctors or friends or social media.

So, the next time you read someone else’s opinion about what self-care is or isn’t, keep scrolling. Don’t allow their interpretation to dictate what self-care is and isn’t for you. Trust yourself to know what you need. And if you need help, ask someone who understands that self-care is personal.

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Photo by Imani Clovis on Unsplash