It’s the buzzword du jour in magazines and online: “Self-care isn’t selfish!” read rah-rah headlines and perky Instagram posts. “Self-care is the best care!” But pause the eye-rolls: There’s some truth in those hefty claims.
“Self-care makes us sane—or a little more sane, anyway,” says Jamie Nelson-Kirby, a licensed marriage and family therapist. “Self-care makes us feel more like our true and authentic self and helps to fill up an often depleted cup.”
As replenishing as self-care can be, Nelson-Kirby says she sees many clients (especially women) who can’t commit to it. “We have a hard time prioritizing it because of the overall guilt we feel that we should be doing something more ‘productive’ or something for our children, partner, or other people. Self-care seems to take the disguise of selfishness or extravagance, which is so backward,” she says. Because without it, we have little to offer those people in our lives (or even our own selves).
Image courtesy of Getty.
And no, self-care doesn’t have to be all luxurious baths or lengthy brunches with your girls. By definition, according to the International Self-Care Foundation, a UK-based charity whose mission is to “champion self-care around the world,” self-care is simply anything we do to preserve our wellness and fend off illness. And they identify seven key areas of self-care to consider. See how often you can sneak these self-care tips into your every day.
1. Ask and Learn About Your Health
The International Self-Care Foundation calls “health literacy” crucial—that is, the ability to understand what a health care professional has advised. For example, you know flossing is good for all of us, but understanding why may stick the habit for you. Furthermore, Googling a new physical symptom is a surefire way to send yourself down a mental rabbit hole: Actually make an appointment (or call the nurse line) when something is up so you can begin to get to the bottom of a suspected affliction.
2. Know Your Health Numbers
Not everyone is comfy memorizing their BMI and cholesterol stats. (And you have to take off your FitBit sometime.) But being generally aware of your present level of health goes a long way toward wellness, self-awareness, and even self-esteem. Engaging in regular health screenings is key. And so is knowing how to access those results: Consider finally setting up that online patient portal account the receptionist keeps mentioning.
3. Exercise Regularly
There’s basically nothing that moderate exercise doesn’t improve. (Those sore typing shoulders? Yep. Your foul, cooped-up mood? Definitely.) Maybe you set up a calendar reminder for a mid-day walk, purchase a pass to try out new local fitness classes, or really go after that garden you’ve been neglecting. Being active not only reduces your risk of illnesses like heart disease, diabetes, some cancers, even dementia; it also helps you manage existing conditions and, bonus, helps you get deeper, more regular sleep.
4. Have a Food Plan
That could mean a three-square-meal weekly lineup, a go-to list of healthy takeout options, or something in between. But whether you’re the menu-planning type or someone who can survive on the same daily desk salad (featuring lean protein and healthy fat, of course), being mindful of your food intake—what, when, and how—is a smart self-care move.
5. Be Your Own Safety Officer
Getting hurt is the opposite of self-care. So do what the International Self-Care Foundation calls “mitigating risk”: Get that flu shot. Quit smoking already, for crying out loud. Wear the SPF and the helmet and the seat belts, of course. Limit your drinking and practice safe sex. These tips aren’t as exciting as setting a standing weekly date night or blocking off nightly reading sessions, but they’re self-care activities all the same.
6. Wash Your Hands
Not to put too fine a point on it, but the World Health Organization says that hand washing is the single “most important recommended behavior in developed nations.” No amount of retail therapy (or actual therapy, for that matter) can come close to good hygiene when it comes to self-care.
7. Use Meds and Self-Care Services Responsibly
You likely know that more doesn’t necessarily mean better when it comes to using health products (like prescriptions and OTC drugs) and wellness services (such as chiropractors, nutritionists, or trainers). Being a responsible self-care consumer means following what your physician has advised (back to #1, above!) and being appropriately cautious about what you put in your body and how you treat it.
Does it seem like these self-care ideas are, well, common-sensible? Therapist Nelson-Kirby confirms it to be true for herself.
“Lately, I feel like self-care is way more basic than I used to make it,” she says. “While massages and pedicures are amazing and important, I think the real self-care for me is exercise, meditation, good quality friend connection time, and sleep."
However you concoct your own self-care regimen, make it a priority—period.