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Thoughts from the Dietitian: What Self-Care Is, What It Is Not, & Why You Need to Know the Difference

Self-care. It’s quite the buzzword these days. I hear it a lot in the health world and I even find myself using it a lot. I firmly believe in the importance of self-care and believe it should be a part of everyone’s healthy lifestyle, but I think the point of it has gotten a little twisted in our culture. And by a little, I mean a lot.

I say that because many forms of self-care we see promoted on healthy-living magazines, by health and wellness Instagrammers, and by celebrities are these really lavish, expensive, and time-consuming acts in order to “treat oneself” and escape. These are indeed forms of self-care, however, treating yourself with hot-stone massages, a new leather bag, acai bowls, and salt baths are not the only ways we can practice self-care.

Self-care is more so like a practice or a discipline. It’s not always pretty. It’s not always fun. It’s not always “Instagram worthy”. It takes intentionality and a lot of grace sometimes, but your mind, body and spirit will thank you for it in the long run.

In the most literal sense of the word, self-care means “taking care of one’s self”, but if you’re like me and need a little more detail- The American Psychological Association defines self-care as “providing adequate attention to one's own physical and psychological wellness”. (1)

So what does that mean on a practical, everyday level?

Glad you asked.

Self-care is anything one can do to better take care of their mental, emotional, spiritual and physical health with the time and resources available in that moment and circumstance. Although self-care is a buzzword, the concept itself is one that so many others, including myself, will easily overlook in the “hustle culture” we live in. In this “no days off”, “do more”, “check it off my to-do list” world, it’s entirely too easy to disconnect from our needs until we have completely burned out. Sick, tired, unmotivated and frankly just run-down.

Practicing self-care aims to diminish this burn out by implementing small, easy disciplines into your day, week and year to prevent such a massive build-up of exhaustion.

Yes, that can look like a very “Instagramable” bubble bath or beach get-away BUT it can also look like:

·       A few minutes of deep breathing before each meal

·       Making a budget

·       Stretching everyday

·       Setting a routine bedtime for yourself

·       Nourishing your body often and adequately

·       Enforcing a morning and/or bedtime routine

·       Prepping nutritious and balanced meals for a busy week ahead

·       Going on a walk

Doesn’t sound too glamorous, but that’s the point. Self-care really isn’t all glamour and definitely does not have to be a financial investment. My point is that showing up for yourself and caring for your needs is an important habit to form, not just a fun past time to post about.

What self-care is not:

Self-care should not be a rigid practice. Culture tells us to put rules and regulations around everything we do, but self-care is not something that we need to be forcing ourselves to do, stress over fitting into our schedule, or something we feel shame around if we do not do “perfectly”. If you’re on a tight budget, but are “treating yourself” to a $30 face mask from Sephora - is that really what’s best for you at that time? If you spend your morning stressed-out about fitting in a “stress-relieving” workout, doesn’t that sound counter-productive? If you are going to yoga to “clear your mind” but are injured or exhausted - don’t go!! The message I’m trying to get across with these examples is just because other people call these things forms of self-care, doesn’t mean that it is for you or ever will be. Your needs, circumstances, and self-care practices will look different from everyone else’s.

Treat yourself with the respect, love and grace you would want to give others and for others to give you. If you don’t give yourself what you need to live an energized and joy-filled life, how do you expect to give that energy and joy to your family and friends? You can’t.

Just like a waitress needs to first fill a pitcher of water in order to fill the thirsty customer’s glasses, you must also be filled up in order to be poured out.

To sum it all up, self-care is ultimately about balance.

It really is one of the keys to living a balanced life, but not always in the ways that it's portrayed to us on the TV and internet.

Knowing that, what are ways you can start practicing true forms of self-care? What are some things you can do to better yourself and better your situation?

Do you need to implement a budget for a future, more costly goal you have? Make time to walk on your lunch break? Treat yourself to an afternoon iced latte? Establish a bedtime routine? It’s totally personalized, so the options are endless!

I challenge you to implement at least one act of self-care a day this week! If you do, let me know! Send me an email - I’d love to know what you come up with!

By: Kaitlyn Cupples, RDN-E at Focus Integrative Centers

References: 1. American Psychological Association. (2002). Ethical principles of psychologists and code of conduct. American Psychologist, 57, 1060-1073.