What Does “Self-Care” Really Mean?

This blog post has been updated by Megan Elrath, Career Consultant on April 23, 2024 for relevancy, inclusivity, and formatting.

The other day my friend invited me to get our nails done together. After a short deliberation I said, “YES! I could use some self-care.”

Despite my need to save money for upcoming holiday travel, I justified a new coat of polish on my nails as a necessary act in caring for myself. But what did that really do for me?

Self-care feels like this hot trend right now that gets thrown around all the time as a justification for self-indulgence. But is self-care the same as self-indulgence?

Spoiler alert: It’s not. *insert Kim Kardashian’s ugly crying photo*

Let me tell you, this was a disappointing realization. You might be thinking, “ok…but what is self-care?” After some reflection and online research, I’ve created a definition that I think can help. Drum roll…

Self-care is any action or decision that supports your wellness and overall quality of life. Simple, right? In contrast, self-indulgence is an impulse action or decision that gives you temporary, fleeting satisfaction. Self-care is about making decisions that positively impact your life in the long-term.

I am not here to tell you what your version of self-care should look like, but I am here to challenge you to question what decisions you make under the justification of “self-care.” Sometimes we make impulsive, self-indulgent decisions under stressful circumstances, but is that going to help us in the long run?

Now if you’re still feeling confused, I’ve created some bullet points highlighting examples of what is and isn’t self-care. It’s ok if your list might look a little different because only you can put the “self” in self-care.

What self-care is:

  • Planning for your future
  • Working out
  • Scheduling that dentist appointment you’ve been putting off
  • Spending time with friends
  • Calling your family (only if this fills you up)
  • Getting ahead on homework
  • Budgeting (ugh, gross)
  • Cooking a healthy meal

What self-care isn’t:

  • Spending money you don’t have
  • Doing anything in excess (eating, drinking, video games, Netflix…you get the point)
  • Getting your nails done *sigh*
  • Something that makes you feel full right now but empty later

Your self-care might not feel glamorous or even fun at times, but it will be fulfilling and benefit your overall quality of life. How amazing would it feel to spend an hour studying for that test next week instead of watching Netflix so that you have extra time to hang out with friends? What about cooking an affordable, healthy meal at home instead of spending money on fast-food? That is caring for yourself.

Yes, my nails look fantastic right now and yes, I got to spend a little extra time with a friend that afternoon, but I CANNOT claim that as self-care. I am challenging myself to reframe self-care into actions that positively affect my future and support my wellness and quality of life. I wrote this blog to challenge you to do the same.

What are you doing right now to take care of yourself?

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