Self-care is a bit of a buzzword these days. From every side, we’re encouraged to practice “self-care”. However — this phrase has become synonymous with “spoil yourself”.

Taking a bath with a gorgeous bath bomb, and soft music playing in the background sounds amazing. And it certainly has the added benefit of helping a person relax at the end of a long day. Or perhaps you prefer to indulge in dinner out, or the last piece of chocolate cake, or anything that pampers you and makes you feel special. But these are just band-aids. They make you feel better in the moment, without helping you work through the underlying stress and the reasons you feel you need to escape.

Self-care vs. Straight up care:

Self-care is the things we do to prevent burnout. Straight up care is the things we do to prevent dying.

Here are some things you need to do to care for yourself:

  • Drink water. No, seriously, do it. If you struggle to drink water, try alternating: for every cup of coffee, juice, milk, etc. have a glass of water after.
  • Get moving. Get your blood pumping! Try getting up at least once every hour and walking around for a bit.
  • Eat good food. Not just food that tastes good. And if you have a food allergy — don’t eat that food! Fuel your body with things that help you feel full and give you energy.
  • Get more — or less — sleep. Get the right amount of sleep. You need between 7-9 hours a night. Try setting a bedtime for yourself, or leave your phone outside of your room to help you get those precious zzz’s.

It’s a guarantee that if you’re struggling to meet your body’s basic needs, you’re going to struggle with a LOT of other things. So step one is making sure your basic needs are met. Taking a sick day, going to therapy, taking your meds, these are not optional. Preventative healthcare, annual checkups, and follow-up appointments are NOT self-care. This is basic care, and necessary for survival.  Beyond that, you need to figure out what helps you feel calm and in control.

There are so many activities that constitute self-care! Self-care is any activity that breathes life back into your weary body. It doesn’t have to be expensive, highly caloric, or “trendy”. Self-care is about finding out what you need to live your fullest and best life. We all have stress, but how we deal with it is unique to every person. For some,  all they need is some time alone to feel recharged and ready to face the world. For others, time spent with close friends gives them that boost. You might spend your downtime solving a puzzle, journaling, or going for a run.

Self-care isn’t always pretty.

When you imagine self-care most often the picture in your mind is a beautiful, serene moment where you’re happy and at peace. These picturesque moments are often the ideal for “self-care”, and they certainly are the most instagrammable. However, some forms of self-care can look very different. Self-care could be sweating through another workout, or cutting ties with a toxic friend. Maybe self-care is cutting back on those little indulgences, so you actually have a savings account. Sometimes you need to work through the difficult things that are causing the stress you’re running from. This is not to say that these issues can be worked out in an evening, or that there won’t be many evenings spent with comfort food in front of the tv along the way. Just take steps towards eliminating that stress. Make an action plan to take control of your life.

Self-care is less about escaping your life, and more about building a life you don’t feel you need to escape from.

In a work and results-centric culture, it’s easy to let the stress overwhelm us. When you’re feeling constantly overwhelmed, you might need something more than a relaxing evening where you forget about your problems for a while.

Here are some not-so-glamourous ways to practice self-care:

1: Own your schedule.

Our culture praises the busy. However, this misguided ideal is causing more harm than good. When you constantly push yourself to do “everything”, your mind a body will begin to rebel. Set clear boundaries for yourself, and say no to extra activities and events that you really aren’t interested in. Doing less seems to contradict societies expectations, but it can open doors to a more fulfilling and less hectic life.

2: See multitasking for the myth that it is.

When you try to split your focus between multiple things at a time, what you’re actually doing is putting your brain into a high-stress environment. Doing so increases our chances of feeling fatigued and overwhelmed. Not to mention, the quality of our work will suffer. Set aside distractions and try to focus on one task at a time. This can be very difficult, but with practice, you will find that your focus increases, and you will feel calmer and more in control of every task.

3: Focusing on living a life that feels good, rather than looks good.

We’re conditioned to want the newest and best. Often, we’ll do whatever it takes to get it. However, if you define your success by how “flashy” your life is, you’ll never be done. You’ll never catch up. This kind of lifestyle contributes unnecessarily to stress. Open yourself up to the possibility that your less-than-perfect life, is perfect for you.

All this talk about self-care is important. Because we live in a world that is increasing in speed daily, and sometimes we just need to stop. But, let’s not get caught up in making self-care into another competition. Let’s learn the difference between actual care and self-care. Actual care should not be optional, and we should work together to make basic life necessities available to all.