Last Update: September 1, 2022
World Health Organization first defined the term “self-care” 23 years ago, as follows:
“The activities individuals, families, and communities undertake with the intention of enhancing health, preventing disease, limiting illness, and restoring health.”
Since then, the meaning has devolved.
Now “self-care” is more often associated with a luxurious trip to the spa or an expensive aromatherapy massage. The thing is, pricey indulgences like spa treatments aren’t necessarily synonymous with self-care. Basically any intentional, health-restoring activity that helps you be your best—mentally, physically, and emotionally—qualifies. There’s no one “right” way to do self-care. As long as you’re finding time to do something that nourishes your mind and body every day—you’re on the right track.
What might be helpful is to distinguish self-care from self-indulgence. The former is taking an extra-long lunch break to go on a walk around the block during a stressful workday to help clear your mind, so you can be better at your job for the remainder of the day. The latter is taking a long lunch, and then blowing off the rest of work and taking the afternoon off without telling anyone.
Self-care helps you cope with everyday stressors and nourishes you inside and out, while self-indulgence makes you feel good in the moment—but could generate more trouble for you in the long run.
Another example: Say you rush to make it to a yoga class on a busy day, because you know it’s “good for you”—but then you spend the entire class thinking about how much work you have to do instead of decompressing. Feeling guilty probably won’t make you more productive afterward. Instead, what might be better—and a more apt example of self-care—in this scenario? Skip the class, take a quick break, do a 10-minute yoga flow, and tackle the task that’s stressing you out.
Bottom line, the most important thing to remember is: anything that makes you feel bad—or guilty, anxious, or stressed—for any reason, probably isn’t enhancing or restoring your health. That means it ain’t self-care, friend! And there’s no rulebook that can tell you what you need to clear your mind and recharge. It could be an in-depth meditation, or just five minutes to breathe deeply with no interruptions.
And if you aren’t the type to ohm your way to mental clarity—that’s OK too. Maybe a massage, or a manicure, or a dance class, or, heck, a relaxing hour in front of the TV is more your speed. Figure out whatever does make you feel renewed, and do that.
Here are 20 ideas for self-care rituals, as told to us by type-A perfectionists, meditating yogis, and everyone in between. Try out a few to find one that works for you, or get inspired by this list to create your own unique self-care practice.
Self-care, above all else, is about practices that help you maintain optimal health and happiness. If you’re not used to taking time out for yourself, it might feel a little uncomfortable at first. But as you make these practices more regular, you’ll see just how integral they are!
Photo credit: Alicia Cho, Jamie Levine
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