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As I reflect on the idea of self-care, I realized how I struggled with its concept well into my first year of grad school. Before learning the purpose of self-care, my non-existing definition was to simply do things I enjoyed. In undergrad, between classes, work-study, and activities, I usually found myself relaxing by binge-watching my favorite shows on Netflix or going down a rabbit hole of YouTube videos. When I joined my grad program, one of my instructors asked the class, “How do you take care of yourself?” and my immediate response was “Netflix. Maybe shopping.” The replies from my peers consisted of watching TV, yoga, eating a favorite snack, exercising, and meditation.

My instructor went on to clarify how wellness looked differently for everyone and the goal was to reduce stress in one’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Despite her explanation, I could not help but to compare myself to others, believing how I did self-care did not measure up to another’s. It took a while, but I had to take steps to separate myself from the expectations I believed about others and explore my awareness around self-care.

Recognizing When You Need It

Accepting the need to take care of yourself is step one. The action of sitting back and realizing when self-care is essential can be difficult and is often overlooked. I learned this the hard way, when my priorities and responsibilities took over my life and I was continuing a routine where my needs were lower on the list. I noticed this when I was up late exhaustively writing a paper. My fatigue was more than wanting to go to sleep; I was also mentally drained. I had 4 three-hour classes, a job where I woke up at 6AM, and a ten-month intern contract. I did not have much time to do the things I enjoyed or remove myself from the role of a student, employee or intern. It is to be noted, moments like this do not happen for everyone. Sometimes, the business and chaos of our lives are more prevalent when another person comments on it. A friend or family member can point out when you have not taken a break in a while or spent time with them, and this could be a moment of self-reflection. Do you need to step away and consciously participate in an activity that will contribute to your well-being and overall health?

Understanding Self-Care Look Different for Everyone

Referring to my instructor’s statement on the different methods of self-care, I had to learn how different it can be. Wellness has a variety of areas where one can focus on depending on what they need or what is best for them. If you look up, “areas of self-care,” there’s a number of wheels or charts that come up explaining each part of self-care. Usually, there is physical, spiritual, and social, just to name a few. These dimensions of wellness can indicate the type of activity; physical correlates to exercising, spiritual to yoga, and social to hanging out with friends. Hearing all of the various types of self-care can be discouraging when you are not doing a particular activity or following a certain area of wellness. This is why recognizing the individuality of self-care is important. A person can have a preference for one area or multiple, it is a choice for each individual and what works for them.

What is Helpful and What is Not

Self-care’s uniqueness for everyone includes knowing what is beneficial and what is not. Finding a personal routine takes time. This is good in the long run. Taking care of yourself should not be a job or chore, but something that’s enjoyable and helps you to wind down or relax. I find it helpful to create a list of activities in the categories that I like, dislike, or am willing to try.

Timing when to do self-care is also important.. A good goal is to set time aside to engage in at least one self-care activity every day. This can look like an hour or two, half an hour, 5 to 10 minutes, or simply taking a breather here and there. You might observe you need more time to make a journal entry or time to take a walk in the park. The value in understanding what you need in self-care cannot be replaced. It is a commitment to yourself and finding a balance between your responsibilities and yourself.

It can be difficult to weigh out your time for responsibilities and taking care of yourself. If you or someone else you know would like to explore ways to introduce self-care into your life, please reach out to one of the therapists here at Optimum Joy today.

Written by therapist Bria McCalpin

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