What Self-Care Means, and Why It Isn’t Selfish

I don’t know why making time for self-care comes with so much criticism. I hear it all the time. “Oh, it must be nice to get a massage in the middle of the day.” Or, “You’re so lucky you have time to go to Pilates.” Or whatever it might be. But you know what? I work hard, too. I also make the time to take care of myself. No one else is going to do it, so it’s up to me. If that makes me selfish, so be it. I’ll just redefine what selfish means.

But I don’t see how taking care of yourself is selfish at all. I definitely don’t think it’s okay to do whatever you want without regard for anyone else. But, I also don’t think it’s okay to do what everyone else wants without regard for yourself. You are the only person guaranteed to be with you your whole life. So why shouldn’t you be your priority?

Self-care actually allows you to be more selfless. Think about it. During the pre-flight safety demonstration on any airplane, they instruct you to secure your own oxygen mask first before helping others. That’s the principle I’m talking about. You can’t take care of others if you don’t take care of yourself first. If you are sick, tired, worn out, or stressed, are you really serving your clients to the best of your ability? Are you really being there for your family? Or are you just barely getting through the day?

So what does self-care mean? It’s doing what you need to do to stay healthy, happy, and balanced. And that means different things for different people. Some need to make extra time for beauty treatments or pampering. Others need socializing and activities. Some just need a little quiet time alone with a cup of tea and a good show on Netflix. I tend to fall into the latter category myself. It’s just a matter of figuring out what you need to do to recharge, and then actively making sure to do it.

Staying healthy means getting enough sleep, drinking enough water, and maintaining a healthy diet. It means exercising and taking care of your body, but it also means taking a break when you feel overwhelmed, stressed, or run down.

Staying happy means making the time to do things that make you smile. We tend to put off the fun stuff because we have so many responsibilities, and forget that we also have a responsibility to take care of ourselves. And part of that means making time for the things we enjoy.

Staying balanced means setting boundaries between work and personal time, and then holding yourself accountable. Maybe that means not checking your email after business hours, or putting your devices away at a set time every night (and not just when you go to bed). Maybe it means scheduling time every week to be with friends or family and sticking to it. Maybe it means taking 15 minutes for yourself every day to read, write in your journal, or go for a walk. Just do something every day that brings you joy.

Self-care also means being mindful of the moment you’re in. If you’re with people, can you pay attention to them and put your phone on silent? If you’re at an event, can you appreciate the opportunity to experience it live instead of spending the whole night trying to capture it through a screen? It’s so easy for technology to make us feel like we have to be connected all the time, but in doing so, we actually become disconnected from enjoying what’s happening where we actually are.

Sometimes self-care means saying no. You don’t have to do what everyone else asks of you all the time. It’s knowing when you need to be there for others, and knowing when you need to be there for yourself.

It’s trusting your instincts and doing what feels right for you even if those around you don’t understand. They aren’t the ones who have to live with your choices. They are looking at your life from their own perspective, not yours. What’s right for you might not be right for them, and vice versa. And that’s okay! That’s how human nature works!

There are so many ways to practice self-care, and I hope you make an effort to do something for yourself every day. It’s so important to your overall well-being. If you find yourself making excuses for why you can’t, I challenge you to instead figure out a reason why you can. Start with small steps and turn them into healthy habits. And never apologize for taking care of yourself, even if someone else thinks you’re being selfish.