Strategies for Self-Care That Really Work
How to focus on activities that help your emotional well-being and cut out the ones that don’t
The term “self-care,” once found mostly in the revolutionary texts of writers like Audre Lorde (who described it as “an act of political warfare”) and the reference materials for psychiatrists in training, is now ubiquitous in conversations about mental health. More than ever, people are putting a conscious, curated effort into the once simple task of maintaining their own well-being.
At its best, self-care can be a useful tool for navigating the modern world, helping people relieve stress, make healthy lifestyle choices, and prioritize their own happiness. At its worst, self-care is a marketing buzzword used to package things like face masks and TV binges as quick-fix solutions to complex problems. That can come with a cost, distracting people from activities that actually promote mental health and creating unrealistic expectations for things that don’t. “The danger here is that people lose the value and the true meaning of self-care,” says Jackie O’Brien, who oversees case management at CAST Centers, a Los Angeles–based mental health and substance abuse treatment facility. Here’s how to avoid getting sucked into unhelpful ideas about what self-care should be and instead cultivate self-care habits that work.
With all the cultural focus on wellness that’s happening right now, it can be tempting to approach self-care as something performative, not because you think it will make you feel good.
Think long term
“There is definitely a right and wrong way to go about self-care,” says Amanda Porter, an Ohio-based psychiatric nurse practitioner. Unfortunately, Porter says, she sees a lot of people abuse the term when they are really shirking responsibilities.
“If something makes you feel good now but will make you feel bad later,” Porter adds, “then it’s not true self-care.”
Self-indulgence can be, and most often is, harmless. Buying beauty products you can’t afford, avoiding replying to a difficult text, blowing off a…