By Rachel Koonse, LMFT
Veg: Watch that funny TV show.
Treat yourself: go buy that dress you’ve been eyeing.
Chill: Take that bubble bath.
Undoubtedly, all three of these activities would make for a good time. We all need moments of true relaxation and indulgence in our days. We are fortunate to live in a time where public perception of mental health is shifting for the better, and there is a cultural emphasis on integrating self-care in our busy lives. However, the self-care culture that we have found ourselves in can depict self-care as a commodity (re: buying that dress is a form of taking care of yourself), make it superficial (re: that TV show will rejuvenate you), or equate it to relaxation (re: the bubble bath will wash your stress away). While these activities are good in and of themselves, if we truly pause and reflect, do they really constitute self-care?
Perhaps the first step towards answering this question is exploring accessible depictions of self-care. Merriam-Webster states it simply as to “care for oneself.” The Barbie Wellness Collection (yes, this is a thing) has self-care representatives like Barbie Spa Doll, who manages rough days by engaging in “one of her favorite ways to recharge: face masks.” The self-care hashtag on Instagram can take you down a black hole that leads to ads for athleisure, organic skincare, and the best red wine.
Maybe we can dig for a better working definition of self-care. A psychology journal article entitled “Development of a Self-Care Assessment for Psychologists” defines self-care as a “multidimensional, multifaceted process of purposeful engagement in strategies that promote healthy functioning and enhance well-being.”
Another useful definition of self-care comes from the World Health Organization:
“Self-care is broad concept which also encompasses hygiene (general and personal); nutrition (type and quality of food eaten); lifestyle (sporting activities, leisure, etc.); environmental factors (living conditions, social habits, etc.); socioeconomic factors (income level, cultural beliefs, etc.); and self-medication.
Core principles: Fundamental principles for self-care include aspects of the individual (e.g. self-reliance, empowerment, autonomy, personal responsibility, self- efficacy) as well as the greater community (e.g. community participation, community involvement, community empowerment).”
These definitions of self-care stand out for a couple of reasons. First, they don’t directly imply what activities constitute self-care, but illustrate domains in which people should consider when engaging in a self-care activity. The WHO definition emphasizes inclusion of the community, cultural worldviews, and access to self-care resources as an inherent part of self-care. So what is the answer to the bubble bath quandary? Is your favorite TV show the key to self-care, and does Wellness Barbie get it right by doing her nightly face masks? The real answer is that there is no concrete answer. It’s more a matter of the purpose and intention that the self-care practice serves to you. When considering your own self-care practice, pause to consider the following questions:
How am I feeling?
What do I truly need right now?
What self care resources and options do I have access to?
Am I choosing an activity mindlessly, or have I actively chosen it?
Does this activity serve as a distraction, or a moment to truly engage with and hold my feelings?
Does this activity only offer transient relief, or does it promote lasting benefit?
The bubble bath quandary is yours to resolve. Self-care is inherently defined by “self”, and directed towards “self.” It is a time to turn inwards and authentically ask yourself what you need and how you can best meet those needs; bubble bath or otherwise.
If you or someone you care about is in need of support, call Foresight today to schedule an appointment. All of our therapists are continuing to support our members through telehealth.