What Does Self Care Really Mean? What it Looks Like & Whether It's Accessible to Everyone

Self care has been a trending topic for a hot minute, but if you're still trying to figure out what self care is all about, we've got you.

Between the uncertainty and fear caused by the pandemic, the insanity of the US election, the insurrection plans carried out on January 6th, all the rightful civil unrest of 2020, and the widespread trauma associated with seeing, hearing about, and reading about Black people being murdered by police, it's no wonder self care has been a trending topic all throughout 2020 and 2021.

The thing is, if we look at the most popular questions around the topic of self care, people are asking things like:

1. What does self care really mean?
2. Is self care selfish?
3. Where do I start with self care?
4. Does self care help with mental health or depression?

Since life for so many of us requires a responsible, productivity-focused mindset, it's no wonder some of us are wrestling with feeling guilty when we're being unproductive or trying to enjoy a day off.

More than that, where many of us have been so focused on our home lives, careers, and social calendars prior to this past year, we might not even know what self care looks like.

What does self care really mean then?

When we talk about self care, images of bubblebaths and face masks are often what pop to mind. If you're anything like me, while we "get" it, sometimes those things just don't sound appealing. So, if you're not feeling the regular self care things, are there other things you can do that still fall under the category of self care?

Yes, of course! In fact, one of the most misunderstood things about self care is what it actually is.

Simply put, self care is any activity that leaves you feeling as though your emotional, physical, and psychological needs are being met.

This could be things like:

  • Doing some exercise
  • Reading a book
  • Letting yourself sleep in
  • Sitting on the couch eating indulgent food and bingewatching Real Housewives of Potomac for a day
  • Eating pizza for breakfast, guilt-free
  • Switching off your phone and having a "you" day
  • Being creative - drawing, singing, writing, painting, etc., or
  • Making time to learn something new

This brings us to the next commonly asked question:

Is self care selfish?

Of course not... but, living the busy lifestyles that most of us do, sometimes taking that bit of "you time" feels a bit... off.

Whether you're a parent, a student, someone working on your career, or just busy living life on your own terms, it can start to feel like there's always something you *should be* doing that isn't related to taking care of your needs.

The belief system that drives the feeling that we're being selfish when we prioritize self care activities is called "toxic productivity".

Toxic productivity is then defined as feeling the continuous need to complete productive activities ahead of activities that do not produce tangible results. 

For instance - forcing yourself to repaint a room in your home on the weekend instead of reading that book you've been dying to start is the perfect example of toxic productivity. You're denying yourself something you want to do - that might make you feel relaxed or entertained, in order to do something you determine to be "more valuable" because you can show a physical result at the end.

The trouble is putting other people's needs and/or "productive tasks" ahead of our own can start to make life feel dull and draining. Worse, it can also compound feelings of anxiety, sadness / melancholy, overwhelm, and isolation.

The solution? Make more time for activities that fill you up! This brings us to the next question:

Where do I start with self care?

The answer to that is different for everybody. Some folks love bubblebaths and at-home spa treatments. Others find self-care is taking a 2 hour hike with their dogs. 

The easiest way to figure out what your self-care activities are is to ask yourself:

  • What activities make me feel the most relaxed?
  • What activities leave me feeling refreshed after?
  • What have I liked to do in the past, but haven't found time to do lately?
  • What do I always say I want to do, but put off until later?
  • What activity would I be excited to be invited to if a friend was doing it?

Once you've got a list of options, actually schedule some time to do those activities. As in - pick times and dates, put them on a calendar, create a reminder in your phone, then make sure to do them. If you don't, you may never break the cycle of toxic productivity.

This brings us to the last question most people ask:

Does self care help with mental health or depression?

The answer to this question is - it depends on the self care activity. If your activity of choice includes adopting a new way of eating that is more in-line with a Mediterranean diet, it *might* help lessen your likelihood of suffering from depression or anxiety. 

Similarly, if your self care activities include doing some form of sustained exercise, that might also help.

The truth is mental health is not the same across the board for everyone, despite what some people would like us to believe. Our individual experiences, the meaning we create from them, our genetics, our levels of education, bodily responses, and many more factors combine to form our individual outlook as it relates to mental health.

This said, if you've been diagnosed with a life-altering mental health disease or disorder like Schizophrenia or Anti-Social Personality Disorder, your Doctors will know best whether self care activities could help you experience a better quality of life.

My personal view on this as someone who was once diagnosed as having depression and PTSD is simple. The more positive experiences we can create for ourselves, the better the opportunities we have to access positive feelings overall. 

What's more, when we're able to make lasting positive changes in our own lives, moods, and experiences regularly, we're more likely to feel empowered in our day-to-day lives.

As a result, I think self care often helps more than it hurts. The trick is to make sure you're really doing the things that YOU want to do, things that make YOU feel relaxed, confident, happy, and / or fulfilled.

Last, but not least, I want to address a final question that few people ask:

Is self care something everyone can do?

This might be an unpopular opinion, but I'm not one to shy away from that kind of thing.

While I'd like to think that self care is equally accessible to everyone, I'm painfully aware that it is not.

If you're searching for answers to questions about self care, it's typically because your basic needs of food, shelter, rest, clothing, and health are already being met.

That means for anyone not experiencing that level of security, self care is less accessible.

It seems obvious when we apply some deeper thought to it, right? Many people are living below the poverty line (Ex. Every adult person working for minimum wage and living outside of their family home), many people are just above the poverty line and are working two or more jobs to keep their lights on. There are people struggling with physical and mental disabilities whom rely on other people for their basic needs, and there are people so focused on surviving on a daily basis that they don't have the luxury of also thinking about how they might thrive.

Does that mean we shouldn't try to achieve a self care routine ourselves?

Of course not. What it means is we should recognize the blessing it is to be in a position where we are afforded the opportunity to work on ourselves and potentially better our lives. After all, as far as self care goes, having a gratitude practice hugely impacts how we view our lives.


If you liked this blog post and want to support my very small, Black-owned business, please share my website with a friend. Shares, likes, views, and purchases truly impact whether our small business thrives or dies, so every time you take a small action toward helping it truly means the world to us.

Thank you for reading!

xo, Dee

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