Self-Care: What It Is & What It Isn’t

Self-care has become a buzzword that you might hear everywhere from casual conversation to work policies to leading psychological research. What does self-care really mean? Is it taking bubble baths and doing face masks or taking long naps and indulging in our favourite treats? Or is there more behind this concept?

At its core, self-care is taking the time to be mindful of your own needs and wants, and then following through to meet them. This means that self-care can look different for each one of us. For some, a bubble bath and a face mask can absolutely be part of their self-care routine, while for others doing these things won’t have any significant impact on their well-being. Regardless of what does meet someone’s wants and needs, self-care is NOT about being selfish, ignoring important commitments you have, or avoiding things you would prefer not to do.


Effective self-care means that within your daily schedule, in which you are likely pulled in many different directions (e.g. work, school, children, relationships, household chores, etc.), you intentionally build in time to fill your own cup. After all, we cannot pour from an empty cup – we have to make sure our own cup is filled first and then we can serve others from that.

So what does self-care actually look like? Self-care comes in many different forms, but can include anything that supports your own mental, physical, emotional, social, and spiritual well-being.

  • Mental self-care can include practicing self-compassion, mindfulness, meditation, catching cognitive distortions, going to therapy, and doing things that are meaningful or mentally engaging to you.

  • Physical self-care can include prioritizing rest and sleep, making time for relaxation, eating nourishing foods, staying hydrated, moving your body in ways that feel good to you, and caring for your physical health in any way (this can include bubble baths and face masks, or seeing your doctor regularly).

  • Emotional self-care can include being aware of your emotions, using coping strategies to tolerate difficult feelings, expressing/processing emotions safely, and talking to someone about your feelings (a trusted friend, partner, or therapist).

  • Social self-care can include spending time with people you care about, nurturing connections that are meaningful to you, and knowing how much social interaction best serves you (and then building this into your schedule).

  • Spiritual self-care can include anything from attending religious services (if this aligns with your spirituality) to spending time in nature, or things that bring you meaning/purpose. If meditation or prayer serve you spiritually, then spending even a few minutes a day doing this can be self-care.

  • Knowing your own limits, setting boundaries, and taking on only what you have the capacity to do are other forms of self-care.

Self-care may help with stress management and reduction, improving relationships, and increasing your energy, along with many other benefits of prioritizing your well-being. Self-care is NOT a cure-all though. Systemic oppression, traumatic experiences, toxic environments (workplaces, relationships) among other things often cannot be healed or overcome simply through self-care alone. There are many things that may be out of your control that self-care will not magically fix. It can, however, be a tool to support your own well-being in the midst of everything you are dealing with. Self-care is not something to feel guilty about, as it is vital to your well-being, but it also does not need to be done perfectly or feel like another thing on your to-do list – be gentle with yourself!


Therapy can be an important part of your self-care as it is dedicating time to your own well-being, healing, and growth. You can also explore, learn, and practice different methods of self-care with your therapist to find a routine that best suits you. In therapy, you can also work with your therapist to explore your values, needs, and wants to make decisions and create the life you want to live, which is another form of self-care. Book a free consultation with one of our therapists if you are interested in working on self-care in therapy.

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