How To Begin A Self-Care Practice

“You need to practice good self-care.”

“Self-care is essential.”

“How’s your self-care?”

“What do you do for self-care?”

Self-care, self-care, self-care…I heard that term hundreds of times during graduate school. 

My professors stressed the importance of self-care for therapists because of our tendency to burn out.  Still, it took me several months and a couple of panic attacks later to fully understand what they meant.    

Self-care isn't reserved for therapists; everyone requires self-care.  However, as a therapist, I find myself discussing self-care more than ever.  I discuss it with my colleagues, supervisors, friends, family, clients--really anyone who will listen.

When I mention the phrase to non-clinicians I receive a variety of reactions ranging from blank stares to “nobody in the real world has time for that” glares. 

I fully understand both of those reactions. 

Trust me, I understand.

So let’s start off by defining, “self-care.” Merriam-Webster’s online definition of self-care is pretty simple.  They define it as “care for oneself.” 


Easy enough. 

But let’s break it down further...

I’ll expand on Webster’s definition and add that self-care is intentional.  It requires awareness—awareness of your emotional, physical, spiritual, and psychological needs

It’s the continuous monitoring of how much you are caring for yourself in comparison to how much you are caring for others. 

It’s the ongoing observation of the delicate balance between giving and receiving

Self-care is exploratory, compassionate, and often rebellious because it requires us to set and enforce boundaries. 

It challenges us to say, “I’d love to, but I can’t. Not today.

It requires us to be courageous and insightful when we proclaim, Today, I will ensure that I am doing what is necessary to fill ME up so that I have something to give to others.”

And I love Danielle LaPorte's suggestion that "Self-care is a divine responsibility." YES TO THAT!

I'll also tell you what self-are is not. 

Self-care is NOT selfish.

Yet, the idea that doing something to care for your well-being is selfish is often the greatest barrier for people to break.   Yet it’s pretty easy to determine if you’re being selfish or practicing self-care. 

When in doubt, ask yourself:

Am I being exploitive, dishonest, and knowingly bringing HARM (not discomfort or frustration) to someone by engaging in this activity?

If the answer is no, then you're probably not being selfish. 

But sometimes practicing self-care WILL make others uncomfortable because our needs don’t always line up with other people’s agendas.  (Now who’s being selfish, huh?)

I have also found that women struggle more with prioritizing their self-care.  Many express feeling guilty about taking time for themselves or struggling to find time for it.  Sometimes they assume it has to be an elaborate event that can only be done in a spa or on a weekend vacation (all of which are wonderful options). But caring for yourself does not have to be complicated. 

Customize a self-care plan that fits your values & can be accommodated by your resources by incorporating the following elements into your practice:

1)    Awareness:  You HAVE to know what you need.  It sounds simple, but sometimes one of the hardest questions to answer is “What do I need physically, emotionally, spiritually, psychologically?

2)    Intention:  Set an intention for your self-care maintenance.  What do you hope to achieve by practicing self-care? Do you want to feel more balance in your life? Do you want more energy? Do you want to model good self-care to your loved ones?  Get clear about your motives.

3)    Prioritize: What steps do you take when something is a priority to you?  Do you write it down on a calendar? Set a reminder? Whatever you do to prioritize events/people that are important in your life, do that with your self-care. Start simple and don't worry if you’re not performing at 100%--even 80% is good enough! Just get into the habit of caring for yourself.

4)    Action: This is probably the toughest part of self-care.  Often we KNOW what we need; know how to get it done but we have trouble DOING it.  It may be because of guilt, lack of time, effort, but having a self-care plan is not enough.  You MUST regularly practice self-care.

I’ve provided some examples below as well as this link to a self-care assessment worksheet from the Minnesota Literacy Council. Use them to come up with your own self-care plan.

There’s a reason we are instructed on flights to put our oxygen masks on first before trying to assist others in emergency situations.  Similarly, without tending to our own needs first in our everyday lives, eventually, we run out of what is necessary in order to help others.

Remember to take good care of yourself. 

It’s the most loving thing you can do for yourself and the people in your life.

DISCLAIMER:  THE RELATIONSHIP & SEXUAL WELLNESS CENTER blog and website are not intended to be a substitute for legal, ethical or medical consultation or for treatment and is strictly for educational and entertainment purposes.  Nothing found on the website or email is a substitute for professional psychological, psychiatric or medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical or mental health condition.