What Exactly Is Self-Care?

By | November 18, 2018

Self-care has become a popular buzzword over the last couple of years. If you look up the #selfcare hashtag on social media you’ll find almost 10 million posts, showing pictures ranging from pedicures, massages and vacations, to pizza and bottles of wine.

For someone who is trying to get clear on what self-care looks like for them, these posts can make it confusing.

What exactly is self-care? Dr. Kara Mohr, PhD and behavior change expert, defines self-care as follows:

Self-care is taking care of and honoring your body, mind, and spirit in a way that activates your best self.

Self-care choices are those that improve your physical, mental, or emotional health, and move you towards your desired outcome.

Self-care choices move you forward.

What “moving forward” means is something only you can determine based on your personal preferences, desired outcomes, and what you need on each particular day. For example, getting a massage may be a form of self-care that moves someone forward on a given day, whereas doing a challenging training session may be the self-care that moves them forward on a different day.

Contrary to what is often shown on social media, self-care is almost always less glamorous than bubble baths, massages, and pedicures. Something that is often misleading about many of the self-care posts on social media is that true self-care choices aren’t typically the easiest choices.

Examples of self-care:

  • Choosing nutritious food more often than not.
  • Drinking enough water.
  • Turning down a social invitation because you need alone time.
  • Going for a walk.
  • Opting for an early bedtime in lieu of another night out.
  • Pursuing personal development.
  • Going for annual doctor exams.
  • Seeking help from a mental health professional.
  • Refilling your medication, and so much more.

Acts of self-care are an investment in future you.

When Self-Care Turns Into Something Else

While self-care will look different for everyone based on their personal circumstances, it can be easy to confuse self-care with behaviors that aren’t serving your best self, or that may even move you away from your desired outcome.

The Difference Between Self-Care and Self-Comfort

Self-comfort is a type of behavior that is focused on soothing and coping rather than moving us toward our desired goals and direction.

Choices of self-comfort usually involve things that are “easier” in the moment, such as skipping a workout, having another glass of wine when you decided you would only have one, sacrificing much-needed sleep for more television or social media, etc.

Chosen often enough, self-comfort will keep you right where you are, as opposed to moving forward towards your desired outcome.

There isn’t anything inherently wrong with self-comfort, and everyone chooses it from time to time.

The important thing is that you are clear on the possible consequences in order to make an intentional choice.

When Self-Comfort Turns Into Self-Indulgence

Self-indulgence is self-comfort taken to extreme levels. Self-indulgence takes a self-comfort behavior and doubles-down on it in excessive amounts. Where self-comfort is the easy choice, self-indulgence goes all in.

For example, if the self-comfort choice is staying up to watch an extra episode on television instead of going to bed when you’re tired, the self-indulgent choice would be binge-watching several more episodes and going to bed absolutely exhausted which ruins your next day. If self-comfort is having a second brownie, self-indulgence is eating half the pan.

When done often enough, self-indulgent choices move us backward, away from our desired result.

What About Exercise?

Exercise, which is typically viewed as self-care, can fall into the self-comfort, or even self-indulgence category. For example, if a person is using extreme amounts of exercise as a coping mechanism rather than working to get to the underlying issues, it might be self-comfort. Additionally, if a person is participating in extreme amounts of exercise in order to punish themselves for what they ate, exercise may be viewed as self-indulgence.

Only you know for certain if your exercise is serving your best self, in which case it’s an excellent form of self-care.

Choosing Your Self-Care, Self-Comfort, and Self-Indulgence

The purpose in distinguishing between self-care, comfort, and indulgence is to help you get clear on which behaviors serve your best self, and which behaviors may be keeping you stuck where you are, or moving you backwards. Once you’re clear on these, you can make a choice as to what is truly worth it, and what isn’t.

For example, I know that my self-comfort behavior of staying up scrolling social media rather than going to bed is never worth it for me, but having that extra glass of wine when I’m at dinner with friends is almost always worth it. Both of these choices would fall under the self-comfort category.

This article is not intended to be prescriptive or judgmental. Only you know which behaviors serve your highest self and move you forward. Just remember:

  • Self-care choices move us forwards.
  • Self-comfort choices, when done often enough, will keep us right where we are.
  • Self-indulgent choices, when done often enough, will move us backwards.

The choice, whether is be self-care, comfort, or indulgence, is yours to make. Take the time to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Which behaviors do you participate in that make you feel good and move you towards your desired outcome?
  • Which choices do you consistently make that provide comfort, but aren’t truly worth it? What are some alternatives that would fall under self-care?
  • Which behaviors provide comfort, and are absolutely worth it?
  • Which choices feel a little overboard, and you suspect are moving you away from your goals? What are some alternatives that would better serve you?

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