Here's How An Expert Defines Self-Care, Because It's More Than Bath Bombs & Face Masks

As self-care becomes more and more popular, it can sometimes seem like a trendy phrase that's been co-opted to sell expensive yoga pants and scented candles. But the truth is, the practice and ideology of self-care is important, and oftentimes even necessary to one's physical and mental well-being. It can be kind of difficult to figure out what counts as self-care, exactly, because it's different for everyone — which also means it can be a confusing process to define what self-care really means for you. Like, yeah, you've seen Instagram after Instagram of yoga sequences and fruity bath bombs, but is that really what you want to do for yourself?

As someone who is sober, in recovery, and has dealt with depression since childhood, self-care is something I have had to work really consistently at incorporating into my life, mainly through the help of therapists and mentors. But if there's one thing I've learned so far over these past several years, it's this: Figuring out how to take care of yourself is an individual learning process. So, if you feel a little lost in this regard, and you're not quite sure about what it means to take care of yourself, you aren't alone.

As New York-based therapist Julia Colangelo, LCSW tells Elite Daily, self-care really can be a misunderstood concept.

The word itself is often so overused, she explains, that it causes people to think of self-care as something that, by its definition, should be indulgent, or all about "treating yourself." While doing something extra special for yourself, like booking a luxury massage, or taking yourself out for a fancy dinner, can absolutely be part of your self-care practice from time to time, the most important thing to remember, Colangelo says, is that self-care is really all about the process of identifying and caring for your personal needs. In other words, there's no one-size-fits-all approach to it.

Colangelo defines self-care to be "critical acts that set you up for balance and success in your personal and professional lives." A good way to make sense of this is to think of self-care as being created from the inside out — not the other way around.

From a clinical perspective, Colangelo tells Elite Daily, some examples of self-care might include intangible behaviors, rather than glitzy products. This might mean setting boundaries for yourself by saying no to a task you don't have time for, or on the flip side, saying yes to taking a risk you might otherwise avoid out of fear or self-doubt. Other examples of habitual self-care, Colangelo explains, may include things like scheduling breathing breaks throughout your day to relieve stress, or going for walks to clear your mind.

"The hope is that we integrate enough self-care, or acts of self-love and appreciation, that we don't have to 'make it a thing,' and we can unapologetically be ourselves," Colangelo tells Elite Daily.

This might mean seeking the help of professionals, or even people you admire who you recognize take care of themselves in a way that seems helpful or attractive to you.

For example, do you have a co-worker who is always really well-rested? Ask for some of her tips and tricks for a good night's sleep. Do you feel like it might be time to seek out a therapist to talk to about your anxiety? Do some research on psychologists in your area, and reach out when you feel ready.

The Fort Garry Women's Resource Centre (FGWRC), a not-for-profit, feminist organization supporting women through counseling, advocacy, and access to resources, defines self-care as follows:

It’s about identifying your own needs and taking steps to meet them. It is taking the time to do some of the activities that nurture you.
Self care is about taking proper care of yourself and treating yourself as kindly as you treat others.

Noticing a pattern here?

Some of the FGWRC examples of self-care include talking to a friend you love, sitting outside and listening to the birds, buying yourself a little treat, taking a class, or even making time in your day for a nap.

Bottom line: There are literally countless answers to the question, "What counts as self-care?" Ultimately, self-care is a personal practice, and in some ways, it's even a journey, in which you figure out what really works best for you. And trust me, no matter how long that journey takes, or how difficult it might, be you are worth it.