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I Redefined Self-Care, & This Is What I’ve Learned

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

Just like America runs on Dunkin’, the country also runs to social media to scope out the smartest self-care secrets. And while self-care is imperative to entwine into a hectic week, it’s easy to strive for perfectionism instead of balance, causing stress instead of serenity. As someone who likes everything perfected to a T, I knew my mentality of self-care had to be redefined, so I did just that as the new decade roared around the corner.

While rose petals and a bubble bath are a dynamic duo for deep relaxation, it’s unrealistic to prepare every day, especially as a college student in the box that I call my apartment. Yet, this is how self-care is digitally displayed: a young woman waking up to birds chirping, preparing an oatmeal bowl with over ten ingredients, and pampering herself from her bouncy curls down to her pedicured toes. Yeah, she’s all over the self-care advertisements.

container next to flowers

This impractical image became an obstacle each time I sought to fill my cup with things that sparked joy. My love for reading and writing was always curbed by searching for the perfect book club that fit my busy schedule and an aesthetically-bound journal to write in each evening at precisely 8:00 p.m. And, my love for making a healthy breakfast in the morning was restrained by social media bloggers giving me the electronic death stare for making avocado toast with white bread instead of multigrain.

I soon realized that the time I spent setting the perfect stage for self-care was wasted because I wasn’t pampering myself, I was pampering the falsehood of what I thought I needed to achieve. Instead of focusing on how shiny and smooth the lined paper was in my journal, I just started to write, not glancing at a scribble or two that I had left while my creativity was on the loose. Instead of effortlessly lining up fruit in an acai bowl (which is not as simple as it looks, FYI), I pushed the Instagram-worthy images of the colorful bowls aside to focus on my one self-care goal for the morning: to make a healthy breakfast. So, I made an oatmeal bowl with bananas, strawberries, cinnamon, chia seeds and a scoop of almond butter. Sure, my morning creation may never hit the cover of a magazine, but I know amid a busy week, taking the time to incorporate an energizing start to my morning is what makes me happy, and that is how I now define self-care.

Self-care isn’t just that bubble bath fantasy. It’s also the mundane tasks of boiling eggs or even flossing. Simply doing all the self-care things–instead of planning them in a picturesque way–made all the difference. No more stressing out about book clubs, either – I read 11 books in January alone because reading is one self-care practice I adore. Just because Instagram is oversaturated with everyone’s occasional spa trip and fancied brunch posts doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy the little things that bring you happiness. You’re not the young woman who is posed on a bed with a hardcover novel, smiling into the pages. You’re someone who simply has a passion for reading and is going to indulge in the half-hour you have to curiously flip through the chapters. All it takes is to focus on decompressing and de-stressing, and a little redefining along the way.

When you hear the word “self-care” what comes to mind? What does self-care look like to you? The answers to these questions will vary to us all. Although we all have our ideal picture of it, the concept of self-care itself has been conceptualized and society has imposed its own belief on what self-care should look like. From blog posts to Youtube videos and podcasts, self-care is often defined as the notion of prioritizing our health and well-being through various activities. It is often associated with typical activities such as taking a relaxing bath, meditating, or journaling. Although these activities do fall under the concept of “self-care”, the real purpose of self-care is often overlooked. Self-care isn’t just engaging in pleasurable activities; it’s the ongoing process of cultivating a more nurturing, mindful, and caring lifestyle for yourself. This involves prioritizing the five dimensions of self-care. Many people aren’t familiar with the five dimensions and just adopt the typical self-care concept that is imposed by society. However, to live a healthier life and truly practice self-care, it’s important to redefine our own definition of self-care and identify its five different dimensions. Here are the five different areas to help you discover the true meaning of self-care.

1.  Physical self-care 

Physical self-care involves prioritizing your physical needs. You need to take care of your body if you want it to function efficiently. Keep in mind that there is a strong connection between your mind and your body; so when you take care of your body, you’ll feel and think better too. Physical self-care is the most popular form of self-care practiced. You might be thinking that activities such as eating healthier and getting enough daily exercise will do the trick. However, physical self-care requires much more than remaining active and prioritizing nutrition. Physical self-care requires you to assess how much sleep you’re getting, how you’re fueling your body, and how you are tending to your physical needs. This includes maintaining a well-balanced diet, attending doctor appointments, taking prescribed medication, and even dressing in comfortable clothes. 

Woman holding a white mug with breakfast food and a book open on a bed
Pexels / The Lazy Artist Gallery

2.  Emotional self-care

Emotional self-care is centered on the awareness and regulation of feelings. It’s essential to have healthy coping skills to manage uncomfortable emotions like anger, anxiety, and sadness. Therefore, emotional self-care can include any activity that exercises your emotional intelligence. Such activities can include talking to a trusted friend, setting aside time for leisure activities that can help process your feelings like journaling, listening to music or even drawing to help you destress. 

two yellow pillar candles with a bullet journal and art supplies
Estée Janssens

3.  Mental self-care 

Mental self-care involves doing things that help you stay mentally healthy and keep your mind sharp. Just as every dimension of self-care is important, mental self-care is vital to your well-being. The way you think can greatly influence your psychological health. Therefore, a way to practice mental self-care can be by engaging in intellectual and creative activities that stimulate your mind. Activities such as reading a book, watching a documentary, or learning about a subject that interests you are ways to keep your mind sharp. Other important ways to practice mental self-care are by practicing self-compassion and acceptance. Read mantras and affirmations out loud every day to develop positive inner dialogue; get in touch with your creative side and create a vision board. 

4.  Spiritual self-care 

Spiritual self-care is the awareness of and relationship with something bigger than ourselves. Of course, this will be different for everyone depending on your spiritual beliefs. However, it can involve anything that helps you feel a sense of purpose, belonging or connection. This can include activities associated with your beliefs such as praying, attending a religious service, spending time in nature, or meditating. Ultimately, the activities will vary but the purpose of spiritual self-care is to nourish your spirit. 

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Tessa Pesicka / Her Campus

5.  Social self-care 

Social self-care is centered on socialization and maintaining meaningful relationships/friendships with others. Interaction with others is important for your well-being and it allows you to form a support system in your life. Social self-care will look different to everyone, though. Not everyone is an extrovert nor do we all share the same social needs. Therefore, it is essential to identify what your social needs are, work towards meeting those needs, and try to maintain a healthy well-balanced social life.

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Anna Schultz / Her Campus

However, it isn’t always easy to maintain a well-balanced social life. With the demands of life, responsibilities, and other priorities, maintaining relationships/friendships can be hard. it is important to make social self-care a priority, too. Some ways you can do this are by setting aside time to reach out to or and meet with a friend, signing up for volunteer activities in your community, or spending time in the company of loved ones. Ultimately, the key to social-self care is balance. 

Essentially, self-care is a multidimensional process. Taking care of yourself involves caring for your mind, body, and spirit. It is an on-going process of prioritizing all areas of your life and looking after each of these parts of our being. Maybe you found out that you are disregarding one of these certain areas of your life but that’s okay. Now you know that self-care isn’t just the act of engaging in pleasurable activities. It is when you attend to all these areas of your life that you are engaging in purposeful strategies to live a mindful and healthy lifestyle.  

Gemma is currently a senior at Florida International University studying Social Work. She is passionate about helping others improve their quality of life and is a big self-improvement enthusiast. You can often find her reading personal development books, listening to podcasts, or on Pinterest creating boards on self-growth and self-care. She enjoys fashion, interior design, and writing. She believes in a life full of finding gratitude in the little things, human empowerment, and wholeheartedly loving what you do.
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