Separating Self-Care From Self-Compassion

If you’ve checked social media in the last year, you’ve probably seen posts about self-care that have the headline, “self-care night!” with a photo of a bubble bath and book, or a tweet saying “self-care is taking a nap instead of doing my homework.”  While this is a nice sentiment, and it’s true that everyone does need a night or two to just relax, this particular idea of “self-care” has become a superficial social media trend. You can deserve a night off, but you shouldn’t let taking an easier route take over your life and impact your wellbeing overall. 

Self-compassion is defined as having three elements: mindfulness, self-kindness, and common humanity. It is taking the compassion we have for others, and giving it to ourselves. Self-care is defined as “any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health.”  Perhaps this is an issue of semantics, and self-care and self-compassion are the same thing to you. But for people who struggle with things like anxiety or self-confidence issues, being self-compassionate can be hard. We are our own worst critics, and our brains want to tell us that others deserve to be treated kinder than we treat ourselves. With the current way millennials treat self-care, it doesn’t require bravery--it just requires you to not do whatever you should be doing and do something more enjoyable.

One of the pillars of self-compassion, mindfulness, is something that can be hard to practice in college. Mindfulness is "the psychological process of bringing one’s attention to the internal and external experiences occurring in the present moment." We get very caught up in what is going to happen, or what has just happened, that we forget to take a deep breath and focus on what is happening now. Being compassionate to yourself would be letting go from regrets of the past and worries for the future, and let yourself just be in the moment and have a good time. 

The lines between self-compassion and self care can definitely blur. For example, if your friends cancel plans unexpectedly because they're having a bad day, and you're understanding and okay with that and want the same from them in return if you were to cancel plans, that can be both caring and compassionate of you. Sometimes, however, the desire to cancel all plans and never go out can be overwhelming. A difference between self-compassion and self-care is that self compassion doesn't always necessarily feel good at the beginning. Making yourself go on the outing would be self-compassion–the beginning may be hard, you’ll find that the reward from socializing is much greater than that of staying in. Even if you’re an introvert and need time alone to function, there are times when being around people can be reinvigorating in a surprisingly pleasant way.

Self-compassion can be scary. If you don't avoid conflict when things get rough with another person, but stand up for yourself when something is bothering you, you're practicing self-compassion. Being brave and speaking out by not letting yourself resort to staying silent when something is upsetting is hard, but worth it in the end.


Overall, it’s entirely okay to have a self-care night and get your nails done or watch a funny movie and forget the world around you. But don’t let your self-care get in the way of your responsibilities. Be self-compassionate, and treat yourself the way you would treat another person (which is hopefully kindly!). Go out with your friends, go to that club meeting that you’ve been too nervous to try, apply for that internship that makes you nervous but excited, and live your best life. 


Cover photo by Bruno Cervera on Unsplash.