What is Self-Care?

Whenever I ask this question to my clients, I feel like a seventh grade English teacher reviewing vocabulary. “It’s taking care of yourself.” I have to kindly remind them not to use the words in the definition. This is often followed by a long, awkward silence. It is at this exact moment that my “student(s)” have realized that they have not ever really put thought into what self-care really means.

After a few moments of staring at each other, usually the next answer is something along the lines of “maintaining your hygiene.” Mental health professionals working with individuals with severe and persistent mental illness often consider self-care to encompass adult daily living skills, or ADL’s (Self-Care, 2016). This includes, but is not limited to: brushing your teeth, taking a shower, cleaning your living space, eating properly, etc. The list goes on and on. Now, these individuals are not wrong, but it only covers a basic level of self-care.

When I highlight that there might be more to self-care, the answer begins to expand. My clients will point out that ADL’s only cover the physical aspects without acknowledging mental and emotional health. The narrow perspective opens up, and examples I hear pertain to relaxation techniques, leisure, and stress management. At this point, we must understand that it is not only a physical experience. Self-care is deliberate. Self-care activities are planned out and meant to enhance our mental, emotional, and physical health (Michael, 2016).

Let me add one more level to this definition. After a little bit of research, the World Health Organization (WHO) provided me with the closest definition that I align with:

Self-care is what people do for themselves to establish and maintain health, prevent and deal with illness.

It is a broad concept encompassing:

  • hygiene (general and personal);
    • nutrition (type and quality of food eaten);
    • lifestyle (sporting activities, leisure etc.);
    • environmental factors (living conditions, social habits, etc.);
    • socioeconomic factors (income level, cultural beliefs, etc.);
    • self-medication.

Self-care addresses all facets of one’s well-being. There are infinite theories regarding well-being and how it should be divided. It is difficult to conceptualize something as complex as the human personality. To complicate things further, each of our well-beings are different and requires individualized attention. Ultimately, we have to take into consideration this complexity and understand that it is just as difficult to care for this well-being. That is why it is something we must care for with preparation and purposeful action.

-The Caring Counselor


Michael, R. (2016, August 10). What Self-Care Is — and What It Isn’t. Retrieved from Psych Central: https://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2016/08/10/what-self-care-is-and-what-it-isnt-2/

Self-Care. (2016, September 14). Retrieved from GoodTherapy.org: http://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/issues/self-care

The Role of the Pharmacist in Self-Care and Self-Medication. (2017, February 10). Retrieved from World Health Organization: http://apps.who.int/medicinedocs/en/d/Jwhozip32e/3.1.html




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