What is Real Self Care? Beyond Bubble Baths & Self Care Hashtags

Published by Riley on

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It’s a trend, a hashtag, a caption for countless social media posts featuring bath bombs and romance novels and fancy glasses of wine.

Real self care is lost to hashtags depicting luxury.

What started out as an earnest term that was meant to encourage taking care of one’s needs has lost its meaning along the way, leading many to scoff at the mere mention of the term now.

But what is self care, really? And how can it help you improve your life?

Since it’s seen so much overuse and abuse in recent years, let’s first take a look at what self care isn’t.

Self Care ISN’T Toxic Positivity

A mantra of “No Bad Vibes” doesn’t do much for someone who’s battling anxiety, or facing unemployment, or grieving the loss of a loved one.

There are times when forcing positivity is neither helpful nor appropriate.

A big part of self care is sitting with everything you’re experiencing, without trying to force it away because it’s unpleasant.

We do a disservice to ourselves when we shove away our negative feelings in effort to maintain a positive outlook.

Truly caring for yourself means giving yourself the permission to cry, to grieve, to be bitter, to be angry, and to lean on the people close to you when you need it.

Self Care ISN’T Just Indulgence

Indulgence is all well and fine when it comes to self care, but it’s not all there is to it.

Mindless indulgence often turns into escapism, which is only a temporary solution to whatever issues are driving your need for some real self care.

And, if you indulge too much, whether that be with spending money, binge eating or drinking, substance abuse, or reckless sexual encounters (always be safe!), you may find yourself feeling worse than you did before.

Self care can include a bit of healthy indulgence, but one must know where the line is.

Self Care ISN’T Staying In Your Comfort Zone

This one is a hard point for me to argue, because it’s something I still struggle with so much.

After all, peace and security are two of my biggest personal values!

But truly caring for yourself means fostering growth, not becoming stagnant just because it doesn’t feel good to leave your comfort zone.

Sometimes there are actions you can’t avoid taking, feelings you can’t avoid addressing, and conversations you can’t avoid having.

To put off discomfort in order to preserve your perception of peace will only hurt you in the long run.

Self Care ISN’T a Sign of Weakness

In a society so deeply affected by toxic masculinity, the idea that tending to your own needs–particularly the emotional ones–is somehow “weak” seems to be something many of us have internalized, no matter our gender.

Cisgender, heterosexual men are especially at risk of falling prey to the lie that acknowledging that they are in a tender place and need to rest, go to therapy, or cry it out, makes them weak.

But prioritizing self care isn’t a sign of weakness.

Knowing that you are in need of care and taking the time to tend to yourself is strength, and will only make you stronger the more you allow yourself to be vulnerable with yourself.

Okay, so we’ve covered some of the things that self care is not, but what is self care, then?

Self Care IS Prioritizing Your Needs

Taking care of yourself first is not selfish–it’s necessary.

Many of us learned at a young age to put other people’s needs before our own.

Those assigned female at birth in particular are practically trained to be people-pleasers, to make other people around us happy, sometimes at our own expense. 

Growing up, I was actively taught to put others before myself.

While I do think there are times when the needs of others ought to come before our own wants, our needs should always be top priority in our own lives.

You may be familiar with the phrase “you can’t pour from an empty cup”.

I’m of the opinion that we should prioritize ourselves for our own sake, but if you’re of the mindset that you ought to put others first, remember that you can only do so much if you’re constantly burnt out from lack of prioritizing your own needs!

Self Care IS Setting Boundaries

Setting boundaries is a huge part of caring for yourself.

You have a right to determine who gets to be in your life, how they get to be in your life, and in what capacity.

If someone refuses to respect your boundaries, it’s perfectly acceptable to limit their space in your life, or even to cut them off entirely, if possible.

In situations like with difficult coworkers or roommates, enforcing boundaries can sometimes be out of your hands.

If people at your job or in your house are not respecting your boundaries, it may be time to take a big step for your wellbeing, and look for new work or a new place to live.

Did you know that setting boundaries also applies to how you use social media? Check out some tips on how to make sure you’re using social media in a way that aligns with your self-care needs!

Self Care IS Setting Aside Time For Yourself

That traditional view of self care, the image of a freshly drawn bath with a glass of champagne and a romance novel… that really can be part of it!

Taking the time to be alone with yourself and do what feels right for you in the moment is definitely part of a healthy life.

Sometimes, I really need to just set everything else aside, put on some classical music, light some candles, and take a nice relaxing bath with no interruptions from the outside world.

Real self care is giving yourself permission to do the same.

You go ahead and mark your schedule with time for yourself every week–every day, if you can manage it.

And remember, no guilt!

Self Care IS Something That Might Look Different For Different People

Baths aren’t accessible for everyone, nor even universally enjoyable!

Therapy (unfortunately) isn’t always accessible for everyone, either.

A lot of the things I’ve listed as being good ways to care for oneself aren’t necessarily going to be effective or accessible for every single person on the planet.

They might not even work for the same person at different times!

When faced with transphobia, for example, my self care routine for the day might look a little different than on days when I feel loved and accepted for who I am.

Different events can trigger different needs at different times for different people.

Or, in case I wasn’t being clear enough: different people have different needs, and that extends to the idea of self care.

At its core, self care is as simple as it sounds: it’s about ensuring that you are being cared for in the way that you need.

It’s specific to you.

It’s something you don’t have to earn, and certainly isn’t anything to feel guilty about prioritizing.

Self Care IS Important – And You Deserve It!

We all need and are inherently deserving of real self care.

Neglecting your need to nurture yourself will only hurt you in the long run.

Dedicating time to tending to your needs makes all the difference.

Your needs are important and there is no shame in prioritizing them!

Have a lovely day, and take care of yourself, babe. <3


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Riley, he/they pronouns

Need a self love boost? Try these affirmations for confidence, happiness, and healing.

Hey, you stressed about something? Everything is going to be okay. Here are some encouraging quotes to reassure you.

And while we’re at it, here’s a nice, soothing playlist.

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