Samantha Dhu | March 2, 2018

Self-care: it’s a word that’s ‘buzzing’ around a lot at the moment. It’s actually kind of amazing how popular the idea of self-care has become. In the land of Instagram the hashtag self-care has over 4’000’000 posts. On Facebook, there are close to 100 self-care groups. 

As a Mental Health professional who helps people focus on mental health and wellness regularly I have such mixed feelings about this rise in popularity. On one hand, I’m excited to see that people are starting to accept the idea that self- care isn’t selfish (because I promise you it really isn’t!) People are starting to get that we need to look after our mental health as much as we look after our physical health. BUT on the other hand, I can’t help but think that as a concept it’s been oversimplified and commercialised. Perhaps even added more pressure to our lives? Pressure to have the “perfect” lifestyle which includes time and money for self-care. Like the media tells us: buy this candle, book this holiday, drink this special water and you’re taking care of yourself. I mean really?

Sorry to say it but going on holidays and a trip to the day spa every now and then just doesn’t cut it in terms of self-care. Self-care is about the little things we do daily. Don’t get me wrong I think it’s important to take regular breaks and to have holidays to look forward to but in the words of Jon Kabat-Zinn “wherever you go there you are” In other words, you can’t escape the person you are or the relationship you have with yourself even when you are floating in bubbles, sipping oxidised water or overseas in a faraway land.

Self-Care is not about Treating Oneself it’s about Knowing Oneself

The most important relationship you will ever have in your life is the one you will have with yourself. Many people don’t even notice what kind of relationship they have with themselves. Others are highly critical of themselves. Self-care is not an action but a relationship with self, a nurturing caring relationship.

Here it is. What’s going to have a much bigger impact on your mood and wellness: how you talk to yourself in everyday life. How you breathe. How you manage your time. How you set boundaries. Going on a holiday probably won’t change any of these things. Awareness can.

 Building your self- awareness, the ability to tune into yourself is not only the best form of self-care but the best gift you can give yourself and those around you. If you want to increase your self- awareness. Start by checking in with yourself throughout the day. Observe your thoughts, your feelings, your body. What do you notice? How do you talk to yourself? Would you talk to a friend in the same way? Your best friend? Then ask yourself what do I need right now? Try to really tune into to yourself and identify what your needs are in the moment.

Self -care is not always luxurious or easy, sometimes it’s about doing the hard things.

The other thing that often gets missed in the frenzy of self- care talk is that it isn’t always pampering and relaxation it’s also doing the things we find challenging but that we know are good for us. For example, exercise can help so much with our physical and mental health but I and many of my friends struggle to find the motivation and the time to prioritise exercise. Sometimes it is about doing the hard things that we don’t like doing but that we know we need.

A simple strategy for this is known as “follow the plan, not the mood” If we wait until we are in the mood to do something we will often be waiting a long time, especially if that is something that is hard. Personally, I struggle to prioritise exercise but I know I feel happier and more energetic when I do exercise. So I plan my exercise and book it in my diary every Sunday evening then I follow the plan, not the mood. This is a tried and tested strategy known as behavioural activation that can be used to help those with depression but also for anyone who struggles with the motivation to do the hard things.

Setting boundaries and saying no can also feel unsettling and is something many of us avoid doing but it is another example of essential self-care.

Self-care is not a one size fits all thing, it’s unique to each individual.

So here is the thing. It looks different for everyone. If someone is depressed and socially isolated reaching out and organising to have a cuppa with a friend could be a great act of self-care. When struggling with depression at times having a shower in the morning can even be an act of self -care and a big achievement. In contrast someone who is feeling too busy and stressed self-care might be the opposite action, to cancel a social commitment and to have some time and solitude. Comparing our idea of self-care with someone else’s idea of self-care can often leave us feeling something is lacking. So again, focusing on being aware of who you are, where you are at in your present moment and what you need will help you get the recipe for self-care that you need.

So here are some free (but not necessarily easy) ways to give yourself the gift of self-care.

Having more alone/quiet time

Having less alone time and spending time connecting with others more.

Saying no/setting boundaries/standing up for yourself

Saying yes to new experiences and challenges more often

Getting up early in the morning to exercise

Sleeping in

Practicing being imperfect

Letting yourself have a good cry

Listening to your favourite music

Developing a compassionate mindset for yourself and accepting where you are at in life right now.

Cutting yourself some slack when you don’t have time to practice “good self-care”

Problem-solving and taking action.

Doing things that will make your life less stressful

Moving your body in a way that relaxes you

Scheduling in your exercise and sticking to the plan even when you don’t feel like it.

Tuning in to yourself-ask yourself what am I thinking? What emotions am I feeling? What is happening in my body and breathe right now? (Regular mindfulness practice can help with this)

Taking breaks when you need to

Asking for help when you need it

Deleting Instagram and Facebook accounts that trigger you feeling not good enough

Monitoring and being aware of social media usage and how it makes you feel

There are many forms of self-care that are free and it looks different for everyone. I hope you found this article useful and that it gave you a different perspective on what self-care is. Now I’m off to treat myself to a mani/pedi whilst soaking in a bathtub full of rose petals in a far far away island (or maybe I will just take a nap)


Sam is a Counsellor and Accredited Mental Health Social Worker who believes seeking help is a sign of strength. In October Sam overcame her own (mild) fear of social media by completing a live 30 day vlogging challenge on facebook to “stop the stigma” around mental health issues. Sam dreams that one day seeking help and attending therapy will be seen as as normal and positive as going to the gym.   When she’s not running her counselling business, and doing the work she loves she’s busy running around after her fiercely headstrong and fun-loving toddler (teaching her to be assertive has clearly backfired haha.) Sam is a member of MyLocalMind Inc.  

Originally published in FreoPages