Self-care is having a moment right now. It’s been hash-tagged a whopping 9.3M times on Instagram — and often accompanies a selfie in a new, trendy sheet mask or involves a goblet-sized glass of wine and an indulgent meal. But are these methods of self-care effective and accurate, or has the concept become a parody of itself?
While treating yourself to those things is perfectly healthy and can be beneficial (there’s absolutely nothing wrong with an at-home spa treatment or a glass or two of cabernet to unwind after a long week), it’s also important to consider the fact that there’s more beneath the surface that’s worth exploring when it comes to the true meaning of self-care and the ways in which it can be implemented into our lives more effectively.
Tracy Litt, mindset and self-love expert and founder of The Litt Factor, agrees that self-care is much deeper than its current stereotypical social media narrative. “Self-care goes way beyond a bubble bath or a spa day," says Litt. "Those things are great, but they are not the self-care that will change your life and nourish your soul.”
While it’s understandable that pampering isn’t the cure-all, the question still remains: What is? In an effort to uncover self-care as less of a distraction and more of a viable tool to truly better oneself, Litt and two other experts were tapped to weigh in on what self-care actually means, and and how to be sure you are mindfully practicing it rather than romanticizing it into an expensive skincare routine or an all-night Netflix and pizza binge.
Express Your Feelings
Lisa Hayim, NYC-based Registered Dietician and Founder of The Well Necessities, explains that at its core, self-care is never going to be a quick fix. “Self-care, to me, means filling up my own cup so I can show up as my best self, and more importantly, be able to care, elevate, and hold space for those around me,” she explains.
The truth is, self-care takes real work and inflection that can be uncomfortable in the moment, but pays off tenfold in the long run. Hayim adds: “For me, it means going to therapy and talking through what I’m feeling so I’m not explosive and reactive. It means having difficult conversations with my loved ones instead of shutting down.”
Be "Healthy Selfish"
As it turns out, expressing ones feelings and prioritizing oneself is actually a highly overlooked but incredibly relevant form of self-care. Litt refers to this as being "healthy selfish," noting that while most people have resistance to choosing themselves first, doing so is an essential piece of the puzzle.
To get started, Litt suggests conducting an audit of where you are now and where you want to be. "When embarking on your self-care journey, take a look at the different areas of your life: your relationships with yourself and others, your career, your spirituality, your fun and enjoyment, your health and well-being. Then, ask yourself: What would it look like if I loved myself more in this area? What new choice can I make to honor and care for myself so I can feel better in this area?"
Another meaningful way to practice self-care is by being grateful for what you have instead of focusing on the things you don't have. Hayim credits this with helping to center her, and even causing her occasional FOMO to disappear. "When I take a step back from all that life is throwing at me and get centered, I stop caring about what others are doing and thinking," she notes.
Todd Swagler, licensed Mental Health Counselor and Psychotherapist, shares this sentiment, and elaborates with a thought-starting observation: "So often in life, we put so much pressure on ourselves to be a certain way. We judge ourselves without realizing it and often shut down any possibility for self discovery and expression.”
Next time you find yourself being too critical, try to reset by replacing those negative thoughts with thoughts of gratitude instead."What if you practiced self-care by simply saying 'I'm proud of you' to yourself more?" Swagler adds, "When we take a moment to gain perspective and re-evaluate the way we treat ourselves, we come to a powerful realization that we actually have a lot to be grateful for."
Self-care can be both mental and physical — In fact, the two are directly correlated. "The choices we make affect the way we feel," says Swagler. "Sometimes self-care means relaxing on the couch, and other times we're better off pushing ourselves to break a sweat."
Exercising is one of the best things you can do to improve your mood and overall health. Working out can reduce stress, depression, anxiety, and more, so remember to care for yourself by exercising regularly. That can mean finding a class that you love, going for a brisk walk in the morning, or skipping happy hour to hit the gym after work.
"Moving our bodies helps to clear our minds and connect with what our bodies are telling us," Swagler concludes. "Above all, I advise my clients to listen to what their body needs on that given day, and honor it."