Everywhere you look you see the words self-care, self-help, self-love, and wellness. We get it, the self-improvement movement is having more than just a moment. The market is estimated to grow to a $13.2 billion by 2022. In other words, we’re downloading a lot of self-help books on Amazon, buying tons of meditation apps, and hiring a crazy amount of life coaches. And, let’s not even get started on Instagram: #selflove with its 37.8 million posts beats out #selfcare which is still at a staggering 23.9 million posts.

Here’s the thing about all this #selfcare revolution, most people fall into one of two camps. The first: those who scarcely think about self-care at all, and when they do, it falls way to the bottom of the to-do list. The second group is hugely aware (they’re the ones buying most of that stuff). In fact, they’re so conscious of the importance of self-care, they’ve completely stressed themselves out about it. (More on that later.)

Benefits Of Self-Care

Here’s why everyone should care about self-care: it’s good for you, especially when it comes to managing stress. And, chronic stress is one of the biggest threats to overall health. It’s linked to inflammation which can lead to everything from heart disease to gastrointestinal disorders and a weakened immune system.

Taking care of your self has other benefits that may be even more obvious. It feels good. Getting a good night sleep, for example, makes your day noticeably better. Of course, it also helps with focus and cognition, regulates emotions, and boosts immunity. Similarly, doing things like going to the gym, heading out for a walk, or taking a yoga class alter your mood and energy level.

Why You Shouldn’t Neglect Self-Care

For some people self-care is a form of self-indulgence they either don’t make the time for or don’t think is necessary. But that may be because they don’t actually understand what it means. Self-care isn’t about weekly massages or buying yourself whatever you want #ideservethis-style. It’s a lot more basic. Some research on self-care describes brushing your teeth as a form of self-care. Let’s not call that an indulgence—even if you’re using the Burst rose gold edition.

Self-care, and its close cousin, self-help, are about being in tune with what your body and mind require to function optimally. In the same way you wouldn’t ignore the oil light on your car, you shouldn’t ignore the cues your body is sending you. Study after study has shown the positive effects of looking after yourself.

Top 10 Ways To Practice Self-Care

There are lots of ways to take care of yourself. If humans came with manual, here are a few tips that might be in the care guide:

  1. Get the sleep you need. This isn’t the same for everyone, but The National Sleep Foundation recommends between seven and nine hours.
  2. Eat healthy. There is a strong food-mood connection. In fact, there is even a whole branch of psychiatry devoted to nutrition. Some of the best mood boosting foods are ginger, turmeric, fish, chia, flax, berries (colors, every color is an antioxidant), green tea, Asian mushrooms, avocados, and broccoli.
  3. Meditate. Meditation helps build mental resiliency and can help to manage anxiety.
  4. Take in nature. Research shows that visits to forests, rural areas, and other green spaces can improve thinking skills and reduce stress. Read more about how,
  5. Check out a good book. Reading fiction improves social-cognitive performance and boosts empathy.
  6. Say yes…and no. People who are open to new experiences literally see the world differently according to research. But, setting boundaries on your time is also essential to well-being. In their book, The Power of No, James Altucher and Claudia Azula Altucher, show how saying no gives you space to say yes to new opportunities and experiences.
  7. Make time for friends. Close relationships have a wide range of benefits: they motivate us, inform us, help us grow. And, they also have substantial mental health benefits. In fact, not having close friends is a risk factor for both anxiety and depression.
  8. Get to know yourself better. Part of caring for yourself is doing things that are important to you. It’s easy to get so caught up in what other people are doing (hello, FOMO) or what we think we should be doing, that we lose sight of what’s actually important to us. To explore your personality, check this story.
  9. Take a social media break. Scrolling through Instagram feels like a fun indulgence, but it’s the nutrition equivalent of eating a big bag of chips: satisfying in the moment, addicting, and leaves you feeling remorseful and maybe a little sick. It also can make you lonely, which has legitimate health consequences.
  10. Daydream, often. Letting your mind wander is linked to intelligence and mental health. And, it doesn’t matter what you’re daydreaming about. So, don’t feel guilty, embrace it!

The Difference Between Self-Help And Self-Care

According to a recent analysis in The New York Times, “If self-help is about fixing something, self-care thinks you’re already great.” But the distinction may not be so clear; it’s possible the the term self-care is really the same philosophy, just a different hyphenated word.

One of the first works to shape the self-help sections and launch the whole advice genre was Samuel Smiles’ Self Help in 1859. Since that time every generation seems to have had the book for self-help: Dale Carnegie’s How to Make Friends and Influence People in 1936, Thomas Anthony’s I’m Okay; You’re Okay in the 1960’s, Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled in 1978, and Stephen Convey’s Seven Habits of highly Effective People in the 80’s. In the past twenty years or more, the self-help market exploded. From 2013 and 2019, the number of self-help books sold doubled and came in at 18.6 million according to The NPD Group.

Pitfalls Of Self-Care

There is a downside to all of this self-improvement. Our books are telling us how we can improve, our social media feeds are showing us how others are doing it better, and our technology is tracking it all and reminding us exactly how we stack up at any given minute. All of this together is sending an entire generation of millennials into burn out mode. The quest for perfection and optimization has invaded our eating habits, sleeping habits, and even sex drive. We are constantly looking at the distance between or current state and our goal state. And instead of feeling calm and content, it’s driving us to be unsatisfied, even worried.

An article in The Harvard Business Review makes a good point about why. “Our focus is shifting away from the actual self — our bodies, minds, and spirits — and toward data about the self.” Just ask someone how they slept last night and watch them look at their FitBit before they tell you.

And here’s where the rub really comes in: We have trained ourselves to be so self-aware, we know all of this is making us anxious. So, we add that to the list of things we need to work on. But balance is possible. And, experts agree, one of the most direct ways to capturing what that #selfcare is really about is mindful meditation. So, even if you only have three minutes, download Headspace and tap “Unwind.” Or, try any of the other nine things on the list above, and maybe take a FitBit break.

Inspiring Quotes on Self-Care and Self-Love

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” – Audre Lorde

“To meditate means to go home to yourself. Then you know how to take care of the things that are happening inside you, and you know how to take care of the things that happen around you.” – Thich Nhat Han

“When we give ourselves compassion, we are opening our hearts in a way that can transform our lives.” – Kristin Neff

“You wanna fly, you got to give up that shit that weighs you down.” – Toni Morrison

“In dealing with those who are undergoing great suffering, if you feel ‘burnout’ setting in, if you feel demoralized and exhausted, it is best, for the sake of everyone, to withdraw and restore yourself. The point is to have a long-term perspective.” – Dalai Lama

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Last Updated: Feb 26, 2020