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  • Dr. Stefanie Tweedly

What is self-care?

Self-care can be defined as activities that promote one’s physiological, psychological, and interpersonal well-being. It’s about being aware of what we need and doing our best to provide it to ourselves or request other’s assist us in satisfying those needs.

Self-care can be defined as activities that promote one’s physiological, psychological, and interpersonal well-being.

It’s common to hear about the idea of self-care in today’s society. It touted as an important activity; however, many people are unclear on what is actually meant by self-care, and understandably so. It’s often referenced without definition, as if we are supposed to intuitively know what it is. Since we do not intuitively know, given this is a term used as shorthand to describe a more complex concept: self-care can be defined as activities that promote one’s physiological, psychological, and interpersonal well-being. It’s about being aware of what we need and doing our best to provide it to ourselves or request other’s assist us in satisfying those needs.


Physiological needs include things such as eating (preferably healthy, of course), drinking water, sleeping, attending to and treating illness or injury, etc. Psychological needs include setting boundaries, self-compassion, utilizing coping skills, allowing one’s self to feel present emotions and validate those emotions, seeking help when struggling with overwhelming emotion or psychological disturbance, etc. Finally, interpersonal needs include social interaction, seeking social support, disconnecting or at least minimizing interaction with toxic people (which also overlaps with setting boundaries), feeling loved by others, feeling connected to others, providing love and connection to others, giving one’s self time alone, etc. Certainly, self-care will mean something different to each person, just as it will vary within an individual depending on current internal needs and the external environment.


It is important to note that self-care does not equate to unhealthy selfishness, wherein one only considers their own needs and disregards the needs of others. Instead, it is a form of healthy selfishness, where there is a balance between one’s own needs and the needs of others. While there will be times that another’s needs are such that the decision is made to place those needs ahead of one’s own, one’s own needs are not ignored. In this type of situation, either one’s own needs are simply place on a momentary hold or the need itself is somehow modified by the presence of the other’s needs. Take for example the following situation: a loved one has been badly injured and needs to go to the emergency room, but you have an appointment to get your haircut. Surely, no matter how awful your hair looks, your loved one’s need to go to the hospital takes precedence over your need to get a haircut. The haircut will be done at a later time. Now consider this situation: You are exhausted, haven’t slept much for days, you’re feeling overwhelmed, and a loved one requests you accompany them to a medical appointment that is not urgent, but they are anxious about. The answer here is not likely as clear-cut as the first example. In this example, some consideration of your needs and your loved one’s needs is in order, including considering the possibility of a compromise where everyone gets a little of their needs met, though it may not be exactly what either individual fully needs.


In the end, self-care is about turning inward, honestly recognizing where you are at physically, emotionally, and interpersonally and what you need at this moment, then attempting to meet these needs to the best of your ability given both your internal and external resources. These acts of self-care are important to better being, though, thankfully, we don’t have to be perfect at self-care to move toward better being.

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