The Art of Self-Care


The term “self-care” is often misunderstood. This might be because it is often leveraged as a marketing gimmick. Advertisements promise us health, happiness and contentment if we just purchase the product they’re selling under the guise of self-care.

So, what is self-care? If it’s not the chocolate cake, glass of wine, exotic vacation or new piece of exercise equipment, then what is it?

Succinctly stated, self-care is any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, physical, social and professional health. This may include a wide array of activities, and is likely to change as our circumstances and needs change. Relationship expert John Gottman says, “By engaging in proactive self-care, we can create the conditions necessary for deep, mutually fulfilling connections with ourselves, our partners, families and friends.” (1999). So, by proactively taking care of ourselves we are more able to care for those people most important to us. Here are some tips to help you improve your self-care.

  • Identify what you need. The Self-Care checkup found here can help you identify an areas of focus.
  • Choose one specific thing that you WANT to work on.
  • Don’t “should” yourself.
  • Make a plan that is realistic to your life and circumstances.

Identifying legitimate self-care can be tricky. Below is a chart of examples of real versus fake self-care. 

Real Self-Care Vs. Fake Self-Care

Fueling your body with food that gives you energy and helps you improve mentally and physicallyExtreme Dieting
Drinking waterAlcohol or Drugs
Being kind to yourselfTalking cruelly to yourself to “motivate” you
Setting boundariesSaying yest to everyone because you’re a “nice person”
Spending time with people that enrich your lifeSocializing because of FOMO
Treating yourself to something new because you love yourselfImpulse buying anything that promises to make you love yourself more
Moving your body because you canWorking out as a punishment or attending a class that shames your eating habits/appearance

As you navigate self-care and the challenges and benefits that arise from an increased effort to take care of yourself remember the quote from author L.R. Knost, “Taking care of myself doesn’t mean ‘me first’ it means ‘me, too’ (202.)


  • Brown, B., (2010). The Gift of Imperfection: Let go of who you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are. Hazelden Publishing.
  • Gottman, J. M, Silver, N. (1999). The seven principles for making marriage work. New York:Three Rivers Press.
  • How To Practice Self-Care: 10 Worksheets and 12 Ideas. Positive Psychology.

By: Elizabeth Davis, Extension Assistant Professor

Categories: Home & Family

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