Self-care: A redefinition

"How are you going to look after yourself this week?" This is one of my favourite questions to ask in a counselling session. And almost every time I ask, I can feel the panic of ‘Oh dear, what am I going to do to look after myself?!’

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After a fluster, I often hear a response of, "I haven’t got anything big planned."

Self-care has been romanticised to paint a picture of an ambitious, awe-inspiring act. A grand display of self-love. This is known as 'macro self-care'. This is what we typically see on social media feeds. I’m talking about lavish vacations, spa days, and even a long-planned fishing trip with friends.

We’re rarely taught what self-care means or all the forms it can take. So it’s no wonder we immediately think of the macro. It’s the depiction of self-care that we see most often. The big, visible acts. The ‘seen’ rather than the ‘felt’. Pictures, or it didn't happen, right?

While it certainly can be that, it doesn’t have to be. When I ask that question, more often than not, I am looking for the small. The simple. The everyday act of taking responsibility for your well-being and happiness. The defiance of stress and a determination to reset boundaries. The micro self-care.


What is micro self-care?

When I was a trainee, my counselling tutor explained the concept of micro self-care. She said: "Sometimes self-care is no more than having a fresh pair of underwear and clean teeth to start your day."

Ain’t that the truth? 

Micro self-care is the daily, accessible practice that can be easily integrated into our lives. This can be anything from taking screen breaks to listening to a favourite album or savouring a cup of tea. They can be grounding, energising, or relaxing. Better yet, combine them with coping tools or a hobby. Think journaling or practising music, art, or sports. Or even just a walk to the corner shop. 

The purpose of this practice is to be not only active but intentional. 

Inactive or unintentional self-care might look like watching our favourite show on Netflix, only to find that 10 minutes in, we're back on our phones doomscrolling. Again.

There's a reason that meditating, exercising, and fresh air are often top of the self-care list. It's because they are active. They are intentional. They are choices. They are events that happen for us, and not to us. Ultimately, they connect us to our humanity. 

And we are only humans, limited by our human capacity. We need breaks, we need connection and we need nuance. We need to feel validation, acknowledgement, and love. 

So do. Allow yourself to feel. Both actively and intentionally. Allow yourself space from what's going on in your world or on your feed. Allow yourself the recognition that self-care is not always visible. Some of the most helpful acts of self-care are invisible. They are yours and yours alone.

Allow yourself the small, simple, micro-moments of self-care. So with that in mind, here are a few ideas to get you started:

Physical self-care

  • Getting a good night's rest or sleeping in.
  • Mindful movement like yoga or having a stretch.
  • Having your favourite drink or meal.

Emotional self-care

  • Indulge your inner child (aka play!): build a snowman, jump in a puddle, and play with Lego.
  • Ask for help: childcare, getting your friend/family to cook you dinner or just spending time together, having a cuddle.
  • Time alone: check in with yourself, journal, or be.

Energetic self-care

  • Connect with nature: go for a walk, work in the garden, visit the sea.
  • Dance/movement: have a boogie and shake it out.
  • Music/meditation: listen to some music, feel the energy of the sound, and connect to your five senses or your spirituality.

Cognitive self-care

  • Sit with it: think about all the progress you have made, all the things you have accomplished. Give yourself a pat on the back for all the invisible cognitive/emotional work you've exerted.
  • Plan: set some routines, block out some time, and say no to things that no longer serve you.
  • Self-compassion: embrace mistakes and give yourself some grace. You’re human and that’s good enough and good enough is perfect. 

I appreciate that life can get complicated and self-care, even in its micro form, can be difficult to integrate. I am also mindful of cultural context. Not every culture is receptive to self-care. In my own culture of Arab-East Asian upbringing, ‘relaxing’ or self-care was incredibly conditional on what you achieved.

If this resonates with you, I’d encourage you to take a moment and think about what self-care means to you:

  • What does looking after yourself look like in your culture?
  • What’s preventing you from looking after yourself, both on a macro and micro scale?
  • What are three small steps you can take to bridge that gap?
  • How can you connect with the humanity of your culture?

This is a subject I help clients with, so if you’d like to learn more, do visit my profile to get in touch.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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