What you're getting wrong about self-care

Once shrouded in the privacy of the therapy room, self-care has now become a trite, overused and confusing buzzword. The consumer wellness industry capitalised the term to market products like candles and bubble bath which supposedly had powers that were more than skin-deep. We started associating self-care with expensive beauty products, rather than what it originated as; a free, effective inner-resource we can all employ for restoration and rejuvenation.


Self-care is not a one-size-fits-all solution disguised as a vitamin spray, it's not that insanely priced facial serum and it's not an extra portion of chocolate cake either. In fact, if you find you regularly need to indulge in such consumer self-care, you may be disengaged from real self-care, which has little to do with treating yourself and a lot to do with parenting yourself and making choices for your long term well-being (Weist, 2019).

So, what is real self-care? The answer is entirely unique to you, because real, effective self-care begins with meeting your authentic needs, in the moment. It's about learning to listen to yourself and be in tune with your body. It's noticing if your shoulders are holding a lot of tension and recognising you've had a stressful week, then considering what would help you let go of that. Self-care is any activity which fuels the body and mind and allows you to function more fully (Mahoney, 1997). 

The following reflections can help you to work out what would be an effective self-care activity for you. You might come back to the same ones time and time again, or they might be different each time - remember, you're simply giving yourself what you need to regain energy and capacity in that moment.

  • How am I feeling? 
  • How come?
  • How is my body?
  • What do I need? 
  • How do I want to feel?
  • What can I do for myself to get this?


You don't have to work through all of these prescriptively, but the premise is noticing how you're feeling and what you need to restore yourself and regain your capacity. So, for a person who feels renewed and re-energised by being in water, a bubble bath might actually be really effective self-care. Equally, if lighting a scented candle helps you feel cosy, comforted and warm on a cold winter's night; then this would again be effective self-care.

The difference from the wellness cliche's above are that the intention and reason is the key to your replenishment; not a product or a behaviour on it's own. Finding effective self-care does not come from outsourcing the 'power' of something external; it comes from the internal power we create when we meet our own needs.

Often we leave self-care until we are almost burned out or feeling unable to function effectively in our day-to-day lives. Checking-in with yourself using the prompts above on a regular basis and creating a little time each day to meet your own needs can go a long way toward maintaining your well-being and psychological health.

I hear clients worry that they have not got time in their busy work and family schedules to 'indulge' in their own self-care, but self-care is not about ignoring the needs of others, it is about not ignoring ourselves. Regular self-care can prevent burnout and improve our productivity and capacity to support ourselves and the people we love. Self-care is self-compassion, it can increase our resilience and self-esteem, encouraging good mental health. In today's world, we all need as much of that as we can get, so consider where you can make time for effective self-care this week. 

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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Alresford, Hampshire, SO24 9JQ
Written by Hannah Beckett-Pratt, BSc (Hons), MBACP
Alresford, Hampshire, SO24 9JQ

Hannah is a BACP registered Counsellor in private practise, a lecturer of A Level Psychology and a volunteer counsellor at a charity offering low-cost therapy to the local community. She has a special interest in the capitalisation of wellbeing and psychological health.

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