By Kara Castells, a first-year graduate student in CSU’s Marriage and Family Therapy program.
Whether it is an Instagram post with a #selfcare under a picture of candles, a carefully posed book, and a bubble bath or as a phrase thrown around to justify binge-watching The Office for the third time on Netflix, we have all heard of this term, but what does it actually mean?
What self-care is and is not
Self-care can look different for every person, which is why it can seem like there are so many definitions floating around as to what it actually is. Let’s start with describing what self-care is and is not.
- Something we do intentionally to take care of our emotional, mental, and physical health.
- Easily overlooked. In the words of Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” In our daily lives, we are constantly encouraged to keep moving, keep working, keep studying, etc. By the time we realize we need to take care of ourselves, we could be in full crisis mode already. Work to prioritize self-care daily to create a healthy way of relieving stress and taking care of yourself. Good self-care is essential in improving mood and reducing anxiety.
- The key to living a balanced life. Start simple, intentionally plan your self-care into your week, and keep a conscious mind about what your brain and your body needs.
Self-care is not:
- Something we should feel forced to do or do not enjoy doing. Self-care should be something that refuels you rather than takes from you.
- An avoidance strategy. This is where that conscious mind is so important. Self-care is taking the necessary steps to take care of your physical, emotional, and mental health. It may involve sitting with some hard feelings or emotions, or reaching out for support from a friend, not just vegging out in front of the TV.
- Selfish. This point is extremely important to remember. In a world that expects us to attend every event, work 24/7, be active, volunteer, etc., it can feel like a bad thing to say no and prioritize your needs. This cannot be farther from the truth. If we don’t spend time taking care of ourselves, how can we fully take care of others?
So, we’ve established what self-care is and is not, but how do we know what we need to take care of ourselves? Something that I have found extremely helpful in figuring this out for myself has been cultivating the conscious mind that I mentioned earlier. Without being able to be in touch with your thoughts, feelings, and sensations, how can you know what you need to feel better?
How to practice self-care
Developing a conscious mind requires each of us to be present. This present awareness is a staple of Mindfulness. Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program out of UMass Medical School, describes mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”
Part of taking care of our physical, mental, and emotional health relates to stress. Stress can take a toll on all of these, and can sometimes feel unavoidable. Mindfulness, the intentional awareness of our thoughts, feelings, and sensations, can help reduce stress. Noticing what you are feeling in the present moment with curiosity and without judgment, allows us to process our emotions and thoughts with more clarity and less reactivity. This moment, between racing thoughts and emotions, gives us the chance to give ourselves grace and actively choose whether or not the thought, feeling, or emotion is worth our energy and time. So, when a critical, stressful, or overwhelming thought pops in, notice it, be curious of it, accept its presence, and CHOOSE whether or not it is something you want to stress over, pursue, or continue thinking about.
Some strategies to build this presence awareness can be found on mindfulness apps such as Calm or Headspace. Each has guided-meditations to cultivate these skills and incorporate them into your daily routine. One strategy that is a great place to start for people new to mindfulness meditation is the Body Scan. Guided body scans can be found on YouTube and other mindfulness apps like the ones mentioned above.
The goal of the body scan practice is to bring full awareness to each part of the body. It is where you can learn to keep attention focused over a sustained period, and it also serves to help develop concentration, calmness, flexibility of attention, and mindfulness. It can help remind the mind of emotions, instead of trying to think your way out of hard feelings.
Self-care is not just good for you; it is necessary. Just like exercising a new muscle daily can build strength and protect it from injury, daily mindfulness practice and self-care can prepare and protect the body from stress and crises. Get into new habits that can reduce stress and prioritize your mental, emotional, and physical health.
Kara Castells is a first-year graduate student in the Marriage and Family Therapy program. She is excited to return to Fort Collins where she received her Bachelor of Science degree in human development and family studies at Colorado State University. She enjoys working with couples and families and has additional experience working with children and young adults with developmental disabilities. Her therapy interests include developmental milestones in children with disabilities and attachment and its effect on adult relationships. In her free time, Kara enjoys cooking with her husband, reading, and hiking.
The Center for Family and Couple Therapy (CFCT) is a part of the Marriage and Family Therapy Program in CSU’s Department of Human Development and Family Studies. As a commitment to campus partners, the CFCT welcomes the opportunity to support you and your family in increasing mindfulness and effective self-care in your lives. Please call 970-491-5991 or visit our website for more information.