Mental Health

Defining & Redefining Self-Care

September 10, 2023
4 min read


  • Self-care doesn't have a single definition. It can be disconnecting from stress, connecting with how we really feel, or reconnecting with the people, places, and things that bring us up.
  • Self-care looks different for everyone. It can be physical, emotional, mental, social, or spiritual.
  • Self-care is preparing ourselves to feel better through both active and passive measures.

We talk about self-care all the time. 

Self-care [self-kair]. Noun. 

We applaud the people in our lives who are able to make time for themselves despite having packed schedules. 

Our doctor might recommend self-care activities when we’re feeling down: a walk, some breathing exercises, or some social activities. 

We seek out new ways to care for ourselves when what we’re doing right now isn’t working.

We know self-care matters. But do we know what self-care really means?

What is Self-Care?

Self-care refers to a set of intentional actions and practices to promote physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing in ourselves. It involves taking time for oneself and making choices that prioritize health and happiness. 

Oftentimes, we think of self-care as a passive activity. It’s an opportunity to disconnect from what’s causing us stress, frustration, or anxiety. It’s an opportunity to let our minds go blank and forget about the things that are bringing us down. 

Sometimes, though, if we only think of self-care as a time for us to disconnect from what’s troubling us, then when we have to re-engage with whatever’s bringing us down we’re brought right back to those same feelings. We find a break from those feelings. But when that break is over, nothing’s changed. 

So, we continue the cycle. We push through the things that worry us, trouble us, and bring us down until we can find a moment of pause. We just get through it until we find the quiet morning, the long weekend, or the symphonic folding shut of the laptop on Friday afternoon. Eventually, the buzz of the day interrupts the morning. The weekend draws to a close. The notifications roll in: one after the other. We just get through it until we can disconnect again.

But self-care doesn’t have one sole definition. 

Self-care isn’t just about disconnecting from what’s bringing us down. It’s also about connecting with how we’re really feeling. It’s also about reconnecting with the thoughts, feelings, activities, and environments that bring us up

Self-care [self-kair]: to disconnect from what brings us down

When we feel down, it’s never simple. There are dozens of ways that we can feel down: frustrated, sad, stressed, or anxious – to name a few. There are also dozens of reasons why we feel down. And it can be hard to get clarity while we’re in the thick of it. 

For a moment, think of your wellbeing as a kite.

When you’re at your best, the winds are strong and consistent – flowing just the way you want them to. 

When you’re feeling down, your kite isn’t flying. Maybe it’s wrapped around a tree branch. A kite wrapped around a tree branch is never going to catch wind. It might shake a bit in the breeze, but it won’t fly. 

You could just choose to look away. You could leave it, distract yourself, and forget about it for a while. Maybe you’ll come back and find that just the right wind caught your kite and untangled it. Maybe you’ll find that the branch broke off. But more often than not, you’ll come back to find your kite exactly how you left it. 

Even if you close the laptop, the work doesn’t disappear. That’s all still there. 

pink UpBeing figment

Sometimes, you have to climb up the tree and untangle your line before you can move forward. Sometimes, it takes effort and intention to disconnect. 

Sometimes, self-care is effort and intention. 

Self-care [self-kair]: to connect with how we’re really feeling

Self-care is also about getting in touch with how we’re feeling and understanding why we’re feeling that way. 

Sometimes, even after we untangle our line and free our kite from whatever was holding it back, we still can’t get control. Maybe there’s no wind in the sky. Maybe our kite needs repair. Or maybe we’re just tugging on the line a bit too hard. Things can bring us down, but we can also bring ourselves down. 

We think: “it’s the tree branch! Of course, it is.” It’s the exam I have to write. It’s the co-worker who puts me down. That’s why the kite won’t fly. But sometimes it’s not. 

Our feelings aren’t handed to us. They’re subjective. We create our feelings through our interpretation of the things that happen to us. 

Sometimes, there’s just no wind to be found. Sometimes, we get stuck. That happens to all of us from time to time. 

But there’s no way to know if that’s true unless we search for it. There might be stronger winds higher up, but we would never know. So, explore: give your kite more line, then take some line in. Float it way out above the trees, then bring it in close. See how it feels to hold your kite steady through different conditions.

pink and green UpBeing figments

Ask yourself:

  • What am I really feeling right now? Name the specific emotions you’re experiencing. Is it anger, or is it frustration? Stress or worry?
  • What are my physical sensations? Pay attention to your body – our physical sensations are connected to our emotional state. 
  • Am I meeting my basic needs? Sleep, nutrition, and social connection are all crucial to wellbeing. Sometimes, we feel down when we’re not taking care of ourselves in basic ways. 
  • What comes to mind when I think of times when I felt better? Think about the difference between these two moments in your life. Are there actionable steps you could take to help you feel better?

Sometimes, self-care is self-exploration. 

Self-care [self-kair]: to reconnect with what brings us up

So, you’ve untangled your kite from the tree branch. You explored – you let your kite fly. You felt the wind pull it up, and then down. By learning to tell up from down, by learning what the tension on the line feels like right before your kite dives or catches wind, you’re better prepared to chase the wind that you need to bring yourself up

The same is true of our wellbeing. Self-care is an opportunity for us to untangle our thoughts and feelings. It’s an opportunity for us to explore what brings us up and down.

pink, green, and a yellow UpBeing figment

1. Physical Self-Care:

  • Exercise or physical activity to maintain or improve physical health.
  • Eating a balanced diet and staying hydrated.
  • Getting enough sleep and rest.
  • Practicing good hygiene.

2. Emotional Self-Care:

  • Identifying and expressing emotions in a healthy way.
  • Engaging in activities that bring joy and relaxation.
  • Setting boundaries to protect our emotional wellbeing.
  • Seeking support and talking to friends, family, or a therapist when needed.

3. Mental Self-Care:

  • Practicing mindfulness and meditation to reduce stress and increase self-awareness.
  • Engaging in creative or intellectual pursuits that are meaningful.
  • Taking breaks and managing time to reduce feelings of being overwhelmed.
  • Learning to say no to excessive commitments.

4. Social Self-Care:

  • Spending time with loved ones and nurturing relationships.
  • Maintaining a healthy social network.
  • Seeking support and connection when feeling isolated or lonely.

5. Spiritual Self-Care:

  • Engaging in spiritual or religious practices.
  • Reflecting on one's values and beliefs.
  • Connecting with nature or engaging in activities that promote new perspective.

Sometimes, self-care is reconnecting with the people, places, and things that bring us up.

Self-care [self-kair]:

Self-care can be any one of these things: disconnecting, connecting, or reconnecting. It can be active, or it can be passive. And it can be as simple as taking a few minutes every day to check-in with yourself and think about how you’re really feeling. 

Self-care is essential for maintaining a balanced life. It helps us manage stress, prevent burnout, and improve our wellbeing. Self-care isn’t always about feeling better, but it is about taking care of ourselves. We might not feel better, but we manage to untangle ourselves from whatever was bringing us down. We might not feel better, but we learn something important about ourselves that’s going to help us feel better. 

But by engaging in consistent self-care whether through disconnecting, connecting, or reconnecting: we prepare ourselves to feel better.

With Gratitude,


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