What Makes Self-Care Actually Work


I was in grad school when I began to hear the phrase “self-care.” Professors began sprinkling that term in as they discussed the high burnout rate in our profession.  By our third year, we were required to develop a Self-Care Plan as a part of our graduate portfolio. Most of us were working full-time and taking these classes on the side, so we laughed incredulously. “Self-care?!  Sleeping more than five hours a night is self-care.  Not cramming for exams during a lunch break is self-care.  Graduating is self-care!!”  

Understanding Self-Care

Self-care is a buzz word these days; it’s a buzz word that makes serious bank. Self-care is a $10 billion industry, ranging from apps to books, spa kits to self-care retreats. But is a face mask truly as good for your soul as a therapy session? Can a gratitude list be as helpful as a bubble bath? The answer lies in your intention. Sarah Bessey, in her recent book Miracles And Other Reasonable Things, observes that often when we say self-care, we actually mean self-comfort.  She writes, Self-comfort numbs us, weakens us, hides us; it can be a soporific.  But self-care awakens us, strengthens us, and emboldens us to rise.”

Flag on the Play

I wondered how often I had thrown around the term self-care like an NFL ref throwing penalty flags. Pedicure? Self-care. Dropping $150 at TJMaxx? Self-care. Netflix binge?  Self-care. Wine after the kids’ bedtime? Self-care. 

But is it truly self-comfort I’m seeking? Am I actually numbing myself against pain? Pain buried so deep that I can’t quite name it, so I’ll bury it further?  Am I feeling so out of control at work that it feels SO good to spend money on a few new items at HomeGoods because at least I can control how cute my bedroom looks?  Am I working out because it makes me feel strong or because I desperately hope my spouse will take a greater interest if I have a smaller waistline?  You get the idea.  

Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself

None of these things are inherently bad. But we have to ask a few questions about the practices we’re labeling as self-care.

  • Is this making me a better mom?
  • Am I growing as a person because of this?
  • How am I loving myself with this practice?
  • How am I stronger now?
  • What negative pattern did this disrupt?

Listen–I love a good latte and shopping spree (especially after months of quarantine). But if I’m honest, maybe I just need to take my Starbucks to the park and sit quietly for twenty minutes. And while venting to a girlfriend about my work drama feels like a release, maybe it would also be freeing to vent to a counselor who might offer me coping mechanisms or help me understand why I react this way.  

I see you, sweet friend. You’re doing the best you can for everyone, including the rare time you have for yourself.  If self-care in this season is a latte on a park bench or a quick pedi before Kroger pick-up, go for it.  But as you develop deeper patterns and practices of self-care, ask yourself these questions and adjust as needed. 

You’re worth caring about.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here