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Around the same time that Retta first urged you to "treat yo' self" on "Parks and Rec," the idea of self-care began to creep into the larger conversation before permanently entering the mainstream lexicon. Though Retta's advice is eternal, PsychCentral defines self-care as "any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional and physical health."

What your needs are and how you meet them constitutes a whole lot of different things to different people. However, no matter who you are or how you self-care, this simple change in mindset might just be your savior from burnout and all the mental aftermath that comes with it.

Why Self-Care?

Think of self-care as another form of nourishment, but instead of feeding your body with food, you're feeding yourself with (don't laugh) love. This type of self-love really boils down to prioritizing yourself when you need to do so or moving your own physical health and mental well-being up the totem pole so it doesn't always rank below the needs of everyone around you.

If the idea of self-care sounds dangerously close to mumbo jumbo, rest easy knowing that it does have some hard backing. In the Love2Care clinical trial, a sample study of 50 participants started by Dr. Ivel De Freitas and psychotherapist Stefan Deustch in 2016, preliminary results show a reduction in burnout markers, less emotional exhaustion, less stress perception and greater professional satisfaction through regular self-care.

Take Care to Self-Care

Because the idea of making your own physical and mental health a priority casts a pretty wide net, self-care can be tough to nail down. Here are a few basic self-care habits to help you lay a solid foundation, as recommended by therapist Robyn E. Brickel at PsychAlive:

  • Saying "no" when your schedule is already overwhelming (and not feeling guilty about that "no")
     
  • Asking for help when you need it

  • Putting up a boundary between you and someone who regularly asks too much of you

  • Practicing mindfulness, like meditation and yoga

  • Shuffling your schedule to allow for more personal relaxation time

  • Getting regular exercise and adequate rest (even if sleeping a little more in the morning means you have to turn down an obligation)

  • Taking the time to eat right
  • Going to therapy

On a more macro level, you can act out those big-picture steps with a virtually endless selection of little-picture activities. If taking a long bath, going on a mellow stroll, reorganizing your bedroom, starting a journal, cooking some pasta, getting a dog or even taking a little trip by yourself sound appealing, you might already be a fan of self-care without even knowing it yet.

While therapeutic treatments are often temporary or have a particular end date, self-care is meant to be a lifestyle change and something that permanently becomes a part of your regular routine for the better.

What Self-Care Isn't

Knowing what self-care isn't can be just as important as knowing what it is. Self-care is not an excuse to be inconsiderate or cruel or to procrastinate recklessly, all of which are things that can end up taking a hard toll on your well-being in the long run. As licensed counselling psychologist Raphailia Michael writes at PsychCentral, self-care "is not only about considering our needs; it is rather about knowing what we need to do in order to take care of ourselves."

At its core, self-care is a broad but straightforward way to treat yourself kindly without condemning yourself. Although it's easy to confuse self-care and selfishness, keep in mind that regular self-care ultimately empowers you to take better care of those around you. You have to help yourself if you want to be able to help others.

About the Author

Dan Ketchum

Dan combines his decade-long experience as a freelance writer and small business owner with hands-on experience in fashion, mixology, media production and more. Previously, he's published with Chron.com, Charlotte's Book, LIVESTRONG, Civilized Life, Hunker, Fortune, Salon.com, Out East Rose, Samsung, USA Today and others.