What Self-Care Actually Looks Like

Written by: Yasmeen Lara Yahya

In 2019, I am sure we can all agree that self-care is not optional. However, many folks may only hit the tip of the iceberg when it comes to understanding what self-care actually looks like. Self-care often requires you to face whatever you’ve been avoiding. Self-care is a habit you build over time; it’s a routine. Therefore, although one aspect of self-care may definitely be taking a luxurious bath while listening to Billie Holiday’s, “As Time Goes By” on loop and drinking a single glass (or two?) of six-dollar red wine, if you focus solely on the superficial aspects of self-care, you’ll get superficial, short-term results. So if you are looking for self-care that results in a long-lasting love affair with yourself, then take inventory of what self-care actually looks like.

Self-care looks like taking care of your basic needs. Let’s start with the fundamentals. If you are not feeling balanced, begin your self-care at the bottom of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs by examining if your basic needs have been met. Often times, a significant reason for feeling mentally unbalanced is a consequent of not being physically balanced. Did you get enough sleep last night? Have you only drank iced coffee today? Did you eat anything? Try to take your physiology into consideration when you feel yourself going crazy, lazy, or on edge. It’s simple, and may even be obvious, but it’s important to remember that your mental and physical state are co-dependent.

Self-care looks like being patient with yourself. Self-care looks like having a "come as you are attitude" to your thoughts. In other words, acknowledge your thoughts as they come but change the toxic thoughts to serve you. You might call this behavior mindfulness.

For example, maybe you had a triggering thought that was something to the effect of, “everything I do is wrong.” You can begin to change this statement to make it serve you by acknowledging that this is a thought you had. You can literally label it “thought.” Then, practice letting that thought go instead of fixating on it. You can change this thought to something more helpful such as, “I am learning through my mistakes. I can acknowledge everything I have done right.”

Self-care looks like seeking joy. This is the part where you can feel free to indulge yourself because, yes, you deserve it! You deserve to do things that make you happy. If you are feeling unbalanced, you might think to yourself, “have I sought joy today?” Have you done something today that makes you happy? Just for happiness’s sake? Sometimes our days are so hectic that we forget to be kind to ourselves.

Imagine this scenario: Work has been crazy. You have three social events to go to tonight. You have to buy groceries for the week, do laundry, respond to emails, call the parents, feed the furbabies, clean your desk because it is an absolute mess, all while trying to juggle the pressures of your other commitments. It is easy to feel like we have the weight of the world on our shoulders and it is even easier to feel guilty about time we take out of the day for ourselves when we have responsibilities to tend to. I expressed to my therapist feeling guilty about taking time for myself, but she responded in the most perfect way:“You have to fill your tank so that you feel secure, ready and relaxed when opportunities present themselves. Taking care of you is never a waste of time. If you aren’t at your best you can’t seek your best!”

Though seeking joy is incredibly important, it is equally as important to not use these indulgences as a band-aid, which brings me to...

Self-care looks like introspection. We can sometimes distract ourselves so that we don’t have to think about what is going on within ourselves. This isn’t always a bad thing! Letting go of the day by focusing on an activity or socializing can definitely be a fun stress reliever, and is often a necessity in the name of sanity. However, making an on-going habit of distracting yourself in order to not deal with your mental state is counterproductive. It’s important to take some quiet time to be introspective.

This is the part where I tell you about the wonders of meditation, kind of. Introspection can absolutely look like meditation. However, if you aren’t into that, this aspect of self-care might look like prayer, writing down who and what you are grateful for, or even coloring. Whatever activity you choose, this time for introspection allows for thoughts to visit you, and for you to set them free. Quiet activities such as meditation, gentle yoga, coloring, or the like enable you to be present with yourself. Nevertheless, being alone with your thoughts can be unsettling, especially when dealing with a mental illness such as anxiety or depression, but take it from me, the more you practice letting go of negative thoughts, the easier it becomes.

So, what self-care actually looks like is different for everyone, as we all have our own needs, likes, formative experiences, and comforts that contribute to our respective psyches. If you feel like you want to spend your night playing Bob’s Burgers trivia, take 30 minutes of your day to go on a walk, or watch funny-cute animal video compilations, I fully support you. Those are all fantastic ideas. Actually, can I come?

Still, remember to set your intention for self-care and ask yourself what you are seeking. Distracting yourself with external experiences that make you happy will bring you happiness in the short-term but self-care that starts from within will always yield the best results.


Yasmeen Yahya is a writer living in Austin, Texas. Her work reflects her passion for social justice, finding balance in a chaotic world, and simply navigating life as 20-something in the big city. You can find her work here at Pass/Fail and at Pants Optional. When she isn’t writing, you can usually find Yasmeen organizing something, listening to an audiobook, or delving into her latest obsession. This month, it's the wonders of therapy. 

Chelsea Francis