self-care illustration

(Cindy Proaño / Daily Titan)

Spa days, exercise, relaxing vacations and skin care. These are some common activities that people might think of when self-care comes to mind. 

It has developed a bit of a shallow reputation due to its online presence depicting these seemingly vapid or performative pastimes, causing them to almost become synonymous with the resurgence of the self-care phenomenon. 

Self-care is defined as “the ability of individuals, families and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health and to cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a healthcare provider,” according to the World Health Organization. 

The WHO also recognizes the inclusion of nutrition, hygiene, lifestyle, environmental and social factors in the self-care concept.  

Despite this broad definition, the idea of self-care has taken on a more materialistic image in the past few years, especially on social media platforms. There are currently over 43 million Instagram posts with the hashtag #selfcare showing promotional advertisements of skin care products with aesthetically pleasing photos of journals and even food videos. 

In today’s age, many have misperceived the idea of self-care through the lens of continuously taking part in these indulgent and materialistic behaviors. Yet, that couldn’t be further from the truth. 

This flashy version of mental health care is hurting people rather than helping them reach the inner growth they so desperately seek through the purchasing of products and services. These performative self-care activities usually cater to instant gratification instead of long-lasting benefits to one’s mental state. 

Caring for yourself isn’t always about bubble baths and face masks. It’s about being truthful with what you need and making decisions to help your future. 

While treating yourself to relaxing activities that you enjoy can be a nice break from your stressful days, indulging yourself too often can border on extremely selfish behavior. 

Self-care is about bettering yourself so you can be of service to others, said Maria Baratta, licensed clinical psychologist,  in an interview with USA Today. 

“Narcissism is about putting the self first, but not in a way that benefits anyone but the self,” Baratta said. 

Whether it’s saving your energy or making smart choices, practicing non-materialistic self-care can help you to feel less burnt out and keep you from avoiding looking after your health, which could result in physical ailments. 

Even if self-care means putting on your coziest pajamas and having a movie marathon after a hectic workday, simple practices like these shouldn’t be deemed indulgent. Every individual should assess what practices can be most helpful to their own personal wellbeing. 

“Self-care is often about having the self-knowledge and psychological flexibility to make what’s the best choice for you overall, which may be different at different times,” said psychologist Alice Boyes in an article from Psychology Today.

The act of self-care can look different depending on the person, Boyes said. From pushing yourself to step out of your comfort zone to hopping in bed and taking a refreshing nap, your self-care ritual is subject to change. Taking part in self-care means recognizing what habits will be most beneficial. 

While self-care is not one particular activity or practice, it does not revolve around outward displays of glowing skin or luxurious outings. Caring for yourself should make you feel good about yourself without having to splurge on an expensive face wash or nice clothes. The most helpful form of self-care will benefit from what's on the inside. 

People who have been neglecting their self-care can begin by following some tips to get them thinking about prioritizing their mental health and physical health.

Living a healthy lifestyle, connecting with friends, discovering ways to relax, practicing good hygiene and doing something enjoyable each day can all help, according to Mental Health America, a nonprofit organization. 

At its core, self-care is a necessary practice in order to check in with ourselves. It’s imperative to rethink the ways that we take part in self-care for it to help us through the ups and downs of each individual’s mental health journey.

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