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  • Writer's pictureDr. Bernadette P. Smith

What Is Self Care? It's Not What You Think

Updated: Jan 4, 2023


We talk a lot about self care, and even though we think we do it, we're really not doing it. We're actually doing something called aftercare. I want to talk to you about the difference between aftercare and self care.

All right. So let's think of aftercare in terms of this; we will oftentimes say, "I had this really big project at work, and I'm not going to do any self care," right? I'm not going to get a massage. I'm not going to take a break, until I finished this project. And once I've finished this project then, I'm going to reward myself and do some self-care.

That's not self care.

That's aftercare.

That is essentially, let me mask or try to fix the depletion that I have encountered from essentially running myself thin. Self care is when we are consistently, intentionally and deliberately feeding into ourself and nourishing ourself to help reduce the likelihood of us being depleted.

And we know that feelings of being depleted also leads to feeling overwhelmed, tired, irritable, and can also create other symptoms such as anxiety and feelings of depression. So we might say, "All right, that's cool. But I don't have enough time in my day to actually do self-care," or "I just don't have the support to even be able to do self-care."

So a couple of things become important. One of the things that I love is a concept called micro self-care or micro wellness. Essentially, what it's saying is that we are to do small things throughout the day consistently that aids in our overall self care.

So what does this mean?

Oftentimes we have this all or nothing approach. If I don't have money to go on a vacation, I'm just not going to go anywhere at all. Whereas micro self care is, is recognizing, okay. I may not have money for the vacation, but I can go explore my city and go to a park. Or go on a nature walk or whatever the case is. And so it becomes important to then identify what are those things that bring me joy?

What are those leisure things? What are those hobbies that I enjoy? And then how can I incorporate that on a micro level? So if let's say you like to exercise, but because of all of these tasks and all of these responsibilities and priorities that you have on your plate right now, going to the gym and exercising, just isn't what you're able to do at this time.

The micro wellness piece would say, okay, well I have two minutes right now. Let me do some stretches. Now is stretching the equivalent of going to the gym and putting in that work? No, however, what it is saying is I acknowledge that physical movement and physical exercise is important to me. And this is how I'm going to incorporate.

I have some clients who say they enjoy reading, but they just don't have the time because of work and children and all of these other priorities and responsibilities on their plate. So then we talk about, okay, can we do audio books? Can we have a little devotional by our desk so that when you're in between meetings, you can read a quick little one page.

Everything doesn't have to be all or nothing. But what micro self care does is it allows us to be intentional so that we are intentionally cultivating ourselves so that we do not become depleted.

Think of yourself as a garden. If I go and I plant some flowers or plants and vegetables, they will only grow if I water them, fertilize them tend to them. If I just plant it and forget about it. I can't expect anything. So then it becomes important to recognize that we can't forget about the most important person, which is ourselves and looking at ourselves from a whole person from a holistic place. Because if we are not adequately incorporating that micro self-care, that micro wellness into our life, then not only will it impact our mental space, but it will also impact our physical. And there are a lot of studies that show that stress can have an impact on our overall health, heart functioning, etcetera.

So it's not to say that doing those reward type things are something that you should no longer do. Absolutely do that. If you just landed a big project or, completed anything a goal, let's reward that. Let's honor that. Let's celebrate that. What I am saying is, that shouldn't be the only time we incorporate self care.

One of the things that we do at Aspen Counseling and Wellness is we work individually with our clients to identify what their needs are, what are the things that they enjoy? What hobbies do you have, what leisure activities do you enjoy? If you're not certain what they are, how can we start to explore what those are for you and help to create a template of how you can then incorporate that micro self care into your life on a more consistent basis, set appropriate boundaries and prioritize things appropriately so that you can continue to navigate your life in a way that's consistent and in alignment with yourself. Because if we're neglecting ourself, then it also prevents us from reaching those goals that we have set for ourself as well.

If you would like to explore counseling, and if you're in Texas, you can easily schedule an appointment. We also offer free 15 minute consultations to identify if we are a good fit, because finding a therapist you connect with is equally important as you navigate your therapeutic journey.

Be well.


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