Self-Care, Part 1 (originally written January 2020, before COVID-19 was a thing)


Today I’m thinking about self-care.

If you’ve taken one of our classes, you know that self-care is one of four essential skill sets for personal safety.

Self-care is a crucial part of just plain living, as well as effective personal safety.  Yet the phrase covers a nebulous and ever-expanding array of activities.  Not all these activities are helpful, and in fact some may be harmful.  Sometimes there’s confusion about different types of self-care.  Let’s divide the range of activities into these five levels:

  • Self-soothing behaviors can make you feel better in the short term,
  • Self-care activities make your quality of life better in the long term,
  • Professional care is for what’s beyond your scope of effecting,
  • Social care is that network of family and friends, who will help you through challenging times by relieving some of your obligations to others, and
  • Institutional care is relief provided by employers and government, regardless of your personal financial assets.  This includes justice.

Most of the time when we consider self-care, it’s the first two items.  And yes they are pretty important.  In reality, there’s not a hard and fast line between those two, and some activities will cover both.

Self-soothing behaviors are ways you can calm yourself in the moment.  It includes a large range of behaviors, spanning TV binge-watching to singing in the shower to exercise to retail therapy to a nice glass of wine.  While any of these may calm you in the moment, not all will help you move forward in healing; in fact, of the five I listed, only two (can you guess which) are likely to help with longer-term growth.  And some (indulging in alcohol/drugs or spending money) have the potential to drive other concerns to the front.

Self-care activities, on the other hand, have more potential to help you develop resilience and better deal with adversity.  Those can include getting enough sleep, eating well for your body, setting boundaries, meditation, medical attention, and exercise.  Unlike self-soothing behaviors, these involve a vision of how you want to live in the future. 

Another key is the ability to recognize when to move from self-care to professional care. What got me onto this issue, in fact, was reading this article on how “self-care” has become a new industry, with services and products purporting to help us help ourselves.  Which can be great, since self-care is an essential element of self-efficacy.  When, however, “self-care” is held out as a surrogate for professional care, we get shorted.  Specialized, mental health, and psychiatric medical attention has become exceedingly expensive for those without access to high-quality (and often high-cost) insurance; at the same time, many mental health care providers no longer accept insurance.  The article cited above notes that a high percentage people with mental illness, particularly the young, go undiagnosed and untreated.

You may think that self-care is obvious, a no-brainer.  It should be.  However, you’d be incorrect.  Other considerations can get in the way.  You may not want to admit you need time and resources for yourself because of fear.  You may fear being labeled weak, defective, stupid, incompetent, needy, or lazy (not only by others, but even by yourself).  You may be concerned that tere will be negative social consequences.  Maybe friends and family will begin pulling back, even as they say nice supportive things to your face.  Or maybe you could experience negative job consequences, such as not being considered for advancements, promotions, raises (or even getting fired).  Will others look at you with pity, or contempt, or even as a target for exploitation?

Your personal safety is linked to your ability to care for yourself (and care about others in your life).  What can you do to improve your self-care ecosystem?