by Claire Louge

Last week, I was on the phone with my older sister, Nathalie. We were checking in about our lives, and what is happening in the world. I described all the things I had going on, and everything I was doing, and told her I was a bit overwhelmed. Before we hung up, being the good older sister that she is, she said, “remember to take care of yourself, Claire.”

I was annoyed.

Hadn’t she just heard the long list of tasks on my to-do list? When was I supposed to do this ‘self-care’? And what does self-care even mean anymore, in 2020, when things we used to rely on to feel stable are absent?

But then I caught myself. The fact that I was annoyed by being reminded to take care of myself was a sign that I probably needed to focus a bit more on self-care.

The concept of self-care, however, usually frustrates me. Self-care can feel like yet another thing that needs to be done in a sea of competing priorities. Everyone seems to tout the importance of self-care, but in our busy, fast-paced, hustle culture, it can feel like we’re being asked to stay dry while going for a swim.

Self-care is also an ill-defined concept. Is it bubble baths and meditation? Is it supposed to be something you do to make yourself happy (eating ice cream), or that feels easy (taking a nap), or something that’s hard but good for you in the long run (cardio)?

There’s also just so much to care about. Our families. Our planet. Our nation. Racial equity. Poverty. Our economy. Covid-19. Child well-being. Open your email inbox or go on social media or watch the news. The list of things to care about is literally endless, and growing.

With so much to care about, where does self-care fit, and what is it?

Reflecting on this, I’ve settled on the following definition:

Self-care is what you do to be the kind of person you want to be.

Self-care is what you do to be able to self-regulate. Self-regulation is your ability to calm yourself and manage stress so you can make thoughtfully reflective decisions.

If you look at it this way, self-care not only becomes foundational to your life, it becomes your ethical responsibility as a professional. The world needs more self-regulated people make to thoughtfully reflective decisions.

So if, like me, you’re struggling to define self-care in your own life, start with this question: What can I do today to help me be the kind of person I want to be?

Maybe it’s taking a nap, because your body needs rest to function.

Maybe it’s taking a walk, because you know moving your body will help you feel grounded.

Maybe it’s saying no to a request, because you have a different priority.

Maybe it’s booking that appointment with a therapist, because you want to understand yourself better.

Maybe it’s watching a show, because you need to give your brain a break.

Maybe it’s calling a friend to vent, because you need to release some stress.

Maybe it is a bubble bath or meditation.

As times change and our needs change, self-care will look different, but its purpose remains the same.

What are you doing today to be the kind of person you want to be?