Suzanne Manser, PhD

Licensed Psychologist

5 Steps to True Self-Care

What do you think of when you think of “self-care?”

A couple of glasses of wine at the end of the day whilst mindlessly scrolling social media? Netflix and ice cream? A bubble bath? A mani-pedi?

Those all sound lovely. But they are not true self-care.

Most of us spend 98% of our day prioritizing Not-Self-Care (e.g., work, other people, productivity, and shoulds). By the end of the day, our buckets are drained. We are exhausted, burnt out, and looking for escape.

We reach for our own flavor of escape, whether it alters our mood, numbs our brains, or mainlines pleasure via dopamine hits. We’re looking for something to take us away from our stress and make us feel better. And the things we reach for – wine, weed, food, media, spa days – work. Momentarily.

The problem is that we are labeling those moments of escape “self-care” and calling it good. Every night, we put a band-aid on the wound without wondering why the wound isn’t healing. That’s not very caring, is it?

Self-Care Is ….

Self-care is creating a life that doesn’t wound us so regularly. Self-care is creating a life that allows us to tend to ourselves and fill our buckets consistently. Self-care is creating a life we don’t want to escape from on a daily basis.

This can’t happen if we’re only prioritizing ourselves 2% of the time, after everything else is taken care of. Self-care involves being kind to ourselves and taking our needs seriously throughout the day.

This is where I tend to get blank stares. It sounds good, but what does that actually look like? We understand what it means to care for others, but when it comes to caring for ourselves, we don’t know what else to do. How do we do self-care?

Let’s start with the care you give without thinking about it. When you care about someone else, how do they know you care about them?

Maybe you make time for them.
Maybe you listen to them, and they feel heard.
Maybe you validate their needs and feelings instead of judging them.
Maybe you think about their wants and likes and do things to fill their bucket.
Maybe you make sure they have food and rest when they’re sick.
Maybe you straight-up tell them how much you care about them.

That is care, right? I’m not saying anything shocking here. This isn’t actual news.

And yet.

When we start talking about self-care, all we’ve got is wine, bubble baths, and social media. While those things offer a quick fix, they’re not remotely on par with the care we give others. It’s like serving your loved ones beautiful, complete meals cooked with love while giving yourself a small cookie every once in a while and telling yourself you should feel full and satisfied.

How Do We Do Self-Care?

So how do we do actual, true, deep self-care? How do we create lives that we don’t need to escape from?

The foundation of self-care is consistently feeling important enough to take yourself seriously. Check in with yourself regularly. Notice what’s feeling good and what’s not feeling so good. Acknowledgment and validation are acts of care. Then, take action. Focus on what is feeling good, and tend to what is not – throughout the day, not just at the end when you don’t have the energy for true care.

More specifically:

Step 1. Make time for yourself every day, while you have energy and focus. This doesn’t have to take a lot of time; it could be two minutes of setting intentions before work starts, ten minutes in the middle of the day to deep breathe, listen to music, or read something fun, and a walk before dinner. It could be journaling for 10 minutes at lunch. It could include making time for yourself with regular therapy to heal trauma or improve your relationship with yourself. Showing yourself you’re worth making time for is a profound act of care, however you do it.

Step 2. Fill your bucket regularly. Pay attention to what makes you feel supported and good, and do more of it more frequently. This might be connecting more often with friends who make you laugh or taking time to daydream about your next vacation. It might be eating cookies more often, getting Reiki regularly, speaking your truth as often as you can, or singing in the car to your favorite ‘80’s tunes on the way to the grocery store (Karma Chameleon, anyone?).

By the way, it is not self-care to make yourself “earn” the good stuff, as if you don’t already deserve it. You don’t make your friends jump through hoops to get your care. That would be weird. Regularly give yourself the stuff that makes you feel good because it makes you feel good. Unless we’re talking about an addiction, this is self-care.

Step 3. Validate your pain, whether it’s physical or emotional. This is part of taking yourself seriously. Acknowledge the pain and take steps to address it if you can. If there aren’t steps to take at the moment (and even if there are), have compassion for yourself for being in pain. Pain sucks. Definitely don’t kick yourself when you’re down. Sit with yourself in kindness. Love and validation are acts of care; judgment is not.

Step 4. Let people know where your boundaries are. As scary as this can feel, it’s worth it. When we identify our boundaries and make them clear to others, we’re giving everyone – including ourselves – a blueprint for how to take care of us. We’re reminding ourselves that our needs matter. We’re insisting on healthy relationships. You would want this for your best friend, right? This is self-care.

Telling someone when they’ve crossed a boundary is simply about sharing information. It does not have to be done in an aggressive or mean way. “That doesn’t feel good to me. Let’s back up and talk about a different way to approach this.”

Step 5. Listen to your body. We tend to invalidate our body’s needs. We prioritize how we want it to look over it’s actual, real-and-important-for-our-life needs. This is not self-care. This is pretending that our body is not a valid part of us and does not have valid needs. That is like putting your child in corner and pretending she doesn’t exist if she doesn’t perform exactly as you want her to. Not caring.

Listening to your body means noticing when you’re hungry and eating, and noticing when you are full or feeling sick and stopping eating (or drinking alcohol or whatever). It means paying attention to physical pain and tending to it. It means noticing physical anxiety and taking a minute to breathe deeply. It means resting when you are tired.


In Conclusion ….

If we accept all of ourselves – our needs, our wants, our emotions, our bodies, our boundaries – as valid, if we take ourselves seriously, self-care is not such a challenge. It may even come somewhat naturally. It’s that first step that’s the doozy. Taking ourselves seriously and tending to our selves as if they are a priority is not our strong suit, as humans in this society.

Say it with me: “I am important enough to care about, all day.” We are worth caring about and caring for. We always have been, regardless of any past messages received or what our brains currently tell us. And we have the time to do it. These steps do not take hours each day. It’s more about a mindset shift.

What’s one thing you can do today to take care of yourself?

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