What is self-care? Part 1 of a 2-part self-care series

What is self-care? Part 1 of a 2-part self-care series
by Maggie Gurman
23 Nov 2018


Self-care? What does it mean…? Any action you take that attends to your basic mental, emotional, and physical needs is considered self-care. Surprisingly, very few women think about, let alone take action on, self-care. A self-care practice asks you to take small steps each day to create habits that promote long-term wellbeing for yourself. In turn, these acts of self-care help your entire family.

What it is not.

Self-care is not about checking-out or indulgence.

Treating yourself to Netflix and cookies for a brief distraction from life could easily fall under self-care and is much different than nightly binging to avoid feelings or responsibilities.

If you are not sure, ask yourself this:

Does this action help my long-term wellbeing? Does it promote balance in my mind and body? What need is it attending to?

It is not about perfection, or doing everything you want.

We are talking about the basics here. Sleep, showering, moving your body without a child attached to you, chatting with a supportive friend for five minutes, enjoying a healthy meal quietly for 15 minutes, taking time to rest, meditate, or read a book. It’s not expecting and demanding that you will be able to attend to your needs the same way you did before baby came along. It’s finding a new way of caring for your needs while attending to your baby.

It is not treatment for depression, anxiety, or other perinatal mood disorders

Self-care is certainly part of recovering from depression and anxiety, but often these conditions require further intervention, like medication, therapy, a support group, or a combination of those things. Self-care can provide an emotional buffer so that you can identify and work through the issues underlying your depression and anxiety. And it does not stop once you have recovered. This is a lifelong, ever-changing practice to reduce the chances of having a recurring episode and it allows you to bounce back more quickly and effectively from a relapse.

It is not selfish.

It is about getting basic physical, mental, and emotional needs met, which helps everyone in the family. Babies and children need caregivers who are present and attuned to their needs. When your needs are being attended to, your ability to be present and attuned to your child is much greater. Furthermore, as your baby grows into a child, your self-care practice models healthy habits to your little one.

Common Barriers

Barriers can be circumstantial or they can be the way you think about the situation. If something is keeping you from taking action, figure out what that is and what you can do to work around it. The obvious barrier for parents of babies is the demanding needs of an infant.

Ask yourself, “What else is getting in the way of my ability to attend to my mental, emotional, and physical needs?” Other barriers include:

Asking for help and guilt

Many new mothers struggle with asking for help, perhaps because their own expectations of being able to “do it all” or guilt about taking time away from baby. Start by identifying who is in your support system, and/or where you can seek support. Next, explore small ways in which these people could help you out.

If you’re not sure what to ask for, just let them know you are struggling and need help. Remind yourself that it is normal and understandable to need a helping hand.


Symptoms of depression and exhaustion can lead to plummeting motivation to do much of anything. If you are lacking motivation, take a look at your thinking about self-care. What thoughts come to mind about starting a self-care practice? If you notice thoughts like, “It’s not worth it”, “It’s not going to help”, “What’s the point?”, or “It’s too hard” it may be time to be like Nike and just do it.

Small actions can lead to increased motivation, which in turn will lead to more action. This can be the first and most difficult step to pull yourself out of a funk, but absolutely necessary to get the recovery ball rolling. So when you can’t find motivation—fake it till you make it.


Self-care is not about spending money or taking loads of time away from your family. In fact, small doses of time for yourself to check in and attend to your needs in reasonable, do-able ways, is what will be effective and sustainable.

Read more on practical ways to start a self-care practice in Part Two.