You’ve probably heard the term “self-care” tossed around, but you may have no real concept of what it is. If so, you are not alone. What self-care actually is – versus what society insinuates it should be – are two different things to many of us.

Self-care can be defined as broadly as “care for oneself” (Merriam-Webster) or as specifically as “the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress” (Oxford English Dictionary).  I would argue that most of the time when people hear self-care, they think that it should be something like meditation or exercise; that is not necessarily the case. Self-care can be anything that is beneficial for your overall well-being, meaning it can look different for everybody. 

Cultivating a self-care practice is important for maintaining your mental, physical, and emotional health. It can have an impact in many areas of our life; for example, social, financial, spiritual, and occupational. Self-care is not a distress tolerance skill for intense emotions. Rather, it allows us the ability to keep our stress manageable and prevent us from burnout. In addition, self-care has the ability to decrease anxiety and depression, lower the effects of stress, increase energy, and improve mood (NAMI).

Exploring self-care for yourself

If you’ve never consciously practiced self-care and aren’t sure what it looks like, think about the following:

  • When do I feel the best? 
  • Where do I feel the most comfort? 
  • When am I calm and grounded? 
  • Is there a time or thing that acts as a mental reset for me?
  • Is there something I like to do that relaxes me and allows me to focus?

While it may not be possible for everyone to take a break when they’re feeling overwhelmed, try to take a self-inventory. 

  • What am I feeling?
  • What do I need at this moment?
  • What am I able to do for myself at this moment? 

Most importantly, self-care also includes giving yourself compassion. Recognize that self-care is beneficial for you and those around you; it is not a waste of time or unproductive. Give yourself permission to do what you need in the given moment.

Self-care examples

  • Exercise (i.e. going for walk, yoga)
  • Connect with yourself (i.e. journaling, meditate, self-reflection)
  • Engage your mind (i.e. reading, puzzles)
  • Do something creative (i.e. coloring, painting, doodling)


  • Start small. You don’t have to practice all things health and wellness at once (or ever). 
  • Your self-care routine may begin with making your bed or doing a puzzle… and that is OK. 
  • What works for one might not work for all.

About the Author: Jessica Marcacci, M.S. is a psychotherapist at River Wards Wellness Collective located in Philadelphia (Fishtown). She sees both individuals & couples, focusing mainly on life stressors, relationships, emotions, self-worth, and anxiety.