How to Do Self-Care in a Way That Really Serves You

Learn to give a lot fewer f*cks so that you can have time and energy for yourself

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Self-care and self-love are thrown around as boring, cliché concepts that make you nod and forget about them immediately. Love yourself before you expect others to love you. Make time for your needs. Prioritize yourself, for no one else will do it for you. Yes, we heard it, next, please.

As it happens with a lot of other ideas, tips and life hacks that you come across online, self-care is repeated so much that we get immune to it, acknowledging its benefits without acting upon them, just like we do with exercising, dieting, habit-building, meditation and mindfulness — to name only a few. But to practice self-care properly, you need to do it, not just admit that you would need it and decide that you will start tomorrow.

The long-term benefits are unquestionable but you need to know that self-care is a habit that you need to build and it requires both a mindset and a lot of practice to get it right.

So let’s get a few things straight with self-care, so you can start practising it as soon as possible.

Self-care is not the basic hygiene you deserve

The most obvious self-care tips include taking a bath, taking a nap, getting some me-time — which I find outrageous. It is especially repeated often for new parents (or parents in general), who should exercise self-care by taking care of their basic human and hygiene needs. Let’s get one thing straight. Washing your hair, taking a shower or taking an afternoon nap when you are dead tired is not self-care. It’s nothing but trying to get your comfort level back to normal. It can improve your mood but it’s a shame to call it self-care.

Self-care is doing something for yourself only for the sake of making yourself feel satisfied, happy and accomplished.

It’s not to achieve a zero level after being completely exhausted, depleted and burnt out — it’s adding another layer above your normal comfort level. When you need a shower, you take a shower and don’t call it self-care. If you take a bath for 20 minutes alone — no kids, no spouse, no requests, it’s for survival and cannot be compared to a spa getaway or a full day without the above-mentioned distractions.

Calling basic needs self-care is annoying and harmful, as it gives the impression that our goal is mere survival and we should be grateful for that. Nope.

Self-care means you know your limits

Self-care starts with self-awareness and a high consciousness about the mental state that you are in. It starts with slowing down enough to realize that you are tired, you lack energy and motivation. Our daily lives are filled with tasks and to-do lists, chores and business plans, and we glorify busyness and perfection to a fault.

It’s great to be the next viral writer, the youngest colleague to be promoted, the parent who is doing everything for their kids — ambition is great, persistence is great, success is amazing. But it has a downside.

Perfection is not sustainable and the pursuit of it comes with a steep price.

When you are close to burning out, it means you dismissed your body’s and mind’s warning signs. It means that you have depleted your energy levels and ignored your physical, mental or emotional limits. It means that you stopped caring about yourself for the sake of another goal — to be the perfect parent, the best friend, the bestselling author.

You need to learn your limits and honour them — that’s where self-care starts.

Self-care often means subtracting things not adding ‘happiness’

Self-help culture is revolving around change: changing yourself, changing your body, changing the way you do business, changing your mindset. There are sure-fire solutions out there, just waiting for you to make a move, to click, to buy, to engage. You are promised to find happiness — if you buy this course, learn about that new concept, start this new lifestyle. We are conditioned to get more as if getting more would be the way to add items that will result in happiness and satisfaction.

Another line of thought focuses on being grateful for what you have, noticing everything that you already have in your life, making happiness into a concept of already existing possessions.

While the first one is the by-product of exaggerated consumerism, the latter is a philosophical concept of finding your own peace with what you have — both ignore the fact that we have too many things in our lives. We don’t really need more and it’s hard to figure out which things are meaningful when our plates are this full.

Self-care sometimes is about subtracting a whole lot of things, to get clarity, to be able to become grateful, to realize what we really need. Self-care can be a minimalist mindset of social media consumption — turning off notifications, staying away from news, stopping to reply immediately to incoming messages etc). It can be a decluttering of the space around you — so you can finally breathe and notice how much easier it is to think with fewer physical distractions around. It can be filtering of people around you — choosing to spend your time only with those who uplift you and improve your mood.

Sometimes you don’t need to add things to be happier. Subtracting can work miracles.

Self-care means giving a lot fewer f*cks

Overthinkers, people pleasers and mums, this one is for you. Our need to understand and rationalize the life around us, to be liked by others and to feel responsible for another human being is core to us being human. But overdoing any (or all) of it will make you miserable for hours, days and years. Not to mention, it will also take up all your time and energy — all taken away from self-care.

It all comes down to an unhealthy need for control — even when consciously we understand that there are things out of our circle of influence. Not everything happens for a reason, not everyone is supposed to like you (hell, you don’t even like everyone around you) and you can only do so much for the wellbeing of another human being, including your own children.

Learning what is worth caring about (giving a fuck) and what should be ignored is a form of art that you need to learn step by step. If you care about everything, eventually you won’t have energy for anything. You need to prioritize day after day, and you need to make conscious — and sometimes difficult — choices. You will only have time for yourself if you let go of the sense of control and direct your attention to things that you can really have an impact on.

Cancel on your friends, do not reply to your kids’ needs immediately, take a mental health day off — learn to say no, learn to not give a fuck, learn to ignore things that don’t serve you.

Start by small and notice how a few ‘I don’t give a f*ck’-s can liberate some time for the things you really want to say yes to.

Self-care and caring about others are not exclusive

We live in a world where an all-in mentality is rewarded. You can become a successful business owner, but only if you sacrifice all your free time, your other passions and even your relationships. You can only be a worthy mum but only if you don’t work but care for your kids 24/7. You can only be a working mum but only if you have a stay-at-home spouse or a horde of nannies and grannies to help you out. You are not supposed to have it all, it’s always a binary thing. And you have a tough choice to make.

But it’s false. It’s a myth, conjured by people who couldn’t figure out the right priorities in their lives and who chose to sacrifice a huge chunk of it to pursue another. The most successful people I know, business people, parents, athletes have different roles in their life — and they are equally successful in each of them. What unites them is that they understand that caring about things that matter to you, caring about people that matter to you and caring about yourself can happen simultaneously.

It’s not an either-or case, you can have it all. One can be a great dad, a great partner, a great friend and a great entrepreneur. They are not exclusive to each other, but it’s a result of setting your priorities right — including caring about your own boundaries, needs and limitations.

Make it sustainable, and forget that it’s only possible to thrive in one area of your life.

Self-care can mean radically different things for everyone

I have a friend who is a runner. She runs ultra-long distances, not simply marathons, but 80–100k races. She is doing it for the sake of running, for self-improvement and because she simply loves it. For her, self-care is to go on a run — come rain or shine.

For an average person, this is the real meaning of torture. Running 100k a week? Are you out of your mind? Sitting down for a meal, getting a massage, going on a vacation, going out and get drunk with friends or meditating on a yoga retreat would be more like it.

But we are different. We get energized by different things. Introverts are energized by being alone, extroverts get their energy refill by interacting with others. Some are thrilled to help others, others just want to move to a farm and be left alone. Self-care can vary for everyone, and blanket statements and suggestions about how to take care of yourself are way too harmful.

Figure out what self-care means for you, and carve out time to do it. It’s not always about a 2-week-long holiday on Seychelles, it can be 15 uninterrupted minutes of Candy Crush.

Whatever makes you feel better, happier, more accomplished. Look inside and listen to yourself.

Want some more? Let’s stay in touch!

Writer. Dreamer. Hopeless romantic. Newsletter: Email me: zitafontaine (at) gmail

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