Self-Care is NOT Selfish

As I am sitting down to write this piece, I have just started to recover from a horrible cold. For two weeks I suffered an annoying cough every 3-5 seconds, feeling physically and mentally drained, and constant slight headache. I find it fascinating that I got sick right around the time I am to write a blog all about self-care. Before I begin I must confess, this is one area I still need to actively work on for myself. It is common given my profession as a helper, and a natural tendency to be a giver, that I am often tasked with the choice of serving others or myself. However, I have learned that taking care of myself does not mean that I am being selfish. In fact, by taking care of myself I have learned that I am able to provide even better care for my clients overall. The following are some lessons I’ve learned along my own personal journey of valuing self-care.

Anyone who has ever ridden on a commercial airplane recently is familiar with the pre-flight safety demonstrations as recommended by the International Civil Aviation Organization prior to take-off. One of the most familiar flying safety recommendations is that in the event oxygen masks are deployed, adults are asked to secure their own mask before assisting others, including children. The concept is that if you are not breathing properly, you are not in a position to help someone else. When we hear this in terms of airline safety, it makes sense and we accept this logic. However, many people have a difficult time believing and living this concept in our daily lives. Why does it take flying to believe that self-care is an important step in caring for others? And why do we let ourselves feel guilty about it when we do take the time to take care of our own needs?

Guilt and Shame are Not the Same Thing

Guilt is a horribly unpleasant and uncomfortable emotion – and for good reason! When we experience an unpleasant emotion, it lets us know that we should avoid repeating the behaviors and choices that landed us with that feeling. Most people use guilt and shame interchangeably because they feel so horribly similar. Shame is different from guilt: When we feel guilty, we believe we did a bad thing. When we experience shame, we believe we are the bad thing. It is important not to confuse the two experiences. It is equally important to remind ourselves that we are not our emotions! Emotions are meant to be messengers to let us know if we are pleased, or unpleased, with our choices.

Guilty Feelings and Shameful Thinking

One reason we often feel guilty is because we believe we have disappointed someone else, or let them down. When we believe this, it is common to also think badly of ourselves. It is very easy to think that we can’t live up to others’ expectations (spoiler alert: it’s our expectations that make us feel this way, not other people’s). My mother often reminded me “it is impossible to be all things to all people.” When I find myself feeling guilty about letting someone down, and I notice the shameful thinking starting, I have made this my mantra as a way to forgive myself for being human.

How-To Self Care

So how can you indulge in Self-Care without the guilt? Here are three easy ways to do it:

1. Set Aside A Treat Yo Self Day

Go ahead and mark a day off on your calendar. You can make this weekly, monthly, or quarterly. Let your family, friends and employer/clients know you will not be available that day for your usual tasks. I’m a huge fan of the show Parks and Rec where two characters indulge in a Treat Yo Self Day yearly where they go wild with treating themselves to luxuries. They get massages, buy expensive items, and even ride in a limo. You can go as big or small as you feel comfortable, as long as it feels good to you. I like to start my Treat Yo Self days with an exercise session with my trainer, or a class at my local hot yoga studio. I then like to get a massage or a mani/pedi- sometimes both if I’m feeling wild! You choose what feels good for you.

2. Take Advantage of Your Commute

Some of us only use our commute as a means of rushing to and from our work and home. Try to leave 10-15minutes earlier or extend your commute home. Along the way, take the time to turn off the radio and meditate (don’t close your eyes or zone out while driving please!), finish listening to that Podcast or audiobook you’ve been trying to finish, or make a needed pit stop.

3. Make Health A Priority

Make time to eat and plan your meals so they are healthy and nutritious. We tend to choose unhealthy meals that make us feel sluggish and foggy when we eat on the fly. Taking the time to plan out your meals can also make sure they taste great and your budget will thank you as well. Move your body, even if it is just for short walks throughout the day. Go to bed at a reasonable time each night. On average, Americans don’t get enough sleep each night. Part of this is we are always trying to “do more.” When you get enough rest and sleep, you will have more energy and clarity in your day.

However you choose to indulge in Self-Care, remember my mother’s mantra: “you can’t be all things to all people.” We are all human and it is important to remember this. Just like a car, we need regular maintenance to rejuvenate and keep pushing forward. If we are always doing, doing, doing we will miss the moments along the way. Take time for yourselves today and let us know how you like to self-care!


Mallory Grimste, LCSW is a mental health therapist in Woodbridge, CT. She loves helping tweens, teens, and young adults struggling with Anxiety (... and other Big Emotions) find what works for them.

Originally a Jersey girl, she loves the beach, sunglasses, and iced coffee. Her favorite coping skills are deep breathing, listening to music, and watching Scandal.

Want to know more about Mallory, or how she can help? Check out her website at http://www.mallorygrimste.com.

Photo by Death To The Stock Photo