If your brain goes to bubble baths and treat-yo-self days when you think of self-care, then we need to have a chat.

Okay, okay: so there’s really nothing wrong with either of those things. There’s something about having a warm, cozy bath on a Sunday evening, with a facemask on and a glass of wine that perfectly winds down a hectic weekend. We’re not about to tell you that it’s a waste of your time or that you shouldn’t include it in your self-care routine – but today, we want to dive a little deeper. Past the aesthetic side that fills our Instagram feeds.

To make sure we’re on the same page, let’s quickly go over what the heck self-care is. When you strip it back to its core, self-care, quite literally, is about caring for yourself. Which seems obvious, right? Isn’t that something we already do? Technically, yes… but it’s also something that’s a little easier said than done. Self-care often requires us to feel pretty vulnerable with ourselves and truly investigate our own needs to see what’s really going on, which can be really, really tough.

For a lot of us, we’d rather bury uncomfy feelings than tackle them head-on. When someone cuts us off, we’d rather focus on their reckless driving than acknowledge that we felt frightened or unsafe. Or we’d rather scroll through social media than tend to our feelings or real-life obligations.

Tending to needs can be so much more difficult than what Instagram’s version of “self-care” makes it seem because it forces us to really get face-to-face with what our needs truly are. Things such as a pamper night or shopping spree feel really good at the moment but don’t always tackle what’s really going on. It’s sort of like putting a band-aid over a cut before you clean out the dirt – it may get you by for a little bit, and can be especially helpful if you’re not in a place where you can effectively clean it out, but doesn’t actually treat the issue. If you don’t clean out a cut, it’s going to get infected and won’t heal properly.

Also read: Why You Need To Look At Yourself As The Main Character This Summer

Why is self-care important

If you’ve even taken any sort of psychology course (or any course that touches on human psychology in general) then you’ve likely heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. But just in case this is new to you, let’s go over the basics. Essentially all you need to know is that this is a motivational theory proposed by Abraham Maslow in 1943 that outlines a 5-tier model of human needs, broken up into 3 sections. It’s shaped like a pyramid, with your basic needs at the bottom and your self-fulfillment needs at the top. The idea is that you cannot move to the next tier up until your needs have been met in the previous one.

At the bottom, the model begins with your basic needs (physiological needs, including food, and water, followed by your safety needs, including security and safety) – these are the things that keep you alive. Next, are your psychological needs (belongingness and love needs, including intimate relationships and friends, then your esteem needs, including prestige and feeling of accomplishment) – these are your connections with others. At the top of the pyramid is your self-fulfillment needs (which consists of your self-actualization, such as reaching your full potential) – this can feel difficult to get to for a lot of people.

Our lives and the world around us are constantly changing, and there will be times when particular areas of your life will require more of your attention – the same goes for your needs. Getting comfortable looking inwards allows you to identify which of your needs are being met and which areas need a little more work. If you have a newborn baby, most of your attention will probably be focused on the baby, and your number one need for yourself will likely be to sleep as much as possible and to prioritize your basic needs. When the baby starts sleeping a little more and your basic needs are feeling met, you’re able to work up the pyramid to prioritize other things, such as getting dressed and ready for the day to feel like yourself again and meeting up with friends. This may feel obvious when it comes to having a baby, but the same formula can be applied to any area of your life.

There’s an old quote that goes, “the only constant in life is change.” Our circumstances change, which means our needs change, too.When we’re comfortable identifying what’s going on in our life and which of our needs require attention, we’re able to make decisions that prioritize our self-care and help feel our best. If you find yourself in a season of life where you are feeling burnt out and exhausted, you may need to basic needs by carving out time to prioritize rest and recharge. If your basic needs are met and you’re feeling bored, self-care may look like saying yes to more invitations, even if it makes you a little nervous to put yourself out there. Be comfortable being your own number-one cheerleader, your number-one support system, and your number-one friend to make sure you always have your back and your best interests in mind.

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Self-care isn’t always pretty

Since self-care is all about making sure your needs are met, it won’t always be pretty. When we look at achieving our goals and dreams to reach our self-fulfillment needs, there’s often a whole lot of delayed gratification involved. Working on yourself isn’t always fun or enjoyable, it can take a lot of time, and will likely be an ongoing project.

The side of self-care that you may not see on Instagram can include things such as,

  • Getting comfortable with spending time alone. Dating yourself, caring for yourself, and loving yourself through it all.
  • Cleaning your room, making your bed, and folding your laundry immediately.
  • Going to bed early to get caught up on sleep, instead of scrolling TikTok or watching Netflix.
  • Paying off debt and possibly working with a financial advisor to figure out your finances. 
  • Packing a lunch instead of buying one.
  • Setting boundaries with other people, things, and yourself.
  • Removing toxic people, including people who aren’t there when you’re struggling or people who aren’t there when you’re succeeding. 
  • Going to therapy.
  • Saving money for the future & investing wisely.
  • Staying in on a Friday or Saturday night instead of going out.
  • Ordering water instead of alcohol.
  • Waking up early to tackle your goals and dreams. 
  • Going to the dentist, optometrist, and gynecologist.
  • Etc.

As your life changes, as will your goals and needs change, and thus, your self-care will need to change too. There will be times when self-care is pretty, easy, and even enjoyable, but there will also be times when it’s not. In fact, there may be times where it takes a whole lot of hard work and mental strain. But it’s important to get comfortable listening to your needs and to remain committed to yourself along the way to avoid letting them pile up.

You deserve love and kindness, so remember to give it to yourself, too.

The Side of Self-Care We Don’t See Online