What Is Self-Care and Why Is It Important?

What is self-care?

You're not the only one asking. Self-care was the most searched term in the beginning of the pandemic. Years later, the need for self-care is still ever present. Keep reading to get clear on what self-care actually is and why it is so important for your well-being.

The definition of self-care really depends on who you're asking. Let's look at three definitions: the health definition, the marketer definition, and, most importantly, your definition.

What is self-care according to the World Health Organization?

For a healthcare definition of self-care, it made sense to hear from one of the world's larger public health agencies.

The World Health Organization  defines self-care as:

the ability of individuals, families and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a health-care provider.

This more technical look at self-care can be useful as a starting point, but it doesn't do much to help us figure out how to practice self care in our daily lives.

What is self-care according to marketers?

Marketers took note as soon as self-care started trending, and they started trying to brand—or rebrand—everything as self-care. According to Vogue, brushing your teeth is now "good" self-care.‍

For marketers, self-care is something that can be bottled and bought. It's boutique fitness classes. Splurge-worthy serums. Costly candles. None of those purchases are inherently wrong. (Please don't ask me how many aesthetically pleasing journals and pens I have!) But the noise of the marketing machine drowns out the most important question:

What does self-care mean to you?

This company, Inner Workout, started as an answer to that question. I was in one of the busiest seasons of my life, working full-time, side hustling on nights and weekends, volunteering, planning a wedding, and still trying to have a social life.

It won't come as a surprise to you that I kept burning myself out. I was doing the health and hygiene focused self-care that the WHO talked about. I was eating my vegetables and going to fitness classes. And I was buying into the self-care that marketers advertised to me.

But it wasn't working. I didn't feel cared for, at least not in the long term. I felt perpetually burned out and like I wasn't doing enough.

In the midst of my exhaustion, I cultivated a more supportive way to answer the question, "What is self-care?"

Self-care is listening within and responding in the most loving way possible.

Self-care isn't a singular action. It's a conversation that you can choose to have with yourself at any point of everyday.  And when I say your self, I mean your whole self. Not just your physical body. All of your dimensions deserve care.

This ongoing process of listening within and responding with love will transform the way you treat yourself and your days. There's no prescriptive formula to follow. It's an invitation for you to honor your own wisdom.

In a world where there are influencers and media companies and advertisements telling you who to be, this approach to self-care is not only refreshing—it's important.

Dispelling the biggest myth around self-care: it's not selfish, it's necessary

Let's clear up one thing right off the bat: self-care is not selfish. I'm sure you know this intellectually, but sometimes your inner critic needs a reminder. Not only is self-care not selfish, it's necessary.

So where does this myth come from?  How much time do you have? We could be here all day. The Spark Notes: In a capitalist society that places our worth in our output, self-care seems like a waste of time. It's why we're all running around pretending everything is urgent, except for caring for ourselves.  

Caring for ourselves, at least in the way Inner Workout talks about it, is deeply political.

"Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare." - Audre Lorde

Imagine what would happen if we collectively prioritized listening within and responding with love. All of the sudden, the things we're told to prioritize—buying more, being "more"—would fade away.

That shift can start with you. Self-care is not a luxury reserved for the richest among us. It's not an indulgence to feel guilty about it. It's not a vain pursuit. It's a basic human necessity that connects you to the most human parts of you..

Here's why: Self-care is about understanding your needs and taking the time to meet them. It's about nurturing your inner self, refreshing your spirit, and regulating your energy.  

Without regular self-care, we're on a one way ticket to Burnout City.  And burnout only leaves you more stressed and less able to do the things that bring you joy.

What are the benefits of self-care?

Do you ever stop and consider how much you're doing for others compared to what you're doing for yourself? In our ever-demanding world, it can be easy to overlook the importance of self-care.

But let me tell you, self-care isn't just about treating yourself to a spa day (although that sounds lovely!). It's about embracing habits that promote your physical, emotional, and mental well-being. And let's dive into why it's so beneficial, shall we?

The Physical Dimension of Well-being

When we think about self-care, our minds often drift to physical activities. And why wouldn't they? Eating food that supports your body, moving your body in ways that feel good, and getting enough sleep are essential for maintaining our body's health. But did you ever stop to consider the long-term benefits?

"Physical self-care helps to improve your immune system, increase your energy levels, and generally make you feel better about yourself."

And who doesn't want to feel like they can take on the world?

The Mental & Emotional Dimension of Well-being

But it's not all about the physical, is it? We often overlook our mental and emotional health. Activities that promote relaxation and stress reduction, like reading a book, meditating, or even just taking a few minutes to breathe deeply, can truly work wonders.

Why is self-care important for your well-being?

I could talk all day about why self-care is important. I started this company to talk about self-care and personal development. At Inner Workout, we talk about Five Dimensions of Well-being, which are inspired by the yogic concept of the koshas: physical, energetic, mental + emotional, wisdom, and bliss.

All of these pieces of you need to be cared for in order for you to feel well. If you're curious to see how you're currently relating to each of these dimensions of well-being, you can take our free Take Care assessment.

I literally wrote a whole book on why the self-care is important for your wellbeing, so for the purposes of keeping this blog post short and sweet, let's focus on three ways self-care can impact your well-being.

Self-care is important because it reminds us of our limits

Most of the people who are drawn to Inner Workout identify as being the "strong friend", a self-aware overachiever, or both. Not sure if you're a strong friend? You're probably the strong friend if you'd drop everything to help a loved one, but the idea of asking for support makes your skin crawl.

And self-aware overachievers are folks who love to learn about themselves and how to be " better." They're never quite where they want to be. However, this continuous pursuit of self-improvement leaves little room for caring for themselves in the moment.

When you choose to listen within and respond in the most loving way possible, you're reminded that you have needs. You have limitations. You can't go, go, go forever.  Practicing meaningful self-care helps you learn your limits before you cross them and burn yourself out.

Self-care is important because it reminds us that we're a part of nature

Humans have this strange desire to pretend that we exist outside of nature. We like to pretend that we've outsmarted it, when nature can actually be one of our most transformational teachers.

You've likely heard the Pinterest-worthy Lisa Kelly quote,

"Be patient with yourself. Nothing in nature blooms all year."- Lisa Kelly

Nature has cycles and seasons. Times to rest and grow and replenish and let go. An intentional self-care practice reminds us that we need that, too.

Self-care is important because it reminds us that we need community care

One of my favorite things to remind my clients and the Inner Workout community at large is that self-care is not a solo sport.

Though the work of listening and loving responses starts with us, it's amplified by other people. They might help us see parts of ourselves that we struggle to face, offer their energy when ours is running low, celebrate with us, and hold us accountable.

The giving and receiving of care connects usmore deeply both to ourselves and to each other.

Prioritizing self-care in a busy life

When we're caught up in the hustle and bustle of daily living, we often end up forgetting the one person who needs our attention the most - ourselves. This is where the concept of self-care comes in, and it's absolutely crucial that we make it a priority in our busy lives.

Self-care, in its essence, is an ongoing coversation we have with ourselves. We listen within and lovingly respond, to take care of our well-being across all dimensions. It's not always about grand gestures, sometimes it's the small things we do on a daily routine that makes a big difference. A hot cup of tea in the morning, a short walk during lunch, or even a few minutes of silence before bed, all contribute to self-care.

What are some self-care tips for busy people?

With so many responsibilities, finding time for self-care can feel like a daunting task. So, how can you fit it into a schedule that already feels like it's overflowing? Allow me to share a few practical tips.

1. Prioritize Self-Care

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, let me remind you that  self-care is not selfishness. It's about ensuring you're at your best, not only for yourself but also for the people who depend on you. So, make it a priority, just like any other crucial task in your day. If you live and die by your calendar and to-do list, then make sure self-care makes to the list.

2. Start Small

You don't need to set aside an entire day for self-care. Start with small acts that can easily fit into your schedule. Perhaps it's a five-minute meditation in the morning, a quick walk around the block during lunch, or a soothing cup of tea before bed. Remember, the aim is to create a routine that's sustainable.

3. Listen to Your Body

Your body will often tell you what it needs if you're willing to listen. Feeling tired? Maybe you need an extra hour of sleep. Feeling tense? Try some light stretching or a yoga sequence. The key is to identify what your body is asking for and then honor that request.

4. Use Breaks Wisely

Even the busiest of schedules have short breaks. Instead of scrolling through social media or responding to emails, consider using these moments for self-reflection or relaxation. A few deep breaths or some mindful movements can significantly rejuvenate your energy levels.

5. Practice Mindfulness

Being present in the moment is a powerful form of self-care. Try to incorporate mindfulness into your daily activities. Whether it's savoring each bite of your lunch, or simply paying attention to your breathing, mindfulness can help reduce stress and increase your sense of well-being.

How often should I practice self-care?

Let's talk about frequency, shall we? One of the most common questions I hear is, "How often should I practice self-care?", and most of the time, the people asking it don't feel like they have enough time to dedicate to self-care.

Imagine your self-care routine as a cup of tea. Some days, you might just dip your tea bag once or twice — a little check-in with yourself, a few deep breaths, maybe a moment of meditation. Other days, you might need to steep that bag for a good, long while, really taking the time to focus on your needs and refill your cup.

It's about tuning into what you, personally, need on any given day. You're the best judge of that.

But, if you're looking for a rough guideline, I'll say this: find at least one moment a day to be with yourself. It may only be for a minute, but that minute matters. The more you make room to hear from yourself, the easier it will be to connect to your inner wisdom.

How can I practice self-care on a budget?

So, you're wondering: "How can I practice self-care on a budget?" Well, let me tell you, self-care doesn't have to be about luxurious retreats or shopping hauls. It's really more about understanding your own needs and taking time to meet them. The best thing? It can absolutely be budget-friendly. Let's talk about some ways you can do just that.

Get in Tune with Nature

First things first, have you ever considered how refreshing a simple walk in the park can be? Or how calming it is to watch the sunset? Nature is a fantastic self-care resource that's entirely free. So why not make the most of it? Regularly take time out of your day to enjoy the outdoors, whether it's going for a walk, gardening, or even bird-watching. It's your call.

Home-Made Pampering

Next up, let's talk about DIY. There are countless recipes online for homemade face masks, scrubs, and bath salts. The process of making them invites you into presence, so you're practice self-care before you even put your DIY concoctions to use! It’s a win-win situation, don’t you think?

Self-Care Activities That Cost Nothing

Don't forget, there are many self-care activities that cost absolutely nothing. Here are a few to consider:

  • Reading a book from your own collection (or a library book, if you're into that)
  • Listening to your favorite music or podcast
  • Meditation or yoga at home (there are plenty of free resources online)
  • Writing in a journal or doodling
  • Calling or video chatting with a friend or family member

Plan and Budget

Lastly, sometimes self-care does involve a little splurge. Maybe you've been eyeing a new book, wanting a professional massage, or thinking about a yoga class. There's nothing wrong with that! Just plan and budget for these in advance to avoid creating financial stress. After all, self-care is all about lessening stress, not adding to it.

Remember, self-care is not a one-size-fits-all approach. What works for me may not work for you, and that's perfectly fine. The most important thing is to listen to your own needs and respond in a way that feels right.

The benefits of creating a self-care routine and how to get started

So, you've got a grasp on what self-care is and why it's vital. Now, we're going to delve into the benefits of having a regular self-care routine, and guide you on how to embark on this rewarding journey. Trust me, your future self will thank you for it.

The Perks of a Self-Care Routine

Imagine this: you're feeling overwhelmed, stressed out, and just plain worn down. But here's the twist - you have a set of tools, activities that you know can help you unwind, recenter, and find your balance. That, my friend, is the magic of a consistent self-care routine. Let's break it down:

Proactive practices

These are the things you put in place ahead of time to bring you towards a desired outcome. Morning routines, post-work wind down routines, and pre-presentation pump up routines all fall under this category.

Build a proactive practice by narrowing in on a time of day and outlining what actions you could take to make yourself feel supported.

Responsive practices

Responsive practices are the practices in your self-care toolkit for when things don't go as planned. This is the breathing practice you return to when you feel anxiety creeping in or the chair yoga practice you've bookmarked for when you start to feel stiff after hours at work.

Develop your self-care toolkit by listing the short and sweet activities that help you come back to center.

Final encouragement

If you're ready to make self-care more of a priority in your life, get on the waitlist for the Inner Workout app. It's filled with journaling prompts, courses, guided meditations, and gentle accountability to make practicing self-care a breeze.

By joining the waitlist, you'll also get our Self-Care Sundays newsletter. Each Sunday, we send an affirmation, an exploration, and at least one invitation for you to take care with us.  

Taylor Elyse Morrison

About the author

Taylor is the founder and author of Inner Workout. She's also an ICF-certified coach, a certified meditation + mindfulness practitioner, and was named one of Fortune's 10 Innovators Shaping the Future of Health.