Three pillars of self care

Self Care is a big buzzword right now. You see it everywhere for everything… next to lattes, bubble baths, salads, cupcakes, yoga mats, day planners, and avocados…..

Intuitively, self care is doing anything to take care of yourself. It can look like anything from taking a relaxing bath to getting your damn to-do list done for the day. Self care encompasses such a wide variety of activities that it can seem overwhelming, especially to someone like me who used to ignore herself until everything blew up in a plume of hanger and ash. One can’t help but wonder sometimes…What the heck is self care, anyway? Is it just a fad?

In my experience, what self care really relies upon are these three things: your needs, your existing habits, and your responsibilities. Let’s talk about the three pillars of self care and dive deep into what they mean.

Your needs

Taking care of anything, yourself included, revolves around what is needed. You may have heard of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and if you haven’t you will because I’m going to tell you! Proposed by Abraham Maslow in 1943, his theory is generally visualized as a pyramid and encompasses the different levels of human need. At the bottom are basic things like food, water, shelter, and safety. Moving up the pyramid are your psychological needs, like love and belonging, and self esteem. At the top we see the ever lofty pinnacle: self actualization.

Wherever you are on this pyramid there is a need to be met to move up and on to the next group. Practicing self care is when we meet a need for ourselves so we can be the best version of ourselves in that moment. Depending on your needs self care is going to look a little different for you. For example, sometimes self care can be as little as eating an extra snack when your blood sugar is tanking, or something as big as moving out of a toxic living situation. Both are physical needs, one for food and one for safety, but are drastically different.

A huge part of self care is learning to assess your needs. Get to know yourself! Even when we do have a self care routine I know we all need to check back in on ourselves from time to time. We must constantly take inventory. What do I require to show up as my best self today? Is it an extra hour of sleep? Perhaps it’s ten minutes alone after coming home from work. The most important question is: How can I take care of myself right now physically, emotionally, and spiritually? The answer may surprise you because it sure did surprise me!

As you can see, self care goes way beyond bubble baths and putting on a playlist: it consists of constant attention and requires attunement to yourself and your needs… although a relaxing soak and favorite tunes do help.

Self care is self maintenance. But how do we know when and how much we need? Well, this leads us right into pillar number two!

Your habits

Because self care is such a personal subject it is very dependent upon what you already do-your existing habits. For example, if you have no structure to your life at all (aka me at 22) you may need to choose a more consistent schedule to meet your full potential. Inversely, if you are very rigid you may need to lighten up and practice a little bit of balance. Our habits are a pillar of self care because they are the signpost as to what needs are being met and what needs are being neglected.

James Clear in the book Atomic Habits makes a powerful statement regarding Habits:

Ask yourself questions. What are my habits? What is it that you do on a daily basis? Do they benefit me, or do they bring me down? Do you know yourself enough to pay attention to your emotional habits? A big question for me was: Am I in the habit of taking care of my own needs, or do I expect others to take that initiative for me? Does this apply to you? There’s no shame if it does; we are all learning here!

If you are having trouble figuring out your habits or just want to have a neat visual guide, the author of Atomic Habits provides these handy little habit trackers that can be a big help if you are a visual kind of person and enjoy graphs.

Habits are also the way we cultivate self care. Maybe it’s time to invest in self care in a meaningful way, and I’m not just talking about avocados and yoga. Like James Clear says, each habit is a vote we make towards the person we become. Self caring habits like meditation, taking time to relax, treating yourself, talking it out, eating well, exercising, or journaling are all constructive ways to get rid of excess stress and cultivate resilience. It’s not a cure-all for mental illness, but it is an essential part of human hygiene, both physically and emotionally.

Your responsibilities

Self care has a tricky nature strictly because it is so personal. Every Individual has their own set of thoughts, ideas, background, conditioning, life situation, habits, and responsibilities that make it hard to pin down exactly what self care should look like for each person. It is called SELF care, after all.

We live in a world where our responsibilities define us in a big way: when we meet someone they most likely will ask, “What do you do for a living!” before they will ask where you are from or what your passions are. Our responsibilities require us to both work around them and recover from them through self caring activities.

Your responsibilities greatly impact the amount of time you have to spend on yourself, and what state you need to be in in order to perform your best. For example, an Olympic athlete is going to have way different needs than a mother of two young children, although both of them need to plan their self care around obligations. A pilot may need different sleep requirements than I do, and a businessman may need to distress a little more than a retired grandfather. You get the picture?

A big part of self care is setting boundaries between us and what we give our energy to. You may have heard the cup analogy, saying that you cannot pour from an empty cup. Self care is the act of filling up your cup so you can have the freedom to perform your responsibilities with a happy heart, without burning out or grinding ourselves down. Of course, you may feel these ways sometimes, I know I do, but it’s the “check engine” light telling you to pay attention.

When you feel burnt out, it’s a call to assess your needs and habits so you can go about creating boundaries for yourself. The goal is to enjoy the act of taking care of your responsibilities, not constantly begrudge them or resent them.

Closing thoughts

Self care is a very complicated and versatile subject because it requires tailoring to each individual’s needs, habits, and responsibilities. Yes, this may include some bubble baths, stellar playlists, avocados, and yoga, but these things do not self care make.

It’s easy to get swept away in the trendiness of the concept and focus on the physical and aesthetic, but self care also involves a heavy measure of attention to yourself in the physical, mental, and spiritual capacities.

Self care is deeply personal and I will affirm and reaffirm that every single person needs self care in their lives, no matter their age, social status, sex, or race. We all need self care! Don’t be afraid to take some time for yourself amidst the whirlwind of modern life, you most assuredly will not regret it.


Originally published at on July 22, 2020.



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Imperfection Freak

A lifestyle blog detailing my expedition into slow living, poetry, wellness, spirituality, and motherhood.