What is Self-Care Anyway?

“Make sure to take care of yourself,” well-meaning friends say.  Self-care is important, the caregiver blogs say.  “Are you taking care of yourself?” my doctor asks.

I keep wondering what is self-care, anyway?  I mean beyond the obvious basics of annual physicals, dentist appointments, etc..  On Google, there are over one million answers to a search on self-care.  The first one came up with 45 simple practices.  HA!  Who has time for 45?

I don’t need a list to tell me other obvious ones like eating right, which is not so easy when I’m focused on Larry’s food and I hate to cook, and I’ve taken to stress eating (Oreos or potato chips).  And exercise is always on the self-care list.  It requires creativity and motivation to get exercise when I don’t feel comfortable leaving Larry alone for long.

A very caring and wise person in my life suggested that self-care is making sure you are “filling your well.”  It’s what restores your energy, rather than depleting it, she said.  That makes sense.  Healthy eating restores my energy and a half pack of Oreo’s doesn’t.  Taking a long walk restores my energy, but an  aerobics class with a loud instructor doesn’t.  But what else is self-care?

As I muse on what it is for me, I guess a starting point is just figuring that out.  Self-care is knowing more granularly what fills your well.  That’s hard to notice when so much of my attention and energy goes to filling Larry’s well, one way or another.   I start thinking of a few activities that don’t qualify as self-care for me:  gardening, cooking, television, golf, or reading the news.

After a lot of thought about things I’ve done and how they’ve made me feel, I made a list:

  • Quiet time alone
  • Being in nature – especially expansive views, big views like oceans and mountains
  • Reading
  • Playing at painting and drawing, including doodling, zentangles, and coloring books (rather than trying to create art)
  • Staying away from social media
  • Friends in small groups, not large gatherings
  • Humor – Larry gave me an Amazon Echo and I love asking Alexa for a joke and smiling while groaning at the corny offerings – “How many alligators does it take to change a lightbulb?”  “One – for him, it’s a snap.”
  • Meditation – this is one we can do together.  I just bring up free guided sessions online, some focused on breathing, some focused on relaxing, others on self compassion  – usually about 20 minutes.  He finds it relaxing, as do I.

Wait!  All these are good activities but I’m thinking maybe real self-care is deeper.  It’s about allowing myself to care about me, that I matter.  When we had a normal relationship, care went both ways.  There was a balance and taking care of me wasn’t taking anything away from him, because he did that.

Not that doing any of those things on my list above would take anything away from him.  Oh, darn.  I’m confused about what I’m trying to say.  It goes back to an earlier post about where’s the me in all of this caregiving?  I know it’s my choice to be a caregiver.  So that’s me.

I need to think about this some more.  To paraphrase the poet Rilke, I may not have the answers but I can hold the questions.


“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” Rainer Maria Rilke