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Is Self-Care Selfish?

Seven ways to take care of yourself so you can be of service to others.

Relaxing is part of self-care
Source: Ri_Ya/Pixabay

Is taking care of yourself a selfish act? After all, taking care of one’s self may mean deprioritizing others who need or depend upon you. To take a walk, you may need to put an elderly parent or child in the care of another for an hour. Enjoying a soaking bath may require setting firm boundaries that others not bang on the door for a period of thirty minutes. Prioritizing time with a partner might mean setting limits at work. Yet setting limits in order to make time for self-care is perhaps one of the most selfless things you can do, as it provides you the ability to care for others.

Definition of Selfish:

Being selfish means having a lack of consideration for others, or taking from others what is their due for our own pleasure or profit. Being selfish is being concerned chiefly with me. What do I want and how can I get it?

Setting aside time to properly care for our mental, physical, emotional, or spiritual needs is not selfish. On the contrary, creating time for proper self-care is a selfless act. It is the opposite of selfishness to maintain the best condition one can, particularly if it is done to be of service to others.

Acts of Self-Care

Self-care is a term that some have used to describe indulgence. A manicure or a new haircut might feel good, but they are not the foundation of what is meant by self-care. Self-care is a commitment to activities that develop mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health. Sometimes, self-care involves effort.

Seven self-care activities are described below. Making sure you take care of yourself in these ways will help you to feel better, be more productive, and have the opportunity for more fruitful interactions with the people you love.


Getting an appropriate amount of sleep cannot be underestimated in its effect on your health. Without enough sleep, our bodies, including our brains, don’t function properly. Adequate sleep staves off illness and fatigue, allowing you to go through your day alert and attentive. Sleep lets us give our best selves to those who need our support. Seven to nine hours of uninterrupted sleep is optimal. If you have trouble sleeping, talk with your physician about improving your sleep hygiene.


Meditation improves self-regulation, reduces anxiety and stress, and can have health benefits for people who are suffering from everything from cancer to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). With practice, meditation improves mood and can make individuals more patient. Making time for a meditation practice can improve your life on many levels, and it’s an activity that children can learn to participate in and benefit from, too.


Exercise may be the ultimate form of self-care. Regular physical activity improves physical and mental health, mood, sleep, and brain function, may spark libido, and reduces stress. Exercise need not be excessive to be of benefit. Stretching or yoga in the morning or a walk after a meal can have great health benefits.


Eating well gives the body the proper nutrients it needs to be energetic and healthy. Leaving ourselves without time to eat properly, especially relying on quick, processed meals that can be calorie dense and low in nutrients, undermines our health. Put bluntly, if we don’t eat well, we don’t have the resources to have healthy minds and bodies. Modeling appropriate nutrition also plays a role in helping children develop lifelong healthy eating habits. Eating good food together as a family, or with friends, can deepen bonds and build relationships. Remember, drinking adequate amounts of water is part of nutrition too.


Creating time to interact with people who nurture and support you is an important aspect of self-care. Friends, mentors, spiritual advisors, and like-minded others can give you a real boost. Elders often have insight into difficult situations. Sponsors for those in 12-step programs can help one stay centered on activities that are important. Humans are social beings. Taking time to talk with a friend or go for a walk with someone who doesn’t need anything from you can be one way to take care of yourself.


We all need to have fun! It’s appropriate to enjoy watching a movie, playing a board game, surfing, hiking, or playing fetch with your dog. Whether it’s crafting or writing, cooking, or gardening, making time for activities that are important to you will improve your mental health and overall happiness. This aspect of self-care is so important that a whole field of therapy has developed around having fun; it’s called “recreational therapy.”


Rejuvenation or restoration activities are also important for self-care. Whether you take a hot shower, light candles, or get a massage, it’s important to have time simply to relax. Listen to music you enjoy. Walk outdoors. Let your dog or cat curl up in your lap. Eat slowly. Use all your vacation time. Take time away from devices. Restoring your center will make you more patient and able to endure the challenges you face during the course of the day.

Help! I Can’t Do All That.
If you need help prioritizing self-care, you might consider hiring a coach. A life or health coach can help you learn to put yourself and your care first. You can’t be of service to others if you are depleted yourself. Taking care of yourself needs to be a priority if you want to live well and healthy.

More from Constance Scharff Ph.D.
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