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What Is the Best Way to Practice Self-Care?

How to tend to yourself with love.

Key points

  • The traditional ways we try to care for ourselves may not work if we approach them with the wrong attitude.
  • An attitude of self-compassion, rather than anything we "do" in particular, is necessary for self-care.
  • Self-compassion involves mindfulness, common humanity, and self-kindness.

What do you think of when you hear the term “self-care?”

I picture eating a sweet treat while drinking wine in a bubble bath.

Bubble baths, wine, and desserts can most definitely be forms of self-care. I think we all can relate when I say what appears to be self-care can sometimes be just the opposite. Eating too much sugar. Drinking too much wine. Filling up the tub as a way of escaping and avoiding our problems. That’s not self-care; it could take on the form of self-sabotage.

What makes the difference is our attitude toward ourselves. The essence of self-care is a gentle, kind, compassionate, and even loving approach toward ourselves.

New research by Kristin Neff, Ph.D., examines the beneficial effects of self-compassion, the ultimate of self-care. Self-compassion is linked to better mental health, weight loss (Mantzios & Egan, 2017), and better body image (Rahimi-Ardabili et al., 2018). Individuals who are self-compassionate practice common humanity, self-kindness, and mindfulness.

Common humanity vs. isolation

When you're going through a particularly hard time, do you feel you are the only one suffering? We can all fall into this trap. But the truth is, life is tough for us all; we all experience pain. When we go through tough times, we connect with others and the common experience of all humans.

Self-kindness vs. self-judgment

When you are facing challenges, you already have it rough. Why add to it with harsh self-judgment? Try speaking to yourself like a crying child, with nurturance and a loving heart. Replace self-critical words with self-talk that recognizes how hard you are trying and encourages you to keep working at growth rather than assuming you should already be perfect.

Mindfulness vs. over-identification

We all deny our emotions. We might feel that it’s just too painful to face them. When we learn to master common humanity and self-kindness, we don’t have to run away from our emotions. We can sit with them and be fully present with them, opening up to how we really feel instead of avoiding or believing that we are our emotions (or over-identifying with them).

Practicing mindfulness while connecting to common humanity and self-kindness can be as simple as saying a sequence of phrases to ourselves. Try this when you need some self-care:

  • Mindfulness. “I am having a hard time right now."
  • Common humanity. "Many people are experiencing similar feelings, and we all suffer in life."
  • Self-kindness. "I offer myself kindness and love in this moment.”

It is not what we do to care for ourselves but how we care for ourselves when we do what we do that really makes self-care. Your attitude toward yourself can make that chocolate even sweeter, that wine even buzzier, that bubble bath even warmer. Just practice a little self-love.


For more, I recommend Kristen Neff's book Self Compassion

Mantzios, M., & Egan, H. H. (2017). On the role of self-compassion and self-kindness in weight regulation and health behavior change. Frontiers in psychology, 8, 229.

Rahimi-Ardabili, H., Reynolds, R., Vartanian, L. R., McLeod, L. V. D., & Zwar, N. (2018). A systematic review of the efficacy of interventions that aim to increase self-compassion on nutrition habits, eating behaviours, body weight and body image. Mindfulness, 9(2), 388-400.

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