Myth-busting: What Does Self-Care Actually Look Like?

It might all look like bath bombs and chardonnay online, but real self-care takes a bit more work.

You’ve seen the articles and memes promoting self-care: take a bath, have a drink, get your nails done. Ultimately, much of the mythos surrounding the concept seems to point to one central thesis: treating yourself is equivalent to caring for yourself. Unfortunately, this limited look at taking care of number one can end up being more of an exercise in consumerism than in self-compassion.

Audra Potter is a social worker and therapist on the Inkblot platform who works primarily through CBT, DBT, and resolution therapy. Related to her work teaching people about boundaries, she considers self-care to be a much more active, daily practice than what Instagram might suggest.

“Self-care is about filling our cup,” says Audra.

What is self-care and what is it not?

Sorry to those looking to do right by themselves with something as easy as a bubble bath, but Audra has learned that self-care requires a bit more work than that. “It starts with the consistent choices we make on a daily basis that support a sense of mental well-being,” she says.

That kind of feeling is not about a string of soothing moments that get you from day to day, but about a pattern of deep and honest care for your needs—this is about you consistently showing up for yourself, even when it’s hard. “Self-care is not about the things we do occasionally when we’re feeling low,” says Audra.

Sometimes, that means engaging in an act of self-care – like holding a hard boundary with a loved one – that might not even feel good at all. It’s about the end result, though—your own sense of inner peace and mental health. “It’s not just about getting a massage, having a glass of wine, or holidays,” says Audra.

Ways to Engage in Self-Care

Much as the name suggests, self-care is all about you, and thus it requires a level of self-awareness in order to be most effective. Here are some steps you can take to start your own authentic self-care practice that truly gets to the root of your needs.

  1. Examine Your Choices: The first action you can take is to take a hard look at how you live your life and whether or not it’s making you happy. “It starts with examining the choices we make in our lives and if they support our wellbeing,” says Audra. The key word there is “support”—what choices do you make that actively hold you up? What choices hold you back from being your best self? Take an inventory. “The quality of our habits make up the way we care for ourselves.”
  2. Get Clear on Your Values: Once you’ve taken a look at your choices, consider determining your own personal values so you can see if they align or not. “A lot of people aren’t familiar with their values,” says Audra, who suggests searching online for values lists or activities to get started on clarifying them for yourself. “Once you have those values, that’s where you start—how do I start making space for some of these?” She suggests picking three to start and then making some goals in line with those values. “The more you can make choices that align with your values, the more satisfied in your life you’ll feel.”
  3. Prioritize Your Time: One very useful act of self-care can be the simple act of saying no. “We only have so much time in the day so we’re not going to be able to give our energy and space to everything that comes across our path,” says Audra. Carefully consider what you want to spend your time and energy on, and don’t waste that precious time feeling guilty for turning down events or asks. You can also take stock of how you spend your time—how long do you scroll on social media, or watch TV? “What are the things I’m filling my time with on a daily basis, and are they causing me to feel like I need self care?” asks Audra. “That’s a clue I need to really cut back on my consumption of these activities.”
  4. Practice Mindfulness: Being present is a great way to tie all of these steps together and start to live in step with your needs as you experience them. “Mindfulness and living consciously are really connected to self-esteem, which allows you to practice self-assertiveness,” says Audra. Cyclically, the more you practice asking for what you want, the more confident you’ll feel in doing so.

Why is self-care important (especially right now)?

“The pandemic has stripped a lot of us of the regular things we would do to fill our cups,” says Audra. Time with friends, travel, live music—none of this has been possible in the past year or more. “The only thing you can do is get creative about reestablishing some activities within your means.”

Being creative about living your values and taking time for yourself can be an affirming act—it’s an investment in yourself, which will only help to bolster your new routine of self-care.

Maybe, for you, that does mean a bath, and that’s OK—so long as you also work to serve your needs in other ways, even when it’s a little less luxurious. “Real, good quality self-care is built up of the choices we make on a regular basis—the good habits, and those things we can do in the moment,” says Audra.

“We need both.”


Audra Potter

Audra Potter is a clinical social worker and therapist based in Calgary, Alberta. She holds a Masters of Social Work from the University of Calgary and a Masters in Counseling Psychology from Yorkville University. Her areas of focus include working with adults experiencing mental health concerns such as depression, anxiety, trauma, phobias, borderline personality disorder, transitions, relationship issues; loss and grief; and learning to adopt more effective habits and coping in life. Her approach includes using dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), strengths-based and narrative influences and the use of accelerated resolution therapy (ART). You can begin working with her by using her Inkblot Referral Code: AUDRAP