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What is Self-Care? Satisfaction, Relief, & Wonder

In Education, Self-Care by Courtney Archer8 Comments

If you find yourself asking, “What is self-care?” you are not alone. Although awareness of self-care has been on the rise for the last decade, it still is not the easiest concept to grasp. Even if you do have a good basic understanding, it still might be difficult to explain to someone else.

Besides, understanding self-care is one thing–understanding how to do it is another. No one is going to argue against the idea of self-care, but you have probably argued with yourself once or twice about the practice of it.

These arguments usually sound something like, “It would be so nice to read a book, but I have too many things to do,” or, “I could stop at my favorite cupcake place on the way home, but I’d better just go make dinner instead.”

I know I am not the only one who has had these arguments with themselves. The thing is, both of those examples take time. Time is usually where self-care loses the battle against external responsibilities over and over.

Here is a secret though: self-care does not have to take that much time. By the end of this article, you will have a great understanding of what self-care is and some super simple ways to make it part of your life.

Picture of wooden hearts

Image by Ben Kerckx from Pixabay

What is Self-Care?

Self-care is doing things that give you a sense of satisfaction, relief, or wonder. Life is full of all of these things, and you are likely already doing some. We all do self-care to some degree, albeit unconsciously at times.

You may be able to increase your level of self-care without making any serious changes at all. Sometimes all you have to do is to add intention to what you are already doing. Increasing presence and awareness can make all the difference in the world.

By the end of this article, you will have a good idea of what you can do to increase your self-care. We will explore each area of self-care in turn so you can delve into what you are doing already and what you could do differently.

What is Self-Care? Finding a Sense of Satisfaction

Think for a moment about some things that bring you a sense of satisfaction. The things that bring satisfaction are going to be different from one person to the next. For me, some things that bring a sense of satisfaction are knitting, making the perfect batch of oatmeal butterscotch cookies, and finishing an exercise routine.

Some of you might think that those things sound pretty alright, and some of you might think that all three of those things sound like torture. That is okay!

The things that bring me a sense of satisfaction are not necessarily the things that will bring you a sense of satisfaction. However, the things that bring each person satisfaction all fall under the same three categories:

  • finishing a project
  • doing something creative
  • doing something difficult

As you read those bullet points did something you are already doing come to mind? Or something you would like to do? Keep reading and let’s boil it down into something useful, and perhaps even more importantly, something doable.

Finish a Project

Project is a big word–we are going to break this one down. There are big projects like renovating your kitchen or making a quilt, and there are little projects like doing a load of laundry from start to finish or making your bed.

Finishing a big project is always going to bring the most satisfaction, but it is also where we can start to get bogged down. That is why it is important to have some smaller projects in the wings, to keep you accomplishing things.

Making your bed is a quick task with immediate results. It does not require a lot of foreplanning, time, or energy. Or does it?

For people who have chronic illnesses, mental or physical, making a bed might be a pretty intrepid task. That is why we are breaking things down, and why I urge you to consider what I am saying for you.

Something that brings me a sense of satisfaction is putting things away in their proper place. Now, this does not mean that I am terribly organized. But when I have a spot for something to go, and I actually put it back in its spot, it absolutely brings a sense of satisfaction.

Pick a project that fits you. Is there a room that needs to be deep cleaned? Some weeds that need to be relocated?

Find something to do that you can reasonably finish in the next day or so, and do it.

Do Something Creative

If you find yourself scoffing at this one and thinking something like, “Oh, I’m not creative,” do yourself a favor and keep reading. Creating is something that humans are driven to do, albeit maybe not in the ways you might initially think. If you cannot draw to save your life and hate crafting, creating is still for you. It just requires a little more digging.

Another way to think about being creative is to think about making something. Putting Ikea furniture together totally requires creativity! Making a to-do list might seem like more of a project, but it fits under the creative label because you are creating a picture of how you want your day to go.

Another way to create is to learn something new. Learning requires adopting new information in a way that fits into your life and plans. When you learn, whether you are learning a new skill or about a new topic, you are creating the latest version of yourself.

Learning and developing skills is one of the most creative things we do, and both lend to a sense of satisfaction.

Do Something Difficult

What is something that is difficult for you to do, but that when you do it you feel glad and grateful that you did? For me something that absolutely fits under this category is exercise. I will come up with a million and two excuses not to do it, but when I finally exercise I am so proud after!

Putting in 40-hour workweeks is difficult–do not ever let anyone tell you that it is not. And yet some of us work 60 or even 80-hour works. Some of us are parents, a job for which there is no closing time. If you show up for work, if you show up for your children, congratulations, you have done something difficult.

Is there something that you have done that you wish someone would give you a little praise for? That definitely fits in the difficult category!

When you do something difficult, intentionality is a big deal. Knowing your reason for whatever you are doing and keeping it in mind throughout makes it easier to accomplish.

Intention is just as important at the end of doing something difficult as it is throughout the process. When you finish it, give yourself some praise. This is not easy for all of us to do, but sometimes you might be the only person who will acknowledge that you have done something difficult, so do it!

It is not selfish or self-seeking, or silly or egotistic, to recognize when you have done a good job. No one is going to keep better track of your successes than you are. Making a list of the things you are proud of is a great way to care for and recognize yourself.

Photo of triumphant woman. Triumph is a great way to find a sense of satisfaction.

Photo by Skitterphoto from Pexels

What is Self-Care? Finding a Sense of Relief

You know that feeling when you have been holding your breath for a long time and you finally let it go? That is what self-care is like for your emotions. We all need to experience relief sometimes and doing so is a great way to give yourself some self-care.

Some general examples of things you can do to find relief are:

  • taking care of something that has been stressing you out
  • distracting with something fun
  • using patterned breathing

As with satisfaction, the further we drill down into our answers for finding relief, the more helpful those answers will be. So let’s drill down.

Take Care of Something

We all have things that need doing, and some of those things have been waiting an awfully long time to be done. Doing the dishes is something that I tend to put off until they are out of control. They hang over my head like unruly dark clouds until I do them.

But when I finally do? The relief is immense, like a weight has been lifted.

What is something that you have been putting off, that you know will make your life so much better if you just do it? Difficult conversations are something that a lot of people put off for a long time.

Is there a difficult conversation that it would be helpful to have? Or bills that need to be paid? Is a trip to the grocery store standing in the way between you and some relief?

Whatever it is, we all generally have something hanging over us that needs to be taken care of. When you finally do it, even if it is not very enjoyable, the relief afterward will rejuvenate you.


Distraction is a powerful tool and one that is often both overutilized and underutilized. Think about it–you know someone who has distracted their life away through Netflix, video games, books, or internet surfing. Distraction has another name, and that is avoidance.

But yet another name for distraction is relief. Sometimes taking a few moments to check out is a matter of self-preservation!

There is a reason why we withdraw when we get overwhelmed, and it is often because we need a bit of a break. So take one. Just do not let your break take over your life.

When distracting, there are some helpful guidelines you can use to make sure distraction is not becoming avoidance.

  1. Distract with something that will fully occupy your mind. If YouTube is your distraction and you find your mind wandering while you are watching a video, you either need another video that you are more interested in or another form of distraction.
  2. It helps to distract with something that you really enjoy or gain a sense of satisfaction from. (If self-care was a game, this would be the secret level where you use both relief and satisfaction at the same time!)
  3. You can combine distractions. Watching TV does not fully hold my attention, and neither does knitting, but doing both at the same time makes it difficult for me to also think about my problems.
  4. Give yourself some boundaries. If you know that when you start watching YouTube you do not stop, do not use it as a distraction when you have to get things done. It is also okay to give yourself some time limits (i.e. “I am only going to watch one episode, and then I am going to brainstorm some ways to solve my problems”).

When I am really feeling overwhelmed, my go-to distraction is reading. While I have many, many forms of distraction that I enjoy, reading is something that really occupies my mind and takes me to another place.

Figure out what it is for you, and use it. We all need a break sometimes.

Ground Yourself

Hopefully the phrase “Ground Yourself” did not give you bad high school flashbacks–I am talking about the mindfulness kind of grounding, not the “you are never leaving this house again” kind of grounding.

Grounding is all about reconnecting with yourself and your surroundings in the present moment. If you are spending a lot of time in your head, with your thoughts running circles around your mind, it just might be a great time to ground yourself.

Patterned breathing is a great option for this. If you are up for a little in-the-moment practice, count to five as you breathe in and then count to five as you breathe out. Repeat this pattern at least four more times, for a total of five times.

Another excellent way to ground yourself is to get outside. Take a walk and notice the way the muscles in your legs move, the way the soles of your feet press against your shoes and in turn against the sidewalk. Notice if the air is hot or cold, and how it feels against your skin.

Using the senses is one of my favorite ways to ground myself. While I find it difficult to sit through long periods of mindfulness, taking my time while savoring a warm cup of tea or hot chocolate is thoroughly enjoyable. This incorporates the senses of touch, taste, and smell.

The more senses you can incorporate the better. Grounding requires getting out of your head and experiencing the moment, and the more sense you can use the more your thoughts will settle down to a workable level.

Photo of tea and books, both great avenues for self-care.

Photo by Thought Catalog from Pexels

What is Self-Care? Finding a Sense of Wonder

The third mode of self-care is incorporating a sense of wonder into your life. Often when life is at its darkest our sense of wonder is the thing that seems furthest out of reach. Therefore, it is exactly then when finding a sense of wonder can make the biggest difference.

If you are feeling weighed down, if life has lost its luster, then this one is for you. If you have not reached that point but do not want to, this one is for you.

Maintaining a healthy sense of wonder is a guard against the shadows that life sends our way. We are naturally very, very good at noticing the bad things in life. It is a survival skill.

Noticing the good is a survival skill too, it just does not come as naturally sometimes. It is something that needs to be cultivated. Some ways that you can do that are:

  • experiencing something that takes your breath away
  • finding something to be grateful for
  • realizing you are not alone

Like the other skills, incorporating your sense of wonder can be as simple as you can make it. The trick is to break it down into something that is manageable and easy to fit into the life you are already living.

Take Your Breath Away

What inspires you? There is something about a cloudy sunset that takes my breath away every time. At this point in my life, I have seen too many sunsets to count, but they have yet to grow old.

Something else that takes my breath away is when people do something that shows they are thinking about me. Kindness, whether it is expected or unexpected, warms my heart and soothes my soul.

What warms your heart and soothes your soul? Is there a way that you can incorporate it more into your life?

Having grown up in a desert, the sight and sound of rain is another thing that I find soothing and inspiring. However, rain is not something that I can just manufacture at will.

Or is it? There are videos of rain on YouTube, and tracks of rain on Spotify. None of us can control the weather, but we can still access the sound and sight of rain.

Find some things that take your breath away, and when they come along, take the time to appreciate them.

Utilize Gratitude

Gratitude is one of the most powerful, most underrated forms of self-care out there. Think about it–how easy is it to notice when something is going poorly? To see the things that are wrong and not what they should be?

Being able to see what is going wrong is an important skill–if we cannot find the flaw then we cannot fix it. But if we cannot see anything good, why would we want to fix the bad?

Finding the good gives us the motivation to keep going, to appreciate the life we have and the things we are able to do with it. Utilizing a simple gratitude practice forces your brain to start acknowledging the good alongside the bad. It trains your mind to notice that everything is not awful all the time.

Being grateful is not ignoring the bad–it is not going to fix all of your problems. But it will make you much more capable of addressing them without becoming quite so overwhelmed.

Realize You Are Not Alone

One of the worst feelings is that of being alone. It is incredibly isolating to feel like no one understands and that you are the only person experiencing what you are experiencing.

While there may not be anyone else who has exactly gone through your experiences, you are much less alone than you might think. Everyone wants to succeed and feels disappointed when they do not. And not everyone succeeds every time, or even most of the time.

Everyone wants to be loved. We all want to be important to the people who are important to us–to feel worthwhile and cared for. If you are experiencing heartbreak or loneliness, you are not alone.

You are not the only person who has a goal that seems out of reach. It is good to set some lofty goals that take a lot of work; they are the most rewarding when you achieve them. And you are not the only person who has set a lofty goal that has proved to be unattainable.

Wanting to be loved, wanting to succeed, wanting to dream and work towards something great–none of these things are bad! But when we do not quite reach these desires, sometimes we tell ourselves that it is because we are bad. Because we were stupid or crazy to dream and love and try.

You are not stupid or crazy. And you are not alone.

Self-Care Dos and Don’ts

Alright, so we have explored different facets of finding a sense of satisfaction, relief, and wonder. Hopefully, you are not feeling overwhelmed, but it is understandable if you are because that was a lot of information there! To make things a little less overwhelming, I have some general tips and guidelines to make things easier.

Do keep stock of the things you are already doing that you could add some intention to in order to turn them into self-care. If you are already getting some form of exercise, add the intention of doing something good for your health and your body. Voila! You are now doing self-care!

Do include small bits of self-care in your day. If you wear lotion, try putting it on mindfully at least once a day, noticing how it feels and smells as you rub it into your skin. You do not have to do it intentionally, but try doing it at least once a day for a little bit of grounding.

Do self-care because you love yourself, not because you hate yourself. If you exercise because you hate your body, change your intention. Your body does so many amazing, wonderful things for you. Exercise because you want to make your body stronger or more capable, not because you hate it for the things it cannot do or the way it looks.

Don’t make self-care bigger than it needs to be. If adding self-care to your life makes you feel more overwhelmed instead of less, start smaller. It does not need to take a lot of time or effort, it just needs to make you care for yourself a little more.

Don’t feel like your self-care has to look like someone else’s self-care. If taking a bubble bath relaxes you and makes you feel better about your life, do it. If it makes you anxious about all the things you should be doing instead, maybe try to be more mindful about it, or maybe just do not do it.

Do what makes sense for you. Your self-care is your self-care.

Photo of man at the beach with an umbrella.

Photo by Nihat from Pexels

What Does Self-Care Look Like for Me?

By now you know that self-care looks different for everyone, and that is also absolutely important for everyone to do. To figure out what it looks like for you, first you have to take a look at yourself and your life.

Are you here because you are overwhelmed? If so, start small with little things that will not take much time or that you are already doing. Self-care is meant to reduce stress, not increase it.

Are you here because you have lost touch with yourself and need to recenter and realign? If so, ask yourself what parts of yourself you feel most out of touch with, and then decide which facet of self-care most closely aligns with it. Choose something in that facet to focus on and then do it.

Figuring out what self-care looks like for you is also a matter of figuring out what barriers you run into. For men, a sense of wonder might be difficult because of the emotionality of it. For women, a sense of satisfaction might be difficult because of the “selfishness” of it.

Again, it is not actually selfish, but it absolutely feels that way sometimes!

For someone who identifies as LGBTQ, feeling a sense of community, of not being alone, might be difficult because of cultural and societal attitudes and behaviors. A person with a physical or mental limitation or disease may have trouble finding a sense of relief due to the neverending challenges of chronic illnesses.

Who are you and what are some of the challenges you face? What are some of the ways that life makes it difficult to like and care for yourself?

Figure out which aspect of self-care is missing, and start there.

How Do I Find the Time?

First and foremost, you are going to have to convince yourself that self-care is not selfish. You are never going to make self-care a regular, sustained practice if every time you do it you beat yourself up for it. Eating is not selfish, sleeping is not selfish, self-care is not selfish.

Everyone wants to be happy. You are not alone in wanting to improve your life. Self-care is a great method to increase your quality of life and overall life satisfaction, and it really does not have to take much time.

If you have made it this far in this article and are still thinking that self-care is going to be a waste of time, go back to the Dos and Don’ts section, and re-read that first Don’t. Don’t make self-care bigger than it needs to be!

Find the area of your life that needs the most bolstering and start there. Do not go making a great big project out of it, just pick one thing and start doing it.

Start. Just start.

Photo of woman in nature.

Photo by VisionPic .net from Pexels

Quick Self-Care Ideas

Keeping starting with one thing in mind, here are some quick self-care ideas in each area to get your mind going. And seriously people, only pick one. Maybe two if you are really gung-ho about all of this, but one is absolutely enough.

Satisfaction Ideas

Projects You Could Finish

  • Cross something off your to-do list. Find the thing that is easiest to do and do it. It does not have to be a big thing to be important and make a difference.
  • Finish reading a book. Have a book that you have been reading forever and just cannot seem to get through. If it is actually worth your time to read, set aside a few minutes each day when you can read it.
  • Throw out a bag of trash. Go through your home with a little shopping bag and fill it with trash. There is something satisfying about getting rid of some clutter.

Creative Things You Could Do

  • Listen to a podcast. If you have a long commute or any long tasks that do not require a lot of focus, try listening to a podcast while you drive or work. You will learn new things without taking any extra time with learning.
    • Remember, if you are already doing this, perfect! Just add intention to it. You are doing it because you want to learn, because you want to add that element of creativity to your life.
  • Get a pen in a color you like. If you have to take notes, use a colored pen to do it. You are still doing the same thing, but making it your favorite color adds an element of enjoyment and creativity that was not there before.
  • Make a new recipe for dinner. You have to eat anyway, and making something new is a great way to both learn and explore new things. It does not even have to be “new” new, just something you have not eaten in a while.
    • Keep in mind that if your go-to is ramen, you probably should not replace it with a five-course meal. But there are all kinds of quick recipes online. You could even look up ramen recipes so that you are just changing it a little but still adding more creativity than usual.
    • Fun fact: my mom made this thing called a ramen salad when we were kids that is absurdly easy to make. You just crunch up a few packages of dry ramen into little pieces, add some canned green beans and canned black olives, and dump on some Italian dressing. It was dang good, and took hardly any time at all!

Difficult Things You Could Do

  • Exercise. You probably saw this one coming. The thing is, you can go for a walk around the block, or do a few situps every day before you shower. Exercise does not have to be a big deal.
  • Drink enough water. It does not seem hard until you set an intention to do it, and then it seems like everything gets in the way of drinking enough water. But you have to drink water, so why not try to make it an adequate amount?
  • Say something nice to someone you do not like or who has been unkind to you. Nobody loves everybody; we all have people who annoy us, make us uncomfortable, or we just prefer not to spend time with. You do not have to spend time with them, but you can say something kind to them.
    • Now, I am absolutely not saying to go track down someone who has been abusive to you and say something kind to them. It is not taking care of yourself to bring those kinds of people into your life.

Relief Ideas

Things You Could Take Care Of

  • Set boundaries. We all need them, both for the people we love and the people we do not. If someone is doing something that makes your life harder, set a boundary with them.
    • Something as simple as saying, “I am sorry, I just do not have time for that,” is an excellent boundary to set.
  • Plan what you are going to eat tomorrow. Just knowing what you are going to eat so you do not have to stress about it throughout the day can make a big difference.
  • Figure out what is stressing you out. Sometimes all we know is that we are stressed and do not take the time to really think about what is causing it. Give yourself some time to think about it and figure it out so that you can do something about it.

Ways You Could Distract Yourself

  • Listen to your favorite song. Choose one you know all the words to, and sing along. Play it a couple of times if you are having a hard time getting out of your head.
  • Read a chapter of a good book. It is hard to read and do something else at the same time, making it a great tool for distraction.
  • Talk to a friend. When we talk to others it takes some of the focus away from ourselves. Invest yourself in the conversation and really listen to them for a bit.

Ways You Could Ground Yourself

  • Eat something mindfully. If you can, choose something flavorful like an orange or chips and salsa. Really immerse yourself in the taste, texture, and experience of it.
  • Go outside for a few seconds. Feel the outside air on your skin and notice the way you respond to it.
  • Take a deep breath. And then another, and another. Breathing is something we all do no matter where we are. Whether you are in a tense meeting or have just received difficult news, take some deep breaths to steady yourself.

Wonder Ideas

Things That Will Take Your Breath Away

  • Find something beautiful. Whether it is a bright color of paint on the wall, the window’s view to the outside world, or the picture of your family on your desk. there is always beauty to be found. Sometimes we have to place it there ourselves. If you have to work in a dreadful environment, put something in your work area to remind you that there are good things too.
  • Remind yourself of someone who inspires you. Aside from the several family members who inspire me, a person who inspires me very much is Viktor Frankl. He accomplished amazing things despite the heartwrenching challenges he faced. Thinking of him gives me some courage to face my own challenges.
  • Light a scented candle. It brings light, warmth, and a comforting scent all at the same time.

Ways to Utilize Gratitude

  • Write it down. I do not care if you use an adorable notebook or a sticky note. Before you go to bed each night, write down one thing that happened that day that you are grateful for. If you want to take it a step further, write down why you were grateful for it.
  • Tell someone. If someone does something that makes you feel good, make it a point to tell them so.
  • Send a thank-you note. It does not need to be wordy or inspiring, sometimes it just needs to be said. Think of someone in your life who you are grateful for, and send them a note telling them so.

Ways to Remind Yourself That You are Not Alone

  • Boil your experience down into an emotion. Are you feeling sad? Happy? Lonely? Figure out what you are feeling, and then tell yourself that you are not the only one who has ever felt that way.
    • It can also help to make a list of other people who you know have felt this way.
  • Do something for someone else. It is hard to feel alone when you are thinking about and doing something for someone else. Deliver some cookies (store-bought is fine!) or pull some weeds from their grass as you pass by on your walk. There are all kinds of ways to help others.
  • Hug someone who loves you. There is nothing quite like some human contact to help you feel less alone and to remind you that you are loved.
Photo of a heart and a card that says "enjoy the little things," an important reminder when considering what is self-care.

Photo by Ylanite Koppens from Pexels

You Got This

Way to take care of yourself by reading this article! The first step in doing anything is realizing that something must be done.

My best advice at this point is to write the thoughts this article has generated down. Type them in your computer or phone, write them in a notebook, or print and use this worksheet that I created to help organize things.

Whatever you use, best of luck to you. Let me know in the comments what was helpful, and what strategies you use for self-care. You got this!


  1. Very good post about self care. Nicely written and highly informative. Keep up the good work.

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