Self-care: more than just a buzzword or marketing ploy?

By Mulesa

Photo by Jared Rice on Unsplash

What does self-care mean to you? Nowadays it feels like the term is thrown around with little thought as to what it means exactly. Self-care has become synonymous with bubble baths, marathon shopping sprees and stuffing your face with decadent baked goodies while binging on your favourite Netflix shows, but it can be so much more meaningful than that. In her enlightening and moving TedxCrenshaw Talk on the subject matter, public health specialist, Portia Jackson-Preston, discusses the missing ingredient from self-care as we understand it today. This was the inspiration behind my skill share on self-care.

According to senior research editor at, John Kelly, use of the term ‘self-care’ is recorded as early as the mid-1500s when it was used as a synonym for self-interest or self-regard. Between the mid-1800s and early 1900s, self-care came to mean caring for one’s health and wellbeing in a more religious context. With the rise of self-help culture from the late 20th century onward we understood self-care to mean something slightly different. Kelly says it now refers to, “something specific that does not take too much time and allows us to exercise small forms of control over a world that can feel fast-changing and dominated by chaos.” Covid-19 has certainly added to much of the uncertainty, fear and anxiety we are all experiencing at present. A regular self-care routine can help reduce that anxiety by giving us something to make sense of the disorder.

Far from binging on Netflix shows ‘til the wee hours of the morning, overindulging in junk food, isolating yourself or going on a wild spending spree in the name of “retail therapy”, self-care is supposed to enrich your life experience, improve your health and keep up your mental strength. This can be achieved through things like regular exercise, eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep every night, praying and meditating and more. Self-care also looks like setting firm boundaries so as not to overburden yourself with the problems of others, unfollowing or muting social media accounts that make you feel bad about yourself, taking regular digital detoxes, speaking kindly about yourself and engaging in introspection. Fundamentally, self-care entails attending to your human needs (not wants) and creating equilibrium between your mind, body and soul.

I gathered from Jackson-Preston’s Ted Talk that self-care is a health issue as well as a strategy for survival. However, it is still very much focused on the individual – an individual who has the luxury of time and money to access self-care resources. The nationwide lockdowns brought on by Covid-19 we have seen across the world further illustrated this point. It’s become clear that access to webinars, therapists or online gym memberships are reserved for an elite few only. Jackson-Preston advocates for communal self-care. I think this “we’re all in this together” outlook is a brilliant way to look at it because that would ensure that self-care is something we can all carry out for the sake of our health and well-being. Self-care should belong to everyone in both theory and in practice. She says this can be achieved through a multi-level approach to self-care to make it practical enough to fit into our busy work schedules, holistic enough so as not to be too restrictive and inclusive enough to be practiced by all people regardless of economic status. I think her communal idea speaks to the very essence of self-care – taking care of ourselves for the sake of taking care of ourselves and for the advancement of humanity as a whole.