Wait, Is Self-Care Actually A Scam? Here’s How To Suss Out Your Me-Time Practices

Is anyone else still suffering withdrawal since the finale of Nine Perfect Strangers? I don’t even consider myself a TV buff, as I’m notoriously inept at sitting still, but this show had more than just a “strange effect on me” (as the theme song eerily chants) — it sucked me in like an inescapable vortex, and now I feel somewhat bereft.

From the ensemble cast’s melodramatic acting to Bobby Cannavale’s dreamy puppy-dog eyes, everything about the miniseries captivated me from start to finish. But perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the show was its mysterious premise, in which nine broken strangers, each with their own emotional baggage, checked into a luxurious, 10-day “wellness retreat” to chase their dreams of personal transformation, guided by the healing practices of an ethereal Russian guru.

Sounds like science fiction, right? Actually, it turns out that Tranquillum House — the exquisite, seaside resort where the story takes place — is based on a real-life retreat in Australia. The enigmatic resort, nestled in the coastal town of Byron Bay, is called Soma, and its advanced meditation practices are “aimed at rejuvenating your body-mind and expanding your consciousness.”

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According to its website, Soma’s partnering founders and teacher-practitioners strive to “make meditation and mindfulness accessible to all.” Sounds nice and zen so far. But as I continued down the rabbit hole and curiously clicked the link to book a retreat, my fleeting little fantasy was shattered: “Accessible,” apparently, means starting from $2,500 for a three-day stay.


Soma isn’t the only so-called “wellness resort” out there. These magical getaways that lure in stressed-out travelers with promises of consciousness expansion, mindfulness mastery, and whatever other New Age practices it takes to make a person whole again are so common that there’s a whole industry built around them. It’s called “wellness tourism,” and it’s already a $639 billion industry.

Destination Self-Care, some people are calling it. But it’s not just across-the-world escapism that has appropriated the “self-care” label. Self-care, in itself, has boomed into a $450 billion industry since becoming the latest millennial/Gen-Z craze on the Internet. It may as well be synonymous with consumerism, because social media posts using the hashtag #selfcare are so often touting some type of product for self care. There’s self-care skincare, which typically requires an assortment of facial creams; self-care candles, which promise the aromatic ingredients are crucial to the desired calming effect; even self-care massage gadgets, most of which look like sex toys but apparently do everything from correcting your posture to improving microcirculation (huh?). Oh yeah, and let’s not forget self-care detoxing, because your liver surely can’t break down toxins on its own (sarcastic eye roll).

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Are we really that broken to so readily hand over our wallets? Does self-care truly require that much commercialized indulgence?

The Real Meaning Of Self-Care

Spoiler alert: No! The concept of self-care has been around way longer than social media influencers — and product peddlers — would have you believe. In fact, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the first known use of the phrase was in 1841, and it simply means “care for oneself.” I’ll admit, that definition is a bit vague, so let’s look at the arguably more reputable Oxford English Dictionary, which defines self-care as “the practice of activities that are necessary to sustain life and health, normally initiated and carried out by the individual for him- or herself.”

Initiated and carried out by the individual herself, not by some kind of hyped-up product.

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I’ve done some graduate work in psychology, and I’ll tell you this: in the field of mental health counseling, the concept of self-care carries a lot of weight, because it’s an important part of not burning out if you spend your days devoted to other people’s problems.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), self-care is defined as “providing adequate attention to one’s own physical and psychological wellness,” and it’s even regarded as an “ethical imperative.” Basically, to quote an oft-cited cliche, you have to put on your own mask first before you help others put on their masks (and no, I’m not referring to facial masks.)

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How To Practice Self-Care

Basically, there are four main dimensions of self-care: physical (the body), mental (the mind), emotional (the heart), and spiritual (the soul). Some mental health practitioners like to break down these types of self care even further, and you can get really nitty-gritty with the subdomains, but let’s keep it simple for now. 

Physical Self-Care

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Practicing physical self-care just means engaging in activities that nourish the body. So often when we’re stressed, we resort to the opposite: adopting unhealthy coping mechanisms that meet the criteria for less-obvious forms of self-harm, like mindlessly binge-eating our favorite potato chips or Ben & Jerry’s flavor of the month (mm, Peanut Butter Half-Baked). Then we feel like crap afterwards, especially because we’re so bloated we can’t move off the couch. This can easily devolve into a shame spiral, where we chastise ourselves for being fat and lazy, and the act of self-shaming causes our bodies to produce more damaging stress hormones. It’s an awful catch-22, because then we become even more overwhelmed, so we repeat the cycle and feel even worse.

Don’t do that! Instead, engage in physical practices that heal the body, leading to feelings of rejuvenation:

  • Exercise. You don’t have to splurge on a gym membership or commit to an all-out sweat session at your local Zumba class. Even walking is one of the best workouts you can do for your body and mind, and you’ll be rewarded with improved health, better sleep, and endorphins that alleviate stress

  • Take a nap. Sleep is one of the first habits to go when we’re feeling stressed out and overworked — but it’s so important to our daily functioning. Even if you can’t carve out time in your schedule for a full eight hours per night, curling up under your favorite blanket for a quick power nap can help you feel more rested.

  • Take a bubble bath. You don’t have to splurge on fancy soaps and lotions for this one. Just immersing yourself in warm water as a reward for your hard work can convey physiological health benefits like increased blood flow. Plus, it feels so good.

Mental Self-Care

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To practice mental self-care, focus on activities that declutter and soothe your mind. Easier said than done, right? We’re a culture of worriers, so much so that some psychologists have cited an all-out worry epidemic. Whether you can’t stop thinking about your work deadlines, or you’re totally stressing out about finances (maybe because you’ve bought in too much to self-care commercialism), it’s important to give yourself a mental break before you suffer a mental breakdown. Here are a few ideas:

  • Read a book. Romance novels? True crime mysteries? Whichever genre piques your fancy, sometimes the best way to refocus your mind is to curl up on the couch with a good book. Plus, reading regularly can strengthen your brain.

  • Go on a digital detox. You don’t need to invest in pricey detoxifying smoothies for this one. The social media revolution has turned many of us into dopamine junkies, terrified to turn off our smartphones because we’re ceaselessly craving that next hit. Over time, this can lead to depression and, you guessed it, more stress. If this sounds like you, it may be time to step away for a bit and get comfy being alone with your own thoughts.

  • Learn a new skill. There has to be a project on your near-future bucket list that you’ve been putting off for months, maybe even years, because there’s never enough time to fit it in. But investing time into learning a new skill — whether you’ve always wanted to play an instrument, knit a sweater, or dominate the dance floor — can be a good respite for your brain, increase productivity in the long run, and boost your overall confidence, too.

Emotional Self-Care

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Understanding emotional self-care can seem a bit tricker, because, let’s face it: as a society, we’re not all that comfortable around emotions. We have plenty of adjectives to describe those outliers who express their emotions freely: melodramatic, hysterical, flamboyant, over-the-top…none of these terms is exactly a compliment. But being able to express all types of feelings authentically, even the negative ones, is an important part of self-care that contributes to our emotional well-being. Conversely, stifling our emotions can be bad for our overall health.

Here are a few ways you can practice emotional self-care:

  • Journal. Even if you don’t consider yourself a gifted writer, putting your innermost feelings to paper can be more cathartic than you’ve realized. Studies show that expressive writing like journaling, even a handful of times for 15 to 20 minutes a day, can reduce stress, boost your mood, and help your brain regulate emotions.

  • Practice gratitude. Like “self-care,” “gratitude” has become a buzzword these days, but there really is some science behind it. Practicing gratitude simply means acknowledging the positives in life, and consciously doing just that — even if you’re only making a quick mental note — can, in turn, increase positive emotions.

  • Set boundaries. This one is so important! Life is hectic enough as it is, without feeling pressured to accept every social invitation just because it coincides with your time off from work. It’s perfectly acceptable to say “no” to others because you need a little “me time” to recharge.

 Spiritual Self-Care

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Don’t confuse spiritual self-care with religion. Of course, studying the Bible or your sacred text of choice can count as this kind of practice, but essentially, spiritual self-care just means furthering the connection with your higher self — finding your inner purpose and doing what makes you authentically you (your “soul”). This can also take the form of connecting with your surroundings in nature or your community.

Not sure where to start with this one? Try these approaches:

  • Meditate. You knew this would be on the list eventually, right? As you’ll quickly learn from researching those lavish wellness retreats, there are about a gazillion different forms of meditation — and the ones with the most difficult-to-pronounce names are often lauded as the most advanced techniques. But don’t worry about becoming a master practitioner. Even practicing the simplest form of meditation, sitting quietly still and focusing on your breath, can guide you into inner peace.

  • Try yoga. As a form of movement, yoga definitely overlaps with physical self-care, especially if you’re using it as exercise. But yoga is often celebrated as a spiritual journey, too, because the flow sequence can help you achieve grounding, clarity, and higher self-awareness. And you don’t have to shell out money for a fancy yoga class, either; virtual studios like Yoga With Adriene and Floating Yoga School (whom we recently did a collab with) offer free videos to achieve just about any desired mind-and-body effect.

  • Volunteer. Not only can volunteer work help you feel connected to your community, but many people find it gives them a sense of spiritual satisfaction. The selflessness of volunteerism builds empathy, reinforces purpose, and provides healing to self and others. Whether you feel most fulfilled doing service work at a church, feeding the hungry at a soup kitchen, tutoring underserved children, or cleaning up trails to connect with nature, there are plenty of opportunities to find your altruistic calling. Just remember that like anything else, volunteer work can become grueling and time consuming — so don’t forget to nurture your whole person and exercise the other types of self-care, too. (Your body, mind, heart, and soul will thank you.)


What types of self-care make you feel happier and healthier? Share your tips in the comments!

For More Articles On The Different Types Of Self Care, Read These:

These 6 Practices Will Give You Your Best Self-Care Sunday Ever

Are You Neglecting Your Most Important Relationship? Here’s How & Why To Date Yourself

These 15 Self Love Affirmations Will Remind You To Care For Yourself

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