What Self-Care Really Means

Updated: Jan 26, 2021

When I was flying with my family to Disneyland a few years ago, I got a new perspective on the safety schpeal the flight attendant gives. Yada, yada, ok ok. Put the oxygen mask on my kid first. Wait. What? I have to put it on ME first? Oh, right. I can't put theirs on for them if I passed out. But I got to thinking. (I'm crazy about metaphors) How can this apply to other parts of my life?

1: Self-Care is "putting on your own oxygen mask"

At first glance, taking care of yourself first seems selfish. However it only applies to basic needs. You cannot help or serve others--or even make friends--unless your basic needs are met.

This applies to working on your family relationships as well. A person who is emotionally empty has nothing to give. Being emotionally self-reliant is key to making sure you have reserves to get you through. It takes work to make your relationships stronger. That happens in Phase 3.

2: Self-Care is "filling your own bucket"

I like to describe emotional inner strength like a bucket of water. When it's full, you have energy to share. People can't get you down. It's a cushion for any drama that comes your way. You can handle so much more. Stressful day? Easy peasy.

When your bucket is empty, you feel emotionally sensitive. A butterfly could sneeze, and you would melt down. Large amounts of stress can empty your bucket. Dealing with conflict--it dips from your bucket. A series of unfortunate events--yep--they dip from your bucket.

Compliments and success can add to our buckets. But we can't depend on that when our bucket is empty. You have to find things that fill your own bucket.

Today, do one new thing to meet your own needs. Will you learn something new? Will you snuggle your kiddos? Will you make sure you get 8 hours of sleep? Will you choose to serve others? Will you find something to be grateful for?

3: Self-care is meeting your basic needs for life.

The bottom of the pyramid is taking care of your basic needs. You need to meet those needs yourself. No one can do it for you.

Eat enough.

  • Not too much or too little. Control your response to cravings.

Drink water.

  • Drink enough that your pee is clear or almost so.

Sleep enough.

  • Discipline yourself to get to bed at the same time each day and wake at the same time each day. Use the tools you have to get there. Use an alarm on your phone. Try the app Fabulous (not an affiliate) for it helps you establish good routines.

Calm your mind.

  • Being in Phase 1 is survival mode. Take time to be calm. Get in touch with your senses. Learn how mindfulness can help you take back your life from your chaotic thoughts and find peace.

Let your relationships make space for you.

  • Notice that friendship and love are higher-level steps! If you are in Phase 1, then let the higher-level steps wait on standby. Give yourself space to work here. Here are some words you can use to tell those in your circle you aren't ready for more."I feel (x) when (y), Could you please/I need (z)." Example: I feel exhausted when the baby kept me up all night. I need a nap. Another example: I feel anxious since I haven't eaten all day. I need time to go eat. Another: I feel closed-in when everyone wants to talk to me at the same time. I need to hear only one person at a time.

4: Self-care is more than a spa day.


  • Be mindful

  • Create

  • Learn

  • Serve

  • Be curious

  • Problem-solve

  • Take responsibility

  • Be grateful

  • Give

  • Love yourself

“Create your own source of built-in happiness. Walk around as a whole, happy person, needing nothing. Then come from this place of wholeness, of self-reliance and independence, and love others. Not because you want them to love you back, not because you want to be needed, but because loving them is an amazing thing to do.” --Leo Babauta

5: Self-care is setting goals and finding your purpose

Personal development and goal setting keep you from having the life of Bill Murray in "Groundhog Day". When life is surviving each day, you find yourself doing the same thing day in and day out. You're in a rut. Life begins to feel meaningless.

Years ago, I was there. I struggled to get out of bed in the morning. I was depressed, and the meds weren't really helping. I was tired all. the. time. I was a stay at home mom and all the kids were in school all day. Every day looked the same. I barely organized my time to allow activities other than running errands or cleaning the house. My emotional bucket was empty.

Then I got a planner. I hadn't had one in quite a while since I had Google Calendar on my phone. But it made all the difference. I started writing down plans and things I wanted to do, but never had time for. I began to realize that I had let my life become "Groundhog Day". Right away, my depression lifted as I started doing things I enjoy. Each day had a purpose. I began look forward to the next day. Getting out of bed was easier. I felt a freedom I hadn't had in a long time.

So when your circumstances leave you feeling empty, remember these things: Put on your own "oxygen mask" first. Fill your own emotional bucket. Make sure your basic needs are being met. Do more than have a spa day. Set goals for yourself and become a better person each day.

What strategies do you use to refill your bucket when it's running low? Send me a message at strengthenourfamily@gmail.com

This post written by Teresa Jacobs, Personal Development Mentor, Educator, Founder of strengthenourfamily.com

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