What Is Self Care

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Self-care. What a word. It says so much just by itself, but I have found that no two people will define it the same way.

I will be doing a series on self-care and so I will start with the basic understanding of what it is and why we need to know about it.

As I began the research journey, I was at our first annual “Spa for the Soul” event in Washington at a local cancer center. We had invited cancer survivors, patients, and caregivers. In my initial presentation, I asked each one to tell me what self-care meant to them. Here are some of the answers I received:

  • Eating right

  • Nutrition and supplements

  • Exercising

  • Personal education to learn how to get better, feel better, or be better (this one was mentioned three times)

  • Giving yourself permission to do or not do something

  • Putting yourself first

  • Saying no without guilt

  • Being mindful and in the present moment

  • Taking care of you, so that you can care for others

Webster defines self-care as, “The practice of taking action to preserve or improve one’s own health.”

But, the Urban Dictionary’s top definition of self-care was really a head scratcher for me. It said the top definition was, “An umbrella term used to excuse poor financial decisions. For example, why spend monthly on things like rent and bills when you can buy coloring books from Whole Foods or spend $400 going to a spa for much needed self-care.” This is really what it said.

Okay, wow. So, no wonder we don’t know what self-care is. What I have come to realize is that there is no wrong answer because it means something different to each one of us, depending on each person, what they need, and what makes them happy. So, why is it different for each of us?

Turning to science and studies, I found that the information was a little conflicting also. But, I did find some interesting data on culture, generation, and birth order. Here are some of the highlights.


There are deep cultural differences that make an impact on self-care – things we are taught and learn based on our culture. Most of what I found in research were based around time together with loved ones or things that make your heart happy. A few of my favorites were from Sweden and Norway (yes, I am Scandinavian, so bear with me).

Sweden: They like to enjoy coffee with intention. They call it “Fika.” It means slowing down and mindfully taking time out of your day to connect with someone special. For them, self-care is practiced with others.

Norway: I am Norwegian and their self-care tradition is called “Hygge.

” It means well-being, warmth, and goodness in life; spending some quiet time with a good book, a warm bath, a cup of coffee, or even sitting around a fire with friends. Sounds good, doesn’t it?


Some of the older generations were taught that caring for yourself is selfish and that you should always put others first. I know that is how I was raised, and I’m sure some of you can also identify with this thought process. That makes thinking of yourself first a little harder. You have to give yourself permission, focus, and make it a priority in order to make regular self-care happen.


Your birth order also makes a difference. First born children tend to think about others more because they were responsible for helping with siblings and parents as they were growing up. Middle children tend to be people pleasers, always trying to find their place and fit in, so for them it’s a little harder to think about what they need and want. And, the last born or only children in a family tend to get more attention, so thinking about themselves is a little easier and comes more naturally for them.


There is a connection between good self-care and good self-esteem. Caring for and loving ourselves, along with good self-care, means a healthy immune system. Conversely, when we have low self-esteem, science shows that we are at higher risk for alcoholism, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and a distressed immune system that will eventually lead to illness. So, you can see that self-care needs to be a very important part of everyday life.

My definition of self-care is simply self-love. So, how do you do that? Where do you start? I love the way Brené Brown said it: “Start by simply believing you are worthy.” Start believing in yourself today, this very minute. Know that you are enough, you are amazing, and you were created to do something that only you can do.

Think about things that make your heart happy and then fit them into your life each day, intentionally, and enjoy.

Becky Kuehn lives in Seattle, Washington and loves people, animals, and coffee. Kuehn is founder of Oncology Spa Solutions, author of Life Changing Esthetics, and a licensed master aesthetician, cosmetologist, holistic cancer educator, and hope coach. Her journey started at the age of 18 when she was diagnosed with cancer. She had already lost friends and family members to cancer, so she was very familiar with the chaos and trauma associated with diagnosis and loss. As a cancer survivor for over three decades, she has made it her mission to discover and develop ways to turn around the devastating side effects of cancer treatments and return quality of life to those in need. Kuehn is the founder and owner of Oncology Spa Solutions, now the leading oncology training for spa, salon, and medical professionals. She is the author of “Life Changing Esthetics,” and a contributing author in the “Estheticians Guide to Outstanding Esthetics” Vol. I and II. She has been part of the expert judge panel for The Skin Games’ Holistic, Compassionate, and Compromised skin categories, provides advice and education articles for newspapers and industry leading magazines, and is an invited speaker for oncology training at conventions.

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