Gua sha or going to therapy: how to actually practice self-care

Illustration by Sydney Smith

#SelfCare has 52.3 billion views on TikTok and 76 million posts on Instagram, as of Sept.1, 2023. As a major topic of discussion on social media, as well as in the mental health field, it is critical that people wanting to practice self-care genuinely understand what the term means and how to actually apply it to their lives. 

Since the term “self-care” was coined in the 1950s, the concept has taken on a different meaning from its original definition. According to the National Library of Medicine, the term was originally used by mental health professionals and various social movements, referring to one’s personal participation in their own wellness. 

As time has passed, the concept of self-care has veered away from its true meaning — taking real action to improve one’s mental and physical health — and in many peoples’ minds has become synonymous with buying various products that claim to better the consumer. 

“Treat yourself” is a common phrase in the self-care industry, and while there is certainly a benefit to putting yourself first, this phrase is often in reference to spending money excessively in an effort to feel better. 

External “wellness” has become the priority for many, and many companies claim to sell this wellness in an aesthetically packaged product. It’s easy to tell yourself that buying this gua sha tool or that red light therapy mask will make you feel better, and spending money on new products is often significantly less work than addressing the real underlying issues that lead to unhappiness and low self-esteem. 

When there are so many underlying mental health problems in society today, a face mask or a bath bomb can only do so much. While buying and using these products can be fun and instantly gratifying, to be truly effective, self-care must be rooted in taking actual action toward long-term health and well-being. 

The Oxford Dictionary defines self-care as “the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one’s own health”. While this may seem vague or even daunting, there are actions every person can take to work to truly practice self-care and work toward their well-being. 

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), actual self-care practices include getting regular exercise, nourishing the body with food, prioritizing sleep, connecting with others and working towards a more positive mindset. 

The NIMH goes on to tell readers that “self-care can help you manage stress, lower your risk of illness, and increase your energy”. Unlike taking a bubble bath or getting your nails done — which might help you feel better in the moment — doing the hard work of actual self-care has long-term, incredibly beneficial effects. 

For most people, it is far less daunting to go shop at Lush or Amazon for products they are told will make them happier than to truly address their issues. In a consumer-oriented culture, people are encouraged to take the “easy way out” by buying products they truly don’t need and that are often a waste of money and time. 

The Global Self-Care Federation tells readers that practicing self-care can include seeking professional help, correctly taking prescribed medications and self-monitoring. While getting professional help or taking medications can absolutely be a part of true self-care, these methods aren’t accessible or helpful to everyone, and they aren’t the only ways to genuinely take care of yourself. 

Getting higher-quality sleep, practicing gratitude, seeking out valuable relationships and creating other healthy habits are other accessible first steps that people can take to truly practice self-care, rather than buying products that promise happiness and wellness. 

The concept of self-care shouldn’t be rooted in spending money. Instead, to truly become comfortable with themselves and promote their well-being, people need to look inward and address the deeper issues that can’t be solved with a Sunday reset or a 12-step skincare routine.

Leave a Reply