Self-care is a term that is thrown around a lot, by therapists, friends, doctors, social media, etc. But what does it really mean? Does it mean going to get a massage or buying bath bombs every week or ordering from your favorite pizza place? Yes.

And also no, it is so much more than that.

What can self-care look like?

Being a psychologist, I am constantly telling my clients that self-care is so important and it is a radical act of self-love that we can take. It is not just about letting yourself enjoy a good meal or going for a walk in nature. It is about setting boundaries in relationships, not tolerating disrespect from loved ones, speaking up for your needs and wants, not attending the family dinner that would be too emotionally disrupting for you, etc. Self-care is about the tiny (and yet really big) choices we make on a daily basis that show ourselves love.

There are many tangible ways we can take care of ourselves: going to a workout class, buying a piece of clothing that we have been eyeing and makes us feel gorgeous in, watching Netflix and going to bed at 8 pm on a Friday because your body needs rest, putting on a facemask…you get the point. There are also so many other ways we can take care of ourselves that have a far more lasting impact on our well-being.

We can take care of ourselves by how we are speaking and encouraging ourselves. Acknowledging that inner critic and gently telling him or her to go away, you are not interested in anything but self-love. We can take care of ourselves by expressing needs in a relationship, unfollowing the accounts online that cause you stress or self-doubt or finally putting up a boundary with an energy draining friend. Self-care is about giving yourself what you have always needed, emotionally, spiritually, physically. Self-care is about doing the healing work, even when it is uncomfortable. It is about getting back up after falling down.

So how do you start to practice this kind of self-care?

One way is to check in with yourself about what you are needing. Ask yourself, “how am I feeling right now in this moment?” And intuitively, you’ll know. Take it one step at a time, take inventory of the ways in which you are showing yourself love and care. Keep doing what is working, try something new if in need of a self-care boost and as always, be gentle with yourself.

And of course, eat cake for breakfast, buy your favorite scented candle, go out dancing with friends or stay in and watch Friends reruns. If you define what self-care means to YOU, and every day check in with yourself about what you are doing to support that, your life will change.