What is Self-Care?

Self-care is an important practice for anyone, but for those in the helping professions it is essential. According to the University of Buffalo, “self-care refers to activities and practices that we can engage in on a regular basis to reduce stress and maintain and enhance our short- and longer-term health and well-being.”

It is, quite simply, how we care for ourselves.

We can divide self-care into two categories: “maintenance self-care” and “emergency self-care”.

Maintenance Self-Care

Maintenance self-care is all of the things that we do on a regular basis to keep ourselves healthy and enhance our wellbeing. This includes our physical health as well as our emotional and mental health.

The goal of these practices is preventative. They aim to keep us healthy so that we avoid high levels of stress and burnout or compassion fatigue.

Maintenance self-care shouldn’t just be the things you do before and after work or on weekends. How you work, your work schedule and your work environment are all just as important.

Here are some things you may want to consider:


  • Sleep (quality and quantity)
  • Food (quality and quantity)
  • Physical Safety (at work and at home)
  • Exercise
  • Health and Medical Care
  • Workload and Work Hours


  • Setting appropriate boundaries (at work and at home)
  • Meditation and Relaxation Practices
  • Mental Health Care
  • Personal Relationships
  • Professional Relationships
  • Spiritual Needs and Practices

If you’re thinking about creating a self-care plan, a good place to start is to go through the list above and write down all of the things you are already doing well.

Don’t get overwhelmed by the idea that you have to be perfect at everything at once. Part of self-care is accepting who you are and where you are.

If you want to start working on any of the above areas, try reading our post on How to Set and Achieve Your Self-Care Goals.

Emergency Self-Care

Emergency self-care is also often called Self Rescue. These are the things you do on the hardest days. Even if you’re doing a good job at practicing maintenance self-care, the work of helping professionals is full of ups and downs — triumphs and tragedies. There may be days when you reach your limit with stress, sadness or frustration.

Emergency self-care is what’s there to help up on those days. To help us get through the day and recover.

Here are some things to consider:

  • Who can I call or talk to?
  • What helps me relax?
  • What will make me feel worse? (i.e. what should I avoid)
  • What are positive things I can say to myself?

The best thing you can do to tackle these days is to have a plan in place ahead of time. Here is a great worksheet from the University of Buffalo on Creating an Emergency Self-Care Plan.

What do you do to for self-care? Have you created a self-care plan?

About Jessica

Jessica Jacobs is a Licensed Social Worker based in Indianapolis, IN. She is passionate about improving the health and wellbeing of those in the helping professions through better self-care and more sustainable and supportive organizational environments. Jessica has worked in international and domestic disaster response, community mental health, nonprofit management and political advocacy. She can be reached at Jessica@myselfcaremagazine.com.

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