Finding Self-Care

Erin Lynn Nau, PhD, LCSW
4 min readJan 15, 2020

Self-care has been a hot topic recently, especially among social workers. I work on it for myself on a regular basis. I talk about it with my students, my colleagues, and the social workers I supervise.

My definition of self-care is something you do deliberately to reduce stress, burnout, and vicarious trauma; literally, something you do to take care of yourself (physical, emotional, mental self).

Often times when people hear “self-care,” they think about bubble baths and meditation. This type of self-care might be perfect for some people. I am not some people. Bubble baths are not relaxing for me at all, so this is the opposite of self-care. And I am trying to be better about meditating but I am not in a place where I can do it during moments of stress.

This type of one-size-fits-all self-care also assumes a level of privilege that not everyone has. Not everyone lives in a place where they can go for a walk — it might be stressful or unsafe. Not everyone works at a job that they can say, “Give me five minutes so I can do my self-care meditation.” Not everyone has disposable income to go get a manicure. Safety, time and money are things of privilege.

Everyone deserves to assess how they are feeling and make adjustments that will help them feel better. As a social worker, I talk to my students and my colleagues about accessing types of self-care that work for them regularly. I believe there are two types of self-care. Perfect World Self-Care: The type we say we are going to do (working out, cleaning, meditating), that works well when we make time for them. Accessible Self-Care: The type we actually do when we need it (venting, eating junk food, binge-watching television shows, taking a five-minute walk, away from a situation).

My Perfect World Self-Care is traveling, or working out-going for a run, taking a spin class, even going for a long walk. I know this works, it is almost always successful at reducing stress. However, sometimes when I am super stressed or overwhelmed emotionally I cannot stop what I am doing and workout, and I certainly can’t just take off on a moment’s notice.

Understanding this about myself and my work led me to my Accessible Self-Care. When I am at work and I need to take a break and practice self-care I look up and see photos I have taken of my favorite places. Above my computer monitor at work, there is a picture of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (my Duomo), in Florence. Periodically throughout my week I can look up and spend a minute or two in Florence. This also allows me to remind myself that I don’t always feel stressed and overworked. I get to do amazing things and see fabulous places. I guess this is a form of meditation.

Sometimes after an especially stressful day when I get home from work, I just can’t exercise. I need to hang out in Stars Hollow with Lorelei and Rory. Thanks to the various streaming services, I can always hang out with my television friends and feel better. This usually happens with the cuddles of a furbaby. This is another one of my accessible self-care routines. Tiny Dragon Skye crawls into my lap or my side and I have no choice but to get pure love from her.

I know this about my self-care routine because I have tried a lot of things that don’t work (see above bubble baths and meditation). I have also spent time talking about self-care with various people. In fact, recently at a gathering, my co-workers were talking about shopping in brick and mortar shops. One person said this is my self-care. Everyone in the room turned to look it at me. I am happy to be the self-care police. Being the self-care police reminds me that I need to practice what I preach, and lets others know they can talk to me about self-care. I can also be the one who notices that someone is burned out and ask them what they are doing for self-care.

Knowing what works allows you to have access to it when you really need it. I try to work out and meditate on days when self-care is not an emergency so that someday that will be accessible self-care for me. Until then I will continue to spend a few minutes in Florence or Stars Hollow.

The next time someone asks you about your self-care and you think “who has time for self-care?!” Think about what you can do that is accessible right now. Tell me below about what you do for self-care. Let’s create an accessible self-care list. –Officer of the Self-Care Police



Erin Lynn Nau, PhD, LCSW

Feminist. Social Worker. Researcher. I am a PhD candidate whose research focuses on self-worth and early adolescent girls.