Contrary to popular belief, self-care isn’t all bubble baths and manicures: that’s self-soothing. The two terms have become interchangeable in popular culture, and though they’re both necessary for your overall mental health, they’re not the same. We’re here to set the record straight.

Self-care is being mindful of your needs and taking steps to fulfil them. This can include some hard work. When we truly put our self-care first, it means setting boundaries with ourselves and others, making healthy choices over immediately gratifying ones, re-examining our habits and even deconstructing some potentially toxic beliefs. Sounds relaxing, right?

Self-soothing, on the other hand, is a tool we turn to in times of stress. We participate in self-soothing activities when we need to take a break, create some space or re-balance ourselves. Having a bath, making some tea and watching your favourite episode of The Office is a ritual you may partake in to self-soothe.

Self-sootheSelf-care
Eating a favourite treat or snackPlanning healthy meals
Going on a shopping spreeMaking and following a budget
Watching a favourite movie or TV showRegularily attending therapy
Getting lost in a good bookJournaling our feelings
Going out to exerciseGoing out to exercise
Sitting down to mediateSitting down to meditate

In most cases, it comes down to being reactive versus proactive. When we self-soothe, we’re reacting to a stressful situation typically by distracting ourselves from the problem. When we practice self-care, we’re taking a proactive approach to address the root cause of the problem. But as you can see, there are some cases of overlap: you may regularly exercise as a form of self-care, but if you’re facing a stressful situation, going for a run may also be a way to self-soothe.

Practicing both self-care and self-soothing is important. Self-soothing is a way to make ourselves feel better in the moment, and by taking note of the stressors that triggered our self-soothe response, it can open us up to self-care. The trick is to stay mindful of our responses and keep everything in moderation.

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