Practicing real self care is so important to maintaining your mental health. In this photo, a group of four friends lie on the green grass, arms above their heads, smiling.
Ba Bunansa - Online Therapist in Dallas TX

Ba Bunansa, MS, LPC, NCC, BC-TMH
I am an LGBTQIA+-affirming therapist for Texas teens, adults, and the AAPI community. I work with teens and adults online throughout Texas and in person for residents of Plano and surrounding areas.

It seems like self care is the topic du jour everywhere you turn these days. And sure, maybe we do finally have a good idea of how important it is—but the how, the why, and even what it truly is can feel a little fuzzy sometimes.

Here’s why self care is so important… And what it really means to take care of ourselves and protect our energy. 

We’re more burnt out now than ever before.

The COVID-19 pandemic has put a unique strain on our lives and introduced a kind of stress the vast majority of us haven’t dealt with before. Coupled with a divisive and chaotic political landscape, things have been really difficult for many of us. 

According to the American Psychological Association, Americans are more burnt out than ever before1—and that’s not likely to change anytime soon. 

Why is self care important?

As the old saying goes, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” But that’s just what many of us try to do, over and over again. 

We stress over our jobs, and we stress over our home lives. The cultural goalposts for what constitutes a “successful” life move every day, it seems, and it’s impossible to keep up. We’re encouraged to keep up with the Joneses, though, even when our personal core values would tell us to do otherwise.

Self care is important because it’s a way to cut through the noise and tend to our physical and mental health. It can boost our happiness, our health, and our ability to show up for the things and people we actually want to show up for. 

Self Care Ideas: How to Practice Self Love and Self Care

Like a lot of ideas that gain popularity quickly, the concept of self care has become commoditized.

Everywhere we turn, someone is trying to sell us “The Solution” to our stress or burnout—even our anxiety and depression.

And hey, there’s nothing wrong with taking that lavish vacation, spending a day at the spa, or having a fancy night out on the town with friends. Those things can absolutely be a form of self care. 

But real self care—the things that will lower our stress, boost our mental health, and improve things like our immune function2—happens without a lot of money changing hands. 

Most of the time, in fact, real self care is straight-up free.

Yep, you read that right—free. As in zero dollars. As in the zero-percent-interest, no-money-down-now-or-ever, Oprah-leaving-car-keys-under-your-seat kind of free.

The trade-off, though, is that it’s not always quite as simple as booking a spa reservation or a weekend away. It definitely doesn’t always feel as good—sometimes, it’s downright uncomfortable. 

But it’s the kind of self care that makes a big difference in the long run.

1. Identifying and reinforcing your boundaries is crucial.

Have you seen that meme floating around? It’s the one that says, “‘No’ is a complete sentence.” 

And gosh—that can be a tough thing to accept at first, especially if you have a history of people-pleasing. 

But the hard truth is that, no matter how much others care about us, we’ll always need to be our most committed advocate. Because our family, our friends, and our partners can’t always know what we need at any given moment. We’ll need to communicate that to them.

Often what we need are better boundaries. If you’re on social media at all, I’m sure you’ve seen quite a bit about boundaries, too. And it’s for good reason—they are so important to protecting our energy and maintaining our mental health. 

But they aren’t always easy to set or to enforce, especially where our loved ones are concerned. That’s why we need to remember that saying—”no” really is a complete sentence. 

We don’t have to say it angrily or harshly—but we do have to say it. Because when we know that we, for example:

  • Don’t have the capacity to take on another responsibility;
  • Feel extreme stress in a given situation;
  • Are uncomfortable in the presence of someone; or
  • Are tired, run-down, or approaching burnout…

…Then we have to choose whether to push ourselves beyond our limits or make an investment in our wellbeing by gracefully bowing out.

2. We have to allow ourselves real rest.

I’m going to start by gently pointing out what rest is not.

Rest is not feeling frozen with overwhelm and doomscrolling on our phones to pass the time.

It’s not reading the news on our laptops at our desk when we’d actually set this hour aside for work.

It’s most definitely not lying in bed at night, worrying about the next day, the day after that, or the years to come. 

These things aren’t true rest because of what they have in common: we’re doing one thing, but our minds are somewhere else.

Have you seen that other meme? (So many good ones floating around out there!) It’s something along the lines of, “If you don’t make time to take a break, your body will do it for you—and it won’t be on your schedule.”

Oof. Right in the feels.

But that’s the reality! If we don’t intentionally set aside time for genuine rest—downtime when we aren’t stressed or worried about what we “should” be doing instead—then we’ll push ourselves beyond our limits. 

Our bodies will tell us, “Enough already!” and we’ll be more prone to illness, injury, and the anxiety, depression, and brain fog that come with burnout. 

3. We need to be more intentional about where we invest our energy.

Sometimes, being more intentional with our energy means letting difficult relationships go.

Being honest with ourselves about which relationships in our lives are harmful to our mental health is one of the most difficult things we can do. For the most part, humans are naturally social, loving creatures—we want to be in community and keep our loved ones close.

But those loved ones aren’t always where we are, emotionally speaking, and stressful relationships can do a number on us. 

If there are people in your life that make you feel like you:

  • Are not in control of your own time or energy,
  • Can’t have your own opinions or perspectives,
  • Have a knot in your stomach when you’re with them,
  • Dread spending time with them,
  • Need to sacrifice your own health or happiness, or
  • Aren’t allowed to speak up for yourself…

…Then those relationships either need some serious fine-tuning, much stronger boundaries, or to be let go of completely. 

Practice saying “no, thank you” or “I don’t agree” to these people without following up with a reason or justification; be intentional about spending less time with them; and do your best to turn away from any urge to argue with them.

While it can be upsetting to come to terms with some of the more challenging relationships in our lives, this practice also gives us the opportunity to reflect on the people we know who uplift and champion us regularly. 

We can begin to shift more of our attention and energy toward the relationships that affirm and support us as we affirm and support them.

4. We must stop defining our worth by our productivity. 

Here in the United States, we live in a society gripped by productivity culture. 

We’re conditioned to work at every turn—from “work ethic” entering the general lexicon as a measure of personal value, bonding with others over cliches like “no rest for the weary,” to the popularity of “grind” culture and “side hustles.”

No wonder we’re all exhausted—it’s insidious.

But hear me when I say this: your worth is not determined by your productivity. 


I promise.


You are deserving of rest, relaxation, fun, care, attention, support, wellness, happiness, and love regardless of your job title or income, your educational background, or whether or not your sink is full of dirty dishes. 

No matter what your spiritual or religious beliefs may be, I think it’s safe to say that—whatever the meaning of life is—it’s definitely not to simply be “productive” at all times.

A big part of real self care means recognizing this and rejecting the productivity culture narrative wherever we find it. 

This is true especially when we find it internalized and living deep within our thought patterns. Notice when you find yourself feeling “not enough.” Acknowledge those thoughts, remind yourself that you’re worthy, and let them go.

5. Holding ourselves accountable is the foundational piece.

The language of real self care should feel inspiring, supportive, and affirming. Because it is! It’s learning to take real care of yourself by finding love and compassion for yourself.

But there’s a measure of responsibility, too. It’s less fun, maybe, but it’s the foundation of everything else we’ve talked about here today. 

Many of us have experienced significant trauma because of the actions of others—and it’s very true that it’s simply not our fault. 

But we do have to hold ourselves accountable for committing to our own recovery and healing. We have to be honest about our willingness to set and enforce our boundaries, identify and communicate our needs to others, and prioritize our own wellbeing over things like that productivity narrative. 

If we know we’d feel better with a set bedtime routine, then we have to be mindful about why we’re not doing it. When we continue to argue about the same things with the same people, we need to take responsibility for engaging. 

If we aren’t setting aside time for guilt-free rest, we need to acknowledge that, too.

Self care isn’t selfish.

It’s easy to learn about all the “right” things to do; it’s a lot harder to actually do them. And that’s true for all of us—you aren’t alone! We don’t live in a culture that champions taking care of ourselves. In fact, you might even say we’ve been conditioned to do the exact opposite.

But there’s no true end-game to running ourselves ragged to meet others’ needs and ignoring our own. When we engage in real self care and prioritize real wellness, we’ll be able to get closer to the lives we’ve always dreamed of. 

That includes the kind of productivity that truly fulfills us, the joy that overflows our cup, and the resulting energy to take care of others as and when we choose.

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Ba Bunansa - Online Therapist in Dallas TX

Ba Bunansa, MS, LPC, NCC, BC-TMH
I am an LGBTQIA+-affirming therapist for Texas teens, adults, and the AAPI community. I work with teens and adults online throughout Texas and in person for residents of Plano and surrounding areas.

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