Self-Care: It’s Not What You Might Think It Is.


By Darin Barry


There is a misconception surrounding the meaning of the words self-care. It is not just about taking time out for ourselves, such as taking a day off, or going to the spa.  Self-care is a multi-faceted necessity conjoining mind, body and spirit that insures we are focusing on our own well-being, so that we can thrive, and be successful, and be the best we can be for others.

The public notion of self-care is widely focused on physical health, over our psychological health. We go to doctors if we break our bones, but we neglect the most important organ our bodies, and that is our brains; our emotional well-being. We let people tell us that our depression, and other diagnosis is all in our heads, that we can shake it off and “get over it.” Sometimes, we aren’t really good friends to ourselves, and we tell ourselves to just get over it, and to shake it off.   Would we tell a friend with a broken leg, or diabetes to shake it off and just get over it?

Psychological well-being should not be on the back burner.  Poor psychological health can lead to physical illness. Depression can create physical symptoms like joint pain, back pain, weight changes, psychomotor activity changes, extreme fatigue, immune deficiencies, and other maladies. [1] Depression, bipolar disorder, and other mental illnesses, of course, can lead people to take their own lives. With bipolar 1, my diagnosis, the suicide rate is around 15%. And a whopping quarter, to half of bipolar individuals will attempt suicide over the course of their lives.[2] I have to be on top of my game. Every person with mental illness needs to pay particular attention to self-care, or as renowned psychologist, and author, Guy Winch refers to it, “psychological hygiene.”

Grief, failure, rejection, fear, loss, rumination, and trauma are all examples of psychological injuries. And the injuries can get worse if we don’t treat them. We must practice good psychological hygiene to heal ourselves of these injuries.

My psychologist, Tom Seibel, LCSW, in Auburn, California educated me on the importance of all elements making up good self-care. At the start of each session Tom will ask me if I’m sleeping well, am I eating well, am I exercising, am I taking my meds as prescribed, am I writing, am I creating music, am I attending twelve step meetings? These questions are basically covering all the elements of my particular self-care prescription. If these things are out of balance, it could lead to bipolar episodes. I do not get the dubious luxury of putting any of my self-care on the back burner.

Self-care should not be confused with indulgence. Sure we all need, and deserve some sort of reward when we are satisfied with ourselves, but reward/indulgence is but a small part of the self-care components.

When I am in public, I observe so many people who could benefit from psychological intervention. Usually pride, vanity, and ego stand in their way of true happiness, and success through good psychological hygiene. Instead, they choose to hold on to their psychological injuries, causing prolonged unhappiness in the individual who is also most likely to be a tornado in the lives of their loved ones. That is trickle down pain.  No one should be ashamed to get help. The stigma of having emotional problems, or mental illness needs to be shut down.  We are meant to be happy, joyous, and free.





[1] An international study of the relation between somatic symptoms and depression.

Simon GE, VonKorff M, Piccinelli M, Fullerton C, Ormel J

N Engl J Med. 1999 Oct 28; 341(18):1329-35.


[1] Suicide and bipolar disorder.

Jamison KR.

J Clin Psychiatry. 2000;61 Suppl 9:47-51. Review.