Mental Health

How the Pandemic Helped Me Define the Real Meaning of ‘Self-Care’


Let’s talk about self-care: the concept of deliberately engaging in activities to enhance our physical, mental, or emotional health. Skincare face masks, cups of tea, a bubble bath, lighting a candle, or exercising have all been deemed acts of “self-care.” The beauty industry and social media have quickly turned self-care into a beauty-based practice, suggesting it solves everything.

I’m here to tell you it doesn’t. It’s OK if “self-care” isn’t helping you. It’s OK you didn’t find solace at the end of your hair mask treatment. Don’t worry if the double cleanse and face moisturizer didn’t reset your mood from a terrible day. Society has often alienated what self-care truly encompasses; it’s not only beauty trends. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying these aren’t helpful things that decompress and relieve stress, but they also further solidify the stigma around mental health issues. Self-care is so much more than surface level. Often, true self-care costs much more than a sheet mask and a box of tea bags.


Self-care is so much more than surface level. Often, true self-care costs much more than a sheet mask and a box of tea bags.


While working from home with a toddler during the pandemic, I was suffocating with very little room for ‘me’ time. Like most of us, I couldn’t go anywhere except the occasional supermarket run. And let’s be real, taking a hot shower to put on new pajamas to sit back on the couch was not going to improve anyone’s mental state.

I was struggling to find any joy. The world around me was on fire; with COVID-19 cases surging and civil unrest mounting, there was always something that sparked anxiety and uncertainty. I was crying almost every day. It went from feeling like a fun three-day weekend home with my family, to feeling like a never-ending day on repeat. My house was a mess because we never left and I was putting pressure on myself to keep everything perfect to combat the chaos going on around us in the world.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that I felt that a nervous breakdown was imminent. I needed to dig myself out of the hole I was falling into and my weekly face mask wasn’t doing it.  I had to protect my peace. My daughter didn’t need a perfect mother, but she did need a happy one and I clearly wasn’t.



I took the reins. I sat down with a notebook and thought about the days during isolation that I felt good emotionally and wrote down what I did on those days.

  • Had a dance party with my daughter. 
  • Walked around my neighborhood for 20 minutes. 
  • Did a guided meditation. 
  • Watched a couple of episodes of a favorite Netflix show.
  • Went through my closet to donate clothes. 
  • Took a break from social media for the day.

I had to be intentional about doing things that have proven to be forms of self-care for me. I had to stop trying to pour from an empty cup. I also had to stop trying to fill my cup with superficial things that weren’t enough to recharge my battery. It’s not always easy. There are still days where I don’t feel like doing anything from the list, on those days I give myself my most important form of self-care: grace. It’s OK to rest. I let go of this notion that I needed to be 100 percent productive at all times.


There are still days where I don’t feel like doing anything from the list, on those days I give myself my most important form of self-care: grace.


Despite my difficulties, I also know that I come from a position of being able to afford hair masks and manicures, even if they don’t do anything for my mental health. Meanwhile, women in underrepresented communities are faced with the fight for basic necessities.

The things that don’t give instant satisfaction don’t profit beauty brands. But, as Nakita Valerio stated in a now-viral tweet, “shouting self-care at people who actually need community care is how we fail people.”  

The idea of self-care solely being beauty-based raises issues of financial inequality and accessibility; not everyone is fortunate enough to have a budget for self-care. For many women and mothers struggling to make ends meet, self-care is basic survival: food, shelter, and taking care of any medical issues that arise. More often than not, luxuries don’t fall into the realm of possibility for those who don’t have disposable income. Basic chores and hygiene do not and should not constitute self-care.



We have to start being honest about self-care and start including resources for community care. Glamorizing the healing power of beauty trends leaves many people at a disadvantage when they don’t find healing in things that aren’t enough to help them. We can no longer abandon mental and emotional health. Normalize deeper care. Normalize including mental health care. In order to amend and improve the idea of self-care, health services must be more accessible.

We rarely hear about the deeper definition of what self-care entails. What about ending a toxic friendship? Setting boundaries for family members? Finding a therapist to heal trauma? Exploring a career path that you’re passionate about? Scheduling an appointment with a physician for preventative healthcare? These are all important areas that should fall under the umbrella of “self-care,” but often go unmentioned.

Please don’t feel discouraged if the surface-level self-care practices don’t turn things around for you, and don’t be ashamed if your mental health is wavering and you need more help. It’s OK to not be OK. 

As mothers, we often carry the weight of the world and believe we have to do everything alone. There is no shame in asking for help. Reach out to those in your support system. Call your doctor. Protect your peace by setting boundaries. Of course, if beauty-based self-care works for you, please dive in. But know you’re not alone if you need more than a hair mask.


Some free and low-cost mental health resources are below:


Read More: Self-Care Isn’t Enough When You’re Doing It All—Here’s How I Built My Village