The 3 Foundations Of Self-Care, According To A Psychotherapist

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Self-care has become a loaded term. Of course, it's very important to take care of ourselves, but the way we talk about it sometimes suggests that this requires hundreds of dollars worth of bath bombs and face masks. The truth is, the most important aspects of self-care are totally free, NYC-based psychotherapist and entrepreneur Lilian Ostrovsky tells Bustle.

When you're figuring out your personal self-care routine, Ostrovsky suggests asking yourself what "self" you're caring for. Are you nurturing your inner leader? The part of you that loves luxury? Are you caring for your ego? Then, ask yourself: Is that a part of yourself you want to care for? And if so, what type of self-care would best serve that part?

"The self care industry has become an industry," says Ostrovsky. However, she says, "I genuinely believe each person has their own guru inside of them." In other words, everything you need to practice self-care is within you already. Your personal self-care routine may include buying bath products, but it doesn't have to.

The best way to figure out what it includes is to ask yourself what will help you fulfill these three foundational principles, says Ostrovsky. There's a ton of room to make them your own, but here's where you can start.

1Engage Your Senses

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The senses are the foundation for self-care, says Ostrovsky. If you want to give yourself a refreshing and nourishing experience, try filling at least three of your five senses with things you like. For example, if you want to take a bath, you can engage your sense of touch by enjoying the hot water, engage your sense of smell by using yummy-smelling soap, and engage your sense of hearing by putting on relaxing music. Or, if you'd prefer, think about which sense is most acute for you and focus on that one.

"Think about the five senses as your helping hand," says Ostrovsky. "Really dive into sensations that are created when you’re immersed in the senses. What does it really smell or taste like? How does the sound make you feel?" Noticing these sensations will help get you out of your head and into the present.

2Feel All Your Emotions

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"There’s a lot of advice around 'if you’re having toxic thoughts, you’re gonna have a toxic life,'" says Ostrovsky. "All of that is BS. Human experience is on a range that goes from light to dark, and that entire range is important if you are interested in building a fulfilling and connected life."

We may feel like we're protecting ourselves from pain by avoiding unpleasant emotions, but that actually prevents us from addressing and healing from the pain. And the feelings don't really go away.

To figure out what emotions you're feeling, consciously or unconsciously, Ostrovsky suggests noticing the sensations in your body. "Sadness a lot of time is felt in the chest," she says. "Anger might be felt in the shoulders or the arms." Don't try to analyze the emotions — just feel them as deeply as you can. Cry if you feel the urge to, or laugh. Know that whatever you feel, it'll pass. And the more you can get it out, the less control it'll have over you.

3Set Boundaries

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One of the most important parts of self-care you can ever discover is setting boundaries, says Ostrovsky. Once you can say "no" to people, you'll have more time and energy to take care of yourself.

So, spend some time thinking about where your boundaries are. One way to do this is to figure out what makes you angry. "Think of anger as mercury in a thermometer," says Ostrovsky. "When the mercury rises and it comes up to your awareness, sit with that. If you sit with it even longer, that narrative starts to become larger."

Ask yourself what boundaries the people you're angry with have crossed, and also ask yourself whether those are boundaries you really want to defend. Maybe, for example, you have a wall up because you're insecure. In that case, it may be more productive to work through the insecurity than to defend the boundary.

"Self-care of body, mind, emotions, spirit, the professional part of your life, the personal part... all of it comes down to these three mechanisms," says Ostrovsky. "Then, you can build your own personal self-care culture."