Kindness is the Key to Self-Care


By: Jennifer T. Nardine, T&LE Librarian, Coordinator of Int'l Outreach, Libraries at Virginia Tech

I didn’t know, when I took this picture below, that it would be something of a running theme this year. It’s been…an adventure, to say the least. At this point, some of us are numb while others feel deeply and overwhelmingly.

Sign: Danger - river flooding

I’ve heard a lot about self-care in the last months and, as a rising mental health counselor as well as a librarian, it’s a multifaceted concept. The self-care wheel—a visual representation of different life areas which deserve attention and care—is one way of illustrating those facets:

  • spirituality (religion, social justice, laughter),
  • emotion (creativity, self-awareness),
  • physical (exercise, rest),
  • professional (saying ’no,’ collaborate, taking time off), and
  • personal (friends/family, fun, setting goals).

While mani-pedis, massages, binge-watching, luxurious food, and shopping (AKA pampering or self-indulgence) are legitimate options for self-care—to me they fall in the “fun” bucket—they’re certainly not the definition. In fact, those things are out of reach for a lot of us right now, and thinking about them may be more stressful than anything. In my reality, self-care is a combination of play and hard work. Look at the list again; a lot of those items take thought, effort, discipline.

Pie on plate

Still, the rewards of that work should be obvious to you, and there should be as much satisfaction and pleasure as there is effort involved. When self-care transforms into one more “must,” it’s no longer self-care; it’s self-punishment. Finding the zone between over-indulgence and self-flagellation is key. Trial and discovery – I prefer that to error – works for me.

Meditation is a popular tool and it can be effective, but it doesn’t work for everyone. Trying to empty my mind… just, no. Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) or Koru, when you pay attention to the now – in motion as well as sitting still - without judgment, is a better fit.

If you’re not outdoorsy, don’t push too hard to get out and hike. Maybe a walk around your house or sitting on your balcony will give you the amount of fresh air you need. A potted plant can give that link to the earth when you really look at it and smell a faint tinge of green.

Cooking can be as creative as drawing or music. Virtually everything we do can be creative when seen from the right angle; fixing a motorcycle can be as innovative as innovating alternative lyrics to “Oh Susannah” in honor of your pet, or finally getting that perfect shot of a hummingbird or a sunrise. Don’t worry if you’re not good at whatever it is. The point is to do it, not to become famous.


The one thing we all need is to disconnect from electronics. Even if you hate the idea, just do it. It doesn’t have to be a huge chunk of time. If nothing else, it’s good for your eyes which means you’ll be able to watch, read, compute, surf longer in the end. I like the free app Time Out, which I’ve set to block my screen for 10 minutes each hour that I work so I get up, move, look elsewhere. It’s wonderful if I discipline myself to actually take the breaks. I don’t always want to, but, like when I finally go out the door to walk, I feel really good once I’ve started.

There are so many paths through self-care; find the one that works for you – read a novel, build a car, clean a room, whatever. In the end, self-care is literal: caring for yourself that way you’d care for anyone else; with kindness, empathy, and a healthy dose of move-your-@ss.

Painted rock that says "you are strong"