I think it’s that self-care activities improve or restore your mental, emotional, or physical health, whereas self-indulgence is more about doing exactly what you want in the moment, with no thought given to the implications. Having a few chunks of dark chocolate might reduce stress (self-care), whereas eating an entire box might feel good in the moment but is detrimental to your health (self-indulgence).
I’m not surprised by your question. Many of my friends and patients need extra encouragement to practice self-care because they see it as selfish. Self-care involves checking in with yourself and asking, “What am I feeling?” and “What do I need?” when many women are more accustomed to asking “What is my child (or spouse or parent or colleague) feeling and what do they need and how can I meet that need?”
I encourage them to think of self-care as the ultimate form of self-respect. And knowing what we need to do to take care of ourselves enables us to better care for others. Some experts compare it to putting your oxygen mask on first when you’re on a plane, before helping others. Or you can think of it as an investment that pays big dividends. Selfcare gives us more energy not just to meet our obligations but to pursue our dreams. It enables us to live full and fulfilling lives.
Healthy food, proper rest, and regular exercise are universal, but beyond that, it’s really up to you to decide what self-care is. Everyone needs to decompress and rejuvenate, but that might be anything from binge-watching Netflix or having a cup of tea with a friend to skydiving or learning a new language. Finally, if something depletes you rather than energizes you or you don’t enjoy it, it’s not self-care. Skip it!