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Self-Care vs Self-Improvement: What’s the Difference and why both are important.

I first want to address why I believe this topic is so important, especially now when everything around us seems to be so unpredictable and chaotic. Many of us have started to feel a loss of control, increased anxiety, hopelessness, and even frustration towards society as a whole. This can bring up questions about existentialism, leading to anxiety and depressive symptoms such as low motivation, apathy, and worthlessness.

Recent triggers

If we take inventory of recent events including, war, mass shootings, racism, political conflicts, global health issues, inflation, and more, it’s no wonder why we may feel depleted. There is only one thing left to do… take care of ourselves and the ones we love. Any change, including mass change, starts with a change of self. This can take many forms like reaching out to loved ones, finding resources, improving health, seeing a therapist, keeping up with doctors’ appointments, etc.

What to get from this article

In this article, I will focus on self-care and self-improvement, when one is more important than the other, in hopes it does two things; improve the mental health of anyone who reads this article and enhance how we contribute to the world for the greater good. Self-care and self-improvement are two essential aspects of life that often get confused with each other. What is the difference between the two? Are they interchangeable? In this article, we will define self-care and self-improvement and explain the differences between the two. We will also discuss why it is essential to implement both, however only at the appropriate times. As the world seems to get a little more unpredictable around us and the many worldly events that have some of us feeling unsafe, and uncertain, taking care of ourselves seems to be the one thing in our control. Studies have shown that more and more people are interested in self-care and personal development more than ever. According to an article in Forbes Magazine (Cording, 2021, para. 2), “they found that over 75 percent of United States consumers surveyed feel that wellness is more important than ever”. That is exactly what self-care is. It is a form of wellness. However, self-improvement ( which has also become a focus over the pandemic) is a form of personal development. Although both are very important to our overall health and wellbeing, I’m finding that they are often being mislabeled causing individuals to lack a healthy balance… leading to burnout.

The psychology of self-care

Research shows that self-care is an essential component of psychological well-being. According to a study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, self-care can protect against negative emotions such as anxiety and depression. The study found that participants who engaged in self-care activities experienced less negative emotions than those who did not engage in self-care activities. Not only does it have a positive impact on our mental health but can also prevent illness, help us to maintain a healthy immune system, and aid in stress management In addition, the study found that self-care can also promote positive emotions such as happiness and joy. The participants who engaged in self-care activities reported higher levels of positive emotion than those who did not engage in self-care activities. The study concluded that self-care is a valuable tool for maintaining psychological well-being. It is important to note that self-care is not a panacea. It will not fix all of your problems. However, it can help you cope with difficult situations and feel better in your daily life.

What is Self Care

Self-care can be defined as activities and practices that we can do to take care of our physical, mental, and emotional health. It is important to note that self-care is not selfish.   On the contrary, it is essential to our survival. Self-care should be a priority in our lives because, without it, we cannot show up fully for others. When we take care of ourselves, we are better able to take care of the people we love. There are many different forms of self-care.


  • eating a balanced and healthy diet
  • exercising regularly
  • getting enough sleep
  • taking breaks when needed
  • practicing meditation or mindfulness
  • spending time in nature
  • journaling
  • calling a loved one
  • getting a massage
  • having compassion for yourself and others
  • practicing gratitude
  • dancing
  • listening to music
  • playing with your pet
  • coloring/drawing/painting
  • making your favorite meal
  • singing
  • finding something that makes you laugh
  • reflecting on strengths and accomplishments
  • reading a book

What is self-improvement?

Self-improvement, on the other hand, is defined as activities that we can do to become the best version of ourselves. It is about growing and developing our skillset so that we can reach our full potential in hopes of living a happy abundant life. Some examples of self-improvement are:


  • learning a new skill
  • taking on a new challenge
  • setting goals and working towards them
  • improving our relationships
  • working on our self-esteem
  • creating a budget tracker
  • planning your day/week
  • cleaning your environment
  • completing a course
  • stepping out of your comfort zone
  • creating a vision board
  • saving
  • Getting a mentor
  • volunteering
  • learning to play an instrument
  • learning a new language

The When

Now I know all these may sound great and helpful but the key is knowing when to implement these activities, and although there is no right or wrong answer, you can start by acknowledging what you are feeling in order to identify what you need. For example, if you are feeling bored or dissatisfied with life you may want to implement some self-improvement and take on a new hobby/skill. If you are feeling burned out and overwhelmed you may want to implement self-care like a shooting bath or listening to relaxing music. While the pandemic was at its peak, most people felt overwhelmed, stressed, worried, scared, alone, and burned out. During a time like this, you want to just focus on self-care. It’s not about getting things done or being productive, it’s about feeling better, mentally and emotionally. Feeling a sense of peace, finding joy, and reducing stress are the priority. That is the purpose of self-care, to reduce any and all negative feelings and thoughts and increase feelings of calmness and relaxation. Once you are at a place where you at least have the tools to manage emotions as they come up you then focus on self-improvement. Usually, when this comes into play you are ready for positive changes in your external environment including getting a new job, starting a business, making efficient use of time, having better organization, increasing your support system, networking, and learning new skills. By doing these things we add even more value to how we interact with the world. We are able to give back in different ways by using our talents and abilities to help others.  


Self-care and self-improvement are two essential pieces to a happy and healthy life. One is not more important than the other, they both play a vital role in our overall well being. It is so important to know when to focus on each one so that we can feel our best mentally, emotionally, and physically. I hope this article was helpful in defining the difference between self-care and self-improvement and why both are essential! Until next time be sure to take care of yourself first so that you can show up fully for others. I am a licensed psychotherapist in multiple states and have over 8 years of experience assisting clients improve their mental health and reach their goals. Through my blog I provide useful tips, tools, products and services to help individuals increase productivity and overall wellness. 

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