Late last January I got an email from a senior editor at Women’s Health magazine, Marissa Gainsburg.


I hope this email finds you well! I’m the senior editor at Women’s Health magazine, and I’m hoping to connect with you for a story.

I’m working on a personal essay about the unexpected side of self-care: getting OUT of your comfort zone/challenging yourself so you can see what you’re made of. I thought you might be a great expert to chat with to explain some of the psychology behind this.

Any chance she’d be interested and available to talk on Wednesday?

My first reaction was, “Hahaha! Someone is scamming me. No way a writer from Women’s Health wants to talk with me.”

But before I deleted it, I paused. Not long ago the BBC interviewed me for a radio piece on anxiety and pandemic scares. That was real. More recently, a New York Times editor wanted to use an article I wrote on the weirdness of running into your therapist in public places for their Well blog. And didn’t a writer from Parents magazine interview me about the challenges of being a parent with chronic illness? All real. So why not Women’s Health?

I wrote Marissa back. We set up a time to talk. When we did connect we talked for forty minutes, a long time for an interview like this. Marissa had great questions and observations. We both found common ground in our reactions to self-care being defined as lighting some scented candles, taking a bath, a massage. Neither one of us felt comfortable with such a narrow definition. We both knew there were aspects of self-care and mindfulness that were a lot more challenging. Why is self-care so hard sometimes? What is it about mindfully “being in the moment” that can occasionally make us squirm?

Marissa was coming at these questions from the point of view of an athlete. Me, I came at it from a psychologist’s POV, for sure, but also from the aspect of someone who has lived with pain and chronic illness most of her adult life.

“Self-care isn’t just about treating yourself–it’s about improving yourself, which is what truly makes us feel good…Tackling a serious physical challenge, especially one that involves consistent training, in one of the best steps you can take to increase your pride.” ~Joseph Cardillo, Body Intelligence.

Marissa adds a P.S. to this quote: “‘Serious’ doesn’t have to mean mountains and marathons; it might be a 10K or a yogi headstand.”

Redefining Self-Care

Or it can mean walking up a flight of stairs or stepping into a therapist’s office.

That was my point when I said:

“When you tolerate a situation that scares you, and do so long enough that you’re able to change the self-doubting, self-judging, ‘who do I think I am?’ script we all know too well, that’s self-care at its finest. You develop a profound type of self-trust, the kind that comes from overcoming fear, listening to your body, and becoming your own cheerleader. And it compounds with each mini-event leading up to the main one.”

It’s clear how that applies to healthy people challenging themselves to push their physical boundaries. What about the more vulnerable person who finds themselves struggling just to get out of bed in the morning, much less run a damn 10K?

In my book, 7 Rules For Living Well With Chronic Illness, I point out the importance of re-calibrating our internal measuring stick. We are alive, therefore we will strive. But what it is we strive for can make the difference between self-care and self-punishment.

When we’re down and out, either emotionally or physically, if our measuring stick doesn’t change from when we were healthy, we will suffer the internal pain of frustration, disappointment.

I love The Four Agreements, Taltec Wisdom. In this case, the Fourth Agreement rings out: Always do your best. The thing is, and this is SO important, your best today may not be what your best was yesterday. Your best on a day when your symptoms are flaring will not be your best when they were quiet. Your best when you’re seeing your way through a maze of depression will not be the same as an emotionally-abled day.

Our measuring stick is different on those days–not less than, not weaker, not any of those words that imply a lowering of standards. Our reality has changed. Acceptance is hard enough. Blowing up the old measuring stick and creating a whole new one, takes clear vision, takes guts, takes inner strength. Your best today might be walking up one flight of stairs. Your best today might be walking into a therapist’s office. For that, you deserve a great big medal!

That’s redefining self-care.

Elvira G. Aletta, PhD, Founder & CEO

dr aletta of explore what's next

Executive & Personal CoachingIndividual & Relationship Counseling

Life gave Dr. Aletta the opportunity to know what it’s like to hurt physically and emotionally. After an episode of serious depression in her mid-twenties, Dr. Aletta was diagnosed with a rare kidney disease that relapsed throughout her adulthood. While treatable, the cure was often as hard to bear as the disease. Later she was diagnosed with scleroderma, another chronic illness.

Throughout, Dr. Aletta battled with anxiety. Despite all this, Dr. Aletta wants you to know, you can learn to engage in life again on your terms.

Good therapy helped Dr. Aletta. She knows good therapy can help you. That’s why she created Explore What’s Next.

Today Dr. Aletta enjoys mentoring the EWN therapists, focusing on coaching and psychotherapy clients, writing and speaking. She is proud and confident that Explore What’s Next can provide you with therapists who will help you regain a sense of safety, control and joy.

716.308.6683 |

Post-script: Re-defining self-care is exactly what The Studio @Explore What’s Next is all about. At EWN we recognize the challenge of taking care of ourselves when we are at our most vulnerable. That is why we provide evidence-based self-care services at The Studio. Yoga, massage therapy, functional strength training, dietary and nutritional counseling and more. Contact us at to learn more.

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