Using the Continuum of Self-care to support your wellness

Self-care has become a bit of a common phrase these days. A lot of the time the first thought that comes to mind when we hear this is bubble baths and candles. While these can be a part of self-care, they are more superficial forms of self-care.

The most important thing is knowing how far ranging self-care goes. An article by Sanford and Frey in The New Social Worker Spring 2018 issue perfectly explains this range through a continuum - which it calls the continuum of self-care. There are two ends to this - superficial self-care and whole-self care.

Superficial care 

  • gives you quick but temporary relief - like those nice bubble baths

  • make you feel good for a very short period, but don’t actually do anything in the long run to help you in a similar situation in the future

  • these behaviours sometimes contribute to avoidance of responsibilities

This doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t do these things because they can be really nice, but they aren’t what help you more easily manage negative feelings in the future. 

Whole-self care 

  • deep reflection and long-term effects 

  • helps you manage stresses more easily overtime

For example, if you’re noticing that you always come home from school or work overwhelmed and stressed, you could start doing yoga a couple of times a week. An activity like this can help you relax and can help alleviate pressures of your day-to-day activities.

According to Sanford and Frey by engaging in superficial self-care, you are still keeping yourself open to the triggers that caused a problem in the first place. For example, if you’ve had an extremely stressful day and go home for a bath you’ll feel better, at least you might for a few hours. But when you wake up the next day you will be just as likely to be highly affected by the same stress factors because you never did anything to manage those effectively - rather you went home, had a bath and likely forgot about it. 

The cycle of superficial self-care leads to neglecting our wellness because we are not reflecting on what made us feel negatively in the first place. If you often do superficial self-care activities you are more likely to burnout and become consistently overwhelmed. Whereas whole-self care helps you identify the triggers to make you feel that way and find the things you can do to continuously lessen their negative impact on you.

Knowing what triggers the negative reaction or emotion will help you know when you need to do some form of self-care.

Sanford and Frey also identified four steps that help you figure out what type of whole-self care is best for you. 

  1. Know your triggers

  2. Pay attention to warning signs

  3. Don’t hesitate to ask for help

  4. Accept the consequences of your decisions

Try your best to notice which end of this continuum you tend to use more - and which behaviours you do. And then take that and notice what in your life causes negative feelings and emotions that cause you to do those things. It’s important to recognize that so you can figure out when you  need to help yourself and how you can help yourself in the best way.

Let us know what you do for whole-self care. Are there thing you’re already doing and maybe didn’t realize that’s what they are? Or what ideas could you use to bring more self-care into your life? We’d love to know.


Sanford, R. L., & Frey, L. M. (2018). The Continuum of Self-Care: Delving Deeper Into Whole-Self Care. New Social Worker25(2), 20. Retrieved from

Jennifer P