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What Self-Care Looks Like Around the World

By Carley Schweet

In this article:

The way you choose to care for yourself is profoundly personal and varies from person to person. Whether you decide to meditate, spend time journaling, talk through feelings with others, read a book, or simply take a hot shower, self-care can be a powerful practice that is essential to our health and wellbeing.

If you scroll through Instagram, you may be quickly overwhelmed by just how many different ways one could potentially practice self-care. It seems like everyone is taking a long bath or using a face mask!

Here in the United States, self-care can sometimes feel like a self-indulgent luxury that requires ample time and money to achieve—often leaving individuals to completely ignore their physical, emotional, and spiritual requirements for wellbeing.

What does self-care look like if we take a step outside of the United States? How are people around the world addressing and caring for their needs? And, are there essential lessons waiting for us to learn that could perhaps enhance and change how we care for ourselves? 

Keep reading as we take a closer look at four different countries around the world that are often renowned for their unique and tradition-based self-care practices. It's time to discover the powerful and possibly life-changing method that is known as self-care.

‌‌‌‌Self-Care in Korea: It’s More Than Just Skincare Products

The first thing that comes to mind when you hear the words "Korea and self-care" is skincare. From elaborate, multi-step routines to highly-touted Korean skincare products like collagen-boosting face masks and treatments and serums packed with high-quality and potent ingredients, it’s obvious that Koreans prize healthy skin.

The surprising thing I've uncovered is that skincare itself isn't a deep part of Korea's self-care culture; it's just an essential part of their daily routine. Just as one would make their bed or take a shower, Koreans think of skincare the same way. This is vastly different than in the United States, where caring for our skin with Korean beauty (K-beauty) products feels like a luxurious way to take a moment to ourselves and approach physical self-care.

So, if skincare isn't the main focus of self-care in South Korea, what is?

It seems that the holistic non-skincare-related acts of creating beautiful, youthful skin are more considered self-care. These include eating nourishing food, getting enough sleep, and paying attention to the ingredients in the products you're using.

In addition, bathhouses (called jjimjilbangs) are also an integral part of caring for oneself in South Korea. One could spend hours here, alternating between saunas and staying unplugged from the digital world to refresh both the body and mind.

It's essential to note that South Korea recently adopted a 40-hour workweek (plus 12 hours of overtime) to help avoid chronic overwork, so citizens can focus more time on caring for their health and wellness. I think that this act alone is a powerful statement on how important it is to care for oneself in a way that encompasses all aspects of life.

‌‌‌‌How the French Balance Self-Care

There's something inherently romantic and classic about the French way of living, but what about their self-care culture? I think to understand the idea of self-care in France better, it's essential to consider some of the mindsets the French hold.

In France, it's quality over quantity, which isn't always the case here in the United States. Finding beauty in simplicity and stopping to appreciate the little things in life is a powerful form of self-care that is deeply ingrained into the French culture. Imagine how stopping to smell the roses—literally—could positively impact your mental health?

Also, there's not an obsession with being healthy to the point it can potentially become unhealthy. There's a relaxed approach to wellbeing—one that prioritizes exercise and eating well but doesn't obsess over the latest and greatest trends in the wellness world. 

I think the secret to the French way of self-care is to understand that it's everything in moderation, from how you care for your skin, to where you spend your money, to what you put in your body, to your thoughts and how you move. This mindset feels genuinely supportive and like a compelling form of self-care that will survive the current self-care trends and then some.

‌‌‌‌The Deep Roots of Self-Care in Japan

Japan is a country rooted in tradition and culture. The Japanese pride themselves on creating a life that is full of powerful everyday practices that are fulfilling and profound, yet simple.

When we think about self-care, often, the physicality of the practice comes to mind—skincare, working out, and eating well—but it's critical to consider the mental aspect of self-care, which is something the Japanese do excellently.

For starters, there's an ancient Japanese practice called kintsugi or “golden joinery,” which is the act of repairing broken pottery with a golden lacquer instead of deeming it broken and throwing it away. It's this caring mindset around repairing old pottery that encourages a belief that it's okay to have flaws as a human. Imagine a world where we could highlight and embrace our imperfections as we work to love and accept ourselves unconditionally. Now that is a powerful form of self-care!

In addition to kintsugi, there is a habit called ofuro, which is the simple—yet profound—act of bathing in a hot bath or bath house at the end of the day. The Japanese practice this ritual with intention and a sense of slowness to encourage a full-body experience, allowing the mind to unwind and muscles to release.

While many other Japanese practices support whole-body self-care, the last one I'm sharing is called shinrin-yoku or forest bathing. When practiced, you surround yourself with the smells, sights, and sounds of the wilderness as you immerse deep into the forest to breathe in the fresh air.

Some say that engaging in shinrin-yoku can reduce stress levels, increase creativity, and even help improve sleep. Studies have shown that forest bathing can even decrease blood glucose levels in diabetic patients.

Based on the three powerful self-care practices shared above, it's evident that Japan has a deep consideration of caring for oneself ingrained in their culture (when they're not at the office, of course).

‌‌‌‌Full-Body Self-Care in Russia

To properly understand the practice of self-care in Russia, it's essential to look back a few generations at some of Russia's oldest traditions.

Just as in South Korean and Japanese self-care culture, bathhouses are also an essential part of Russia's self-care culture. The Russian word for bathhouse is banya, and for centuries, the bathhouses were a way for citizens to bond with their fellow neighbors, no matter what part of society they belonged in or if they were rich or poor. This tradition of bathing with your neighbors and beyond allows for the creation of community support and connection. The more connected that we feel to the humans around us, the greater sense of whole-body wellness we have a chance to experience. 

When it comes to skincare and other self-care rituals, while the banya is a large part of the Russian culture that will likely never change, there have been some shifts in the self-care and wellness industry in the last decade. According to a market trend analysis on Russian personal care, more and more of the older generations are concerned about the transparency of the ingredients listed in their skincare products, often opting for natural alternatives over chemicals.

In addition to skincare, part of the Russian self-care culture emphasizes the importance of caring for your hair and full-body skin to help make it as healthy as possible. Hair masks and full-body exfoliation help achieve total body self-care, and often these practices use only natural ingredients and herbs.

‌‌‌‌What We Can Learn From Other Cultures About Self-Care

When you take a step back and examine how others care for their physical and mental health, it's interesting to see what we can learn.

It's heartening to see that the idea of self-care is ingrained in each culture in its unique way. What I love about these global self-care practices is the idea of caring for yourself while also connecting with the world around you, like through forest bathing or a traditional bathhouse. 

At times, self-care can feel like a practice that solely focuses on an individual act that doesn't consider the environment of which you're in, but that's certainly not the case in countries like Korea, France, Japan, or Russia.

Additionally, another takeaway is the importance of caring for the state of our mental health when thinking about self-care. Sometimes self-care can feel like something you must spend a lot of money to create, but the reality is that a few carefully curated products and actions can help create an overall sense of wellbeing.

Ultimately, there is no right or wrong way to create self-care. Whether you prefer a simple skincare routine or a weekend of forest bathing, the most important thing is to understand how critical it is to care for your needs and work to prioritize self-care. The more you pay attention to your physical, emotional, and spiritual requirements for happiness, the happier you will become.

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