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Proactive and Reactive Self-Care: What's the Difference?

What comes to mind when you think of self-care? If you’re like most, images of bubble baths, spa days, and mountain retreats likely fill your head. The good news is that all of these can be a part of self-care if you so choose. The better news is that such practices don’t have to be a part of your plan unless you wish them to be—true self-care is establishing small acts in your daily life that help set you up to be your best self.


Our Yoga in the Schools instructors have spent the past two months teaching our classroom teachers how to better practice self-care. When we lead these informational sessions, we guide teachers to think of their self-care practices as falling into two categories: Proactive Self-Care and Reactive Self-Care.


Proactive self-care are ways we take care of ourselves on a regular basis when life is calm and normal. Acts like meditating, journaling, exercising, and bathing are all examples of proactive self-care. Going to the grocery store and meal planning for the week, having a laundry day, or saving up money for a yearly vacation are also acts of proactive self-care. Proactive self-care anticipates our needs for both the present and the weeks ahead and seeks to meet those needs so that we can face whatever life chooses to throw our way while standing solidly on our own two feet.


Reactive self-care, on the other hand, are activities we engage in to take care of ourselves when life throws us a curveball. Deep breathing when we’re upset, taking a quick walk to sort our thoughts, or even punching a pillow when we’re angry are all examples of reactive self-care. Reactive self-care is how we bring ourselves back down when our emotions run high.


There are two things to keep in mind about reactive self-care. The first is that many proactive self-care strategies can become effective reactive self-care activities when practiced regularly. For example; yoga, meditating, and journaling are all activities that can be effective calming strategies if one is comfortable with them. Many healthy proactive self-care activities can become effective reactive self-care practices in time.


The other thing to keep in mind about reactive self-care is that they are not methods of escapism. Activities like watching T.V., scrolling social media, or binge-shopping are often labeled as self-care when they are not. Don’t get us wrong—we’ve all engaged in these activities! However, they cannot be labeled as self-care because they seek to remove us from the present moment rather than set us up to effectively face our reality. Hence, they are a form of escapism.


What forms of proactive self-care do you engage in? What are your go-to reactive self-care practices? We all have developed habits in both categories, and there is always room to grow! Take a look at our suggested list of self-care activities and identify which ones you already engage in. Then, choose one or two activities you’d like to add to your toolbox and make a commitment to practice them regularly as proactive self-care. Who knows—in time it may even become an effective reactive strategy!


Examples of Self-Care

+ Journaling

+ Meditating

+ Breathing exercises

+ Regular exercise or yoga

+ Reading

+ Performing a Body Scan

+ Art or Crafts

+ Expressing Gratitude

+ Watching an inspirational TedTalk

+ Listen to a Podcast about something that interests you

+ Taking a break from electronics/social media

+ Cooking or meal prep

+ Attending therapy

+ Hiking or taking a walk (get outside!)

+ Taking a short nap

+ Massage or other body therapy

+ Reaching out to friends

+ Dance or sing

+ Write yourself encouraging notes

+ State positive affirmations




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