A guilt-free, doctor-approved guide to indulging when you need it.

Seriously. Doctor's orders.

Self-care is a term for the things we do for ourselves to manage stress and to maintain or improve our health.

But we're diverse people from all walks of life, so self-care naturally means something different to each of us. In recent years, the self-care conversation has attracted everyone from fitness trainers to spiritual coaches to activists.

But what might an actual health expert have to say about self-care?


Meet Stuart. That's short for Dr. Stuart Lustig, M.D., M.P.H.

Lustig harvests greens from his backyard garden on a sunny day in San Francisco, California. Photo by Maz Ali/Upworthy.

Lustig is a psychiatrist for children and adults and supports doctors all over the country. Self-care, as you might guess, comes up in his work pretty frequently, for all sorts of reasons and for both patients and health care professionals. Over the years, he's stood by one piece of advice when it comes to self-care and stress management: "Have a PLAN for yourself."

PLAN is an acronym representing the most basic components of a sound self-care strategy.

P is for a period of time.

Image via iStock.

"It should be regularly planned time that's yours alone to do what you want with it," he says. On most nights, for example, Lustig knows he can count on at least 30 minutes of relaxation once his kid's tucked in and his wife starts her own self-care rituals.

L is for a location.

Image via iStock.

Think of it as your "happy place." Have a few locations in mind that put you at ease and that are easily accessible and reliably there for you, whether it's your bedroom, your favorite café, your gym or yoga studio, or the nature trail just beyond your fence. One of Lustig's go-to places is his backyard, amid the beauty and abundance of his garden.

A is for an activity.

Lustig also happens to be a beast on the piano. Photo by Maz Ali/Upworthy.

"When we ask people, 'What's your activity?' we'll get responses like, 'brushing my teeth,'" he says. "Sure, that's good hygiene, but it's not long enough, and we kind of have to do that. Or we hear things like, 'going on vacation.' But how often can you do that?" Instead, he says, choose activities you want to do and that you can integrate into your regular schedule. As for Lustig, he finds escape in the intricacies of classical compositions right from his piano bench.

N is for the name of someone you can count on.

Image via iStock.

"For some people, it’s their mother or their best friend. For some, it’s a therapist," Lustig says. The idea is to have that someone who will listen to what you’re going through, empathize with you, and share with you in that moment to help relieve stress.

How will you know if your self-care practices are actually working?

According to Lustig, to commit to better self-care is to acknowledge that you deserve time to yourself, to accept that it's OK to indulge a little — so long as it doesn't engender too much guilt — and to "turn off" the parts of your brain that are overworked.

Image via iStock.

If you're doing self-care well, you'll feel it. Your stress will become more manageable. You'll tackle the tasks and challenges of your day with greater ease. And you may even begin to feel better physically.

"When we’re stressed mentally, we have a lot of physical problems as a result," he says. "We have more headaches, we have more ulcers, we have more back and joint pain, and we go in for all sorts of other things."

Mental stress also triggers behaviors that can make matters worse, like eating more unhealthy foods or retreating into extended periods of inactivity. "As a result, your cholesterol goes up, your blood sugar goes up, and so on," he says.

Cigna's Go. Know. Take Control.℠ preventive health campaign educates people about their four health numbers: blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, and body mass index. Images by Cigna.

Self-care has the potential to make the world a better place — one person, one family, one community at a time.

"When we’re in a good space, we do a better job of communicating and understanding each others' perspectives," Lustig says, channeling his own experience as a husband and father. "When it’s been a long day and we’re exhausted, we are not terribly empathic."

Image via iStock.

"When we feel we have everything we need for ourselves, we’re more generous and willing to share what we have more openly and lovingly," he adds.

He then closed with a final doctorly reminder to take good care: "Get your needs met — your physical needs, emotional needs, spiritual needs, cultural needs, community needs, all of it — and we’ll all be much better off.”

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Cigna 2017

Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

RELATED: This fascinating comic explains why we shouldn't use some Native American designs.

Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

RELATED: This aboriginal Australian used kindness and tea to trump the racism he overheard.

Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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