True self-care isn’t all just bubble baths and champagne. Sometimes it’s hard work and doing the thing you don’t want to be doing. In the mainstream, what we see as self-care often is actually a way to disengage from our life and to distract ourselves from the real reasons we aren’t living the life that we want. Before getting into what it means to truly care for yourself, let’s dispel some of the myths of what self-care isn’t.
Self-care is indulging Guilty pleasures: Not true
Indulging in retail therapy, binge-watching Netflix all night then sleeping late the next day, emotional eating: while these things all feel good at the moment, and none are inherently “bad”, they are not helping your overall health. Short term gains are not worth long-term losses.
Is retail therapy in your budget? Is buying that one really expensive item worth the stress over not having the money to do the things you need to, like pay your bills or buy healthier foods?
Staying up all night and binging on Netflix can be fun from time to time, but when you do, your circadian rhythm is thrown off. This leads to being sleepy, grumpy and distracted the next day or, if you are able to sleep in, it eliminates hours where you could actually be doing some good for yourself. Do you really feel “recharged” after this anyway?
Emotional eating feels like a necessity sometimes. There are days where it feels like only chicken wings, chocolate, and alcohol will make it better. This is only cheating yourself. Extra calories, poor nutrition, and extra expenses add up quickly in your body and your budget.
Self-care is Pushing past your limits to “achieve your goals”: Not true
There are only a finite number of hours in the day. No matter how hard you or I try, we can not get more than 24 hours. Sadly, we can not bend time to our will. Trust me, I’ve tried, multiple times. The exhaustion that you feel trying to push your self harder at the gym to get the chiseled abs is not good for you. Please don’t misunderstand, daily hard exercise is great. Any type of exercise is encouraged, but take a look at your plan and your "why". Going to the gym to work off poor decisions from earlier in the week is not self-care. Going from a full-time couch potato to trying to be "bikini ready" in 2 weeks is not sustainable or reasonable. Are you pushing your self beyond a limit you are capable of at the moment for an ideal that may not be healthy? Take a look at your goals and make a plan that is reasonable and healthy.
Pushing yourself past exhaustion for your career isn’t self-care either. Again, chase your goals and be persistent, but don’t let it come at the cost of your health. Stressing yourself out, making food choices that are quick but not healthy and neglecting sleep isn’t going to help you in the long run and won’t let you enjoy that promotion when you get it.
Self-care is selfish and luxury: Not true
Overexerting yourself while caring for someone else isn’t taking care of anyone. You get no bonus points for sacrificing yourself while taking care of someone else. In fact, it's the opposite. As you take care of yourself more, you are able to give of yourself more. When you are in a good mental position, you can be more present for others. It’s not selfish to take care of your self, its required if you are planning to help anyone else out ever.
Self-care isn’t a luxury either. You don’t have to have unlimited time and money to make good choices for yourself. Take a moment to breathe when you are feeling stressed. Call a friend when you’re feeling blue. These are quick, easy and don’t cost a thing.
Sometimes self-care isn’t even easy. Making the hard decision to do something to better your life, like cutting toxic people and things out of your life is self-care, but doesn’t always feel like a luxury.
So what is self-care? It's creating a life that you don’t Need to take a vacation from. It’s about taking care of the daily things to ensure a good bigger picture.
Self-care is getting enough rest. Sleep is important for your health and everyday functioning. When you are rested, you bring the best version of yourself to every day. Aim for 7-8 hours a night. Sometimes this will involve saying no to things that may take away from your sleep time, but will ultimately be the right choice.
Self-care is exercise and movement. Going to the gym after a stressful day instead of turning to other things to self-medicate is a great option. Movement and sweat help to promote the “feel good” chemicals in your body naturally.
Self-care is often hard. This amazing article goes in to it more in-depth, but creating a life you don’t need a break from is the ultimate in self-care and that often requires hard work. It’s fixing the problems in your life, not distracting yourself from them. It’s readjusting the plan and not burning yourself out trying to fit into an ideal that isn’t what you want for your life. It’s admitting when you need help and accepting it. Self-care often takes tremendous amounts of strength and grit.
When you’re feeling the need for some self-care, remember to include self-compassion. Self-care is the regarding yourself with care. Self-compassion is treating yourself with care. Self-compassion focuses on the inner voice. Reminding yourself that you wouldn’t expect anyone else who is sick, struggling, over-exerted and exhausted to perform at 110% with a smile on their face, and yet we expect that of ourselves. Self-compassion lets us remember we don’t have to be superhumans. Having self-care without self-compassion creates a debt that needs to be paid from other areas in our lives. Imagine you are talking to a loved one, a child or a pet and they are telling you of the same problems you are having. Is how you respond to them the same way you respond to yourself? Are your expectations for yourself as reasonable as they are for others? Turn that compassionate voice to yourself and speak to yourself with a little more kindness.
The bottom line for self-care is to be aware of your “why”. If you’re going to the gym constantly to get a body that looks like you’ve been airbrushed because you think it will impress other people, that is not self-care. Going to the gym often to reduce stress and have a healthy body are great self-care reasons. Having a little sugary treat with friends occasionally when you eat a balanced, healthy, no sugar diet normally is good self-care. A little more sugar, on top of more sugar and more sugar in your diet is not. What I’ve found to be most helpful is “What do I want now versus what do I want most?” After work, I want to go home and eat a gallon of ice cream in front of the TV. Before bed, I want to distract my brain with social media, but these things aren’t helping me become the person that I want to be and live the life that I know I am capable of. Keep your big picture goal in your mind. You can do it and do it in a healthy, sustainable, achievable way.