The Problem with Self-Care

By Jimmy Warden

The misunderstandings of self-care

Practice self-care! That has been the “movement” over the past several years, especially now that COVID’s over two years old. The big challenge with self-care is that it’s misunderstood.

A lot of people (myself included) feel like certain practices they have would qualify as self-care. Some of these practices might include watching television, eating unhealthy food, having an adult beverage, smoking cigarettes or marijuana, phone scrolling, or browsing the internet. In reality, these practices could fall under the umbrella of self-harm. Not only that but self-care often requires a bit of work, and in a lot of cases, hard physical or mental effort. All of the previously mentioned practice do not take much physical or mental effort at all.

A lot of it is unconscious behavior. We do it because they’ve developed into habits to turn to when we’re stressed or just want some personal time. The more frequently that we engage in this type of self-care, the more we’re not caring for ourselves, and as a result, we won’t feel much better about ourselves.

What is self-care?

At its most basic level, self-care is a person’s ability to take care of themselves. Because of the ambiguity of what it means to take care of yourself, self-care can look very different for different people. For some people, self-care could be meditation, yoga, or a walk in nature. For someone else, it could be weight lifting, running, or biking. For others, it could be as simple as going on a long drive by themselves listening to music. Essentially, they’re ways that people “fill their bucket”, and feel more whole as a person. These are often activities that people care deeply about, even though they might not be able to do them every day.

Self-care sounds pretty cool, why is it misunderstood?

In the past several years, it has evolved into a buzzword that psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals prescribe to their patients. Heck, these same healthcare professionals are probably prescribing themselves their own self-care! However, one main reason that it’s misunderstood is that people often look at it as something that they have to do rather than something they get to do. They look at it as something that someone told them to do rather than something they do for themselves. This makes self-care seem like extra homework, especially if the self-care recommendation is something they don’t normally practice or want to do.

Another reason that it’s misunderstood is that people believe that self-care should be easy. It should be something that they don’t have to work at. It should just be something that feels good. This is the reason why people reach for the quick fixes of televisions, alcohol, drugs, and the internet. These actions are easy to do and they make us feel good in the moment thanks to dopamine. The sad part is that our dopamine receptors are working overtime when we do this, and we can’t recharge our batteries as a result. We’re constantly feeling like our energy is depleted because we’re constantly emptying our bucket with these practices.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. The keys to unlocking the gate of self-care magic are changes in understanding and mindset.

Self-care is work!

The first key to unlocking the gates of self-care is understanding that self-care takes work. Even if we engage in something like an Epsom salt bath, there is still work that needs to be done before the bath is taken. First, we need to research the Epsom salt that has the desired effect we’re looking for, then we need to find where that salt is located and purchase it. This understanding will help us with other self-care practices that seem passive, such as meditation. Even meditation is something that is not done in a passive way because of its need for a calm, but focused mind. If our mind is not focused on the intention of the meditation, we won’t experience the desired effect.

If we can understand that self-care is work, it will help us approach practices like exercise, nutrition, journaling, and introspection in a much different way. All four of these practices can be very daunting on the outside looking in, but they are quite possibly the four most important practices we can engage in. Exercise and nutrition are two pillars for us to live long and healthy lives, and journaling and introspection can help us get out of our own heads by clarifying our thinking.

Get to over have to, for you over told to do

These simple (but not easy) changes in self-talk can completely change a person’s perspective on self-care. It’s a difficult change to make because our beliefs about self-care and self-talk regarding it are habits that are deeply rooted in our brains. So, start small by swapping out the phrase have to for get to and for you over told to do. The reason behind this is getting to do something and doing something for ourselves have positive connotations attached to them, whereas the other two phrases leave us with negative feelings. The more that we practice trading these words, the more positive feelings we’ll have with the self-care practices that are a bit harder to do. The more positive feelings we have about something, the more likely it is we’ll actually do them.

Where to go from here

From here, try to reflect on what your self-care practices are. Are they helpful or harmful? If they’re harmful, could you engage in them less or swap them for something more helpful?

It’s also important to reflect on your self-care beliefs. Is self-care something you feel like you have to do or something that you get to do? Is it something that someone told you to do or something that you do for yourself?

These are all great questions to ask if we want to take care of ourselves in the best ways possible.

So give it some thought, make the changes where they need to be made, and start taking care of yourself. It’ll be worth the work.

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