We hear about self-care so much these days, it’s a wonder that it’s not just a word we skim over and take with a grain of salt. Watching Netflix is self-care. Taking a bath is self-care. Sitting to read a book is self-care. Splurging on a fun shopping trip is self-care. It’s entirely true that any of these things can be self-care, but with the loose definitions we assign to the term, nearly anything could be considered self-care. So – what really is and, maybe more importantly, what ISN’T self-care?
Self-care should be considered anything that fuels us up in a healthy way. One blogger even went as far to suggest that we set the same standards to self-care as we would the kind of care we would give a toddler: Is it healthy? Is it within the proper scope of growth? Is it something that makes them happy? Is it reasonable? Will it cause problems in the future? Are we just bribing our inner toddler to temporarily satisfy our mood?
Those are some pretty good parameters, but they still allow for much interpretation.
What self-care isn’t
Self-care is an ever-changing, ongoing process for all of us. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution or established checklist. Most of us agree that it’s unapologetically taking time for ourselves. But – that could seriously get out of hand without some guidance. Nobody wants to be left with an anxiety hangover to face the consequences of poor decisions made in the spirit of self-care. Consider these tips for what isn’t self-care to help you hone in on better ways to provide self-care for yourself.
- Exercising basic needs: Nobody should think, “Wow – I got a full 10 minutes to shower quickly. What a great moment of self-care!” Taking an hour away from the kids to go to the dentist. Enjoying lunch away from the job site or your office. Anything that involves taking care of normal tasks, hygiene, or everyday activities is not self-care. It’s tending to the adulting part of life. Remembering to pick up ketchup, milk, and laundry detergent hurriedly at the store, even if you are without kids, does not constitute refueling your body, mind, or soul.
- Overextending ourselves: In today’s world, many of us feel we have to do “all the things.” We have to exercise and maintain a healthy physique. We have to volunteer for everything our kids are involved with. We need to attend every outing our friends invite us to. We have to do all of these things to the max, so much so we may end up neglecting what we really need to be doing for ourselves. Working out to the point of being fatigued or trying to cram in that time at the gym when you’re already running on empty may be too much. Give yourself permission to take a breath. The constant need to engage in what we may think is self-care can be pressure, itself.
- Becoming too comfortable with laziness: Downtime is good for the soul. But, zoning out with our phones in our hands for six hours per day is not helpful. Many of us spend hours a day at a computer screen for work; it’s a shame to switch gears into our off time and still continue to rely on a screen to provide us with “self-care.” Change up your environment: go for a jog, do some living room yoga, or get out of the house for a walk.
- Being non-productive: It’s ok to take a breather and get some relaxation in. However, doing nothing can often be as stressful as the times when we have too much to do. When bills pile up, our sinks get overly full of dirty dishes, or when outside maintenance concerns remind us daily that we aren’t getting things done, it becomes stressful! Knocking things off your “to-do” list can be self-care, because it’s a huge relief to be caught up and not have tasks looming over our heads. For instance, if you’ve been meaning to clean out that bathroom drawer for months because you can’t find anything in it, maybe that’s a self-care opportunity. Just think how satisfying it will be when you open the drawer the next time and aren’t facing a mini-disaster zone. Chiseling away at the list of productive tasks we face can leave us feeling very satisfied and with time for other more traditional self-care opportunities. Wellness and overall satisfaction with chores can often decrease our anxiety, too.
- Having too much fun: Going out for a fun night on the town is one thing – but, we don’t have to do it every night in the name of self-care. Eating a triple-decker ice cream cone is GREAT, but most of us probably don’t need ice cream daily. It’s easy to think of only fun things when we’re brainstorming self-care options for ourselves. But, when your self-care options start getting in the way of your “adulting” obligations or your health, they may cause more problems than the good vibes they create.
- Isolating: Any one of us may have a day where we need some silence, solitude, and space. However, choosing to withdraw from family members, friends, and others in our lives without explanation and for long periods of time doesn’t equate to self-care. Self-care doesn’t include causing our friends or family members to worry about us. It doesn’t mean pulling away from the people we love. If you need some space, tell others. Let them know you’ll be back around when you’re ready. Additionally, some of the most fulfilling self-care moments we can have in our lives involve other people. Spending time with your family and friends may bring you joy, fulfillment, and just the right amount of energy to refuel.
Southeast Kansas Mental Health Center
Self-care is an essential part of our mental well-being. It’s a process and may change regularly. If you’re finding that your efforts to refuel, reframe, or repair your emotional and mental well-being aren’t working and a mental health challenge persists, contact our therapists and other professionals for help. Call for information about setting up an appointment at (866) 973-2241.