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It’s been a rough few days – overcast weather, doctors appointments, tough conversations – so I decide it’s time to devote a day self-care. I narrow my eyes, take a deep breath, and leannnnn into it. Next stop: Selfcareville, Population: me.
Showers? WHO NEEDS ‘EM.
Carbs? Let’s eat all of them. Preferably topped with melted cheese.
Netflix is on, my sweatpants are on, and the oven is on because I’m making my second pan of pizza rolls.
Also: I don’t need to clean up the kitchen BECAUSE SELF-CARE.
Now, if you’re keeping score, reader, exactly none of these behaviors make me feel better. None of them make up for the overcast weather or the challenges of the last few days. Honestly, I’m using the pizza rolls and Netflix to numb out and avoid doing tough, life-improving things I need to do.
Which leads me to this Potentially Unpopular Opinion: The term 'self-care' has given us a sneaky, clever umbrella term to huddle under while we engage in some of our least-healthy tendencies. Click To Tweet
Watching a three hours of Parks And Rec after an exhausting work day? Self-care!
Tuning out of our bickering children so we can watch Instagram Stories for 20 minutes? Self-care!
Skipping the gym so we can lay in bed for an extra hour? Self-care!
And sometimes these are the things we really need to do take care of ourselves and recharge our batteries. Sometimes the only thing that’s going to cure what ails me is a comfy pair of sweats and some processed carbs.
But if I’m not careful, I can convince myself that not-particularly-healthy, not-particularly-beneficial behavior qualifies as “self-care.”
Self-care looks different from day to day
After a week of hermitting at home, writing for 12 hours a day, my self-care might look like going to my friend’s enormous Galentine’s Party or my husband’s big work shindig. Look at these humans I can talk to! Lo, my voice box has a purpose!
Another week – one where I have seven meetings and we’re hosting out-of-town friends – those same parties would be absolute torture. My self-care would look like sitting in a coffee shop by myself, reading a book, and avoiding eye contact with everyone.
Self-care (obviously) looks different from person to person
If you’re a human who uses the internet, you’ve seen the same three images tagged #selfcare all over social media.
1. Legs folded onto yoga mat
2. A picturesque smoothie bowl
3. Two knees in a bubble bath
And if you’ve seen those same images 47,081 times, it’s easy to internalize the idea that if those types of self-care work for Perfect Internet People, they will work for you, too.
This is your loving reminder that one person’s self-care is another person’s boring torture. Just because Instagram Ashlee with 1.2 million followers recharges with sunrise runs, doesn’t mean they’ll recharge you.
Sure, your self-care might look like candles and journaling. But it might also look like a boxing class, cleaning out your fridge, or unfriending people on Facebook.
Two questions to see if you’re practicing self-care or self-sabotage
How do you actually feel after you finish doing this?
When you watch four episodes of Queer Eye back to back – do you emerge feeling refreshed and recharged? Like you’re ready to revamp your wardrobe and cook healthier?
Or do you feel groggy and weirdly tired from laying on the sofa for nearly four hours?
When you eat smoothies for two meals a day, do you feel alive and light and ready to take on the world? Or drained, cranky, and constantly hungry?
It seems painfully obvious, but many of us fail to consider if our ‘self-care’ actually, ya know, makes us feel good. Click To TweetNext time you do something you’re categorizing as self-care – skipping a party, eating a specific food, drinking with friends after work – take a hot minute to ask yourself “Did that feel good? Do I feel recharged?”
The answer might surprise you.
How will this affect your Future Self?
A bit of Real Talk you might not want to hear: self-care doesn’t always feel amazing in the moment. Sometimes it feels boring, intimidating, or even painful.
Going to the dentist, seeing a therapist, cutting out that super delicious food that gives you a stomachache – these are not the things Instagram hashtags are made of. But your Future Self will thank you.
Those fun things we’re coyly lumping under the heading of self-care – endless social media scrolling, two pints of Ben & Jerry’s, avoiding the friend who lovingly calls us on our shit – these are of no benefit to our Future Selves. In fact, I’d wager they’re actually detrimental.
True self-care probably doesn’t involve flaking out. It’s not consuming things that make us feel like rubbish. It doesn’t include looking at a screen till our eyes fall out.
This is not to say we need to exist solely diets of kale and documentaries. This is not my call to arms to give up Netflix. But self-care means caring for ourselves. It means looking after our wellbeing the way a parent or best friend would.
Yes, it means candles and bubble baths and understanding when we need a treat or a night in. It also means holding ourselves accountable and nudging ourselves to do hard things.
But I want to hear from you! Have you ever fallen into the trap of self-care that’s actually self-sabotage? If you’ve gotten past that, tell us how in the comments so we can learn from you!
P.S. If you’re someone who buys things they don’t need under the heading of “self-care,” this will help!