I write this blog post, not because I oppose the idea of self care. I am the biggest advocate of self care and you can find me either in a 7am yoga class or sat in my bedroom full of candle smoke. I believe self care is completely different for the individual, and everyone flourishes in different ways. The problem is that it becomes easy to use self care as an excuse to avoid doing difficult or challenging things. You can’t ever overcome your problems if you constantly avoid them. A huge aspect of self care is actually being brutal with yourself and facing up to the facts. You’re never going to be completely comfortable and content with your life, and if you are, you’re probably not progressing very far. Overcoming difficulties and getting to the route of problems is far more positive than doing a £75 fast fashion clothes shop at 11pm.
Self care is defined as “the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one’s own health”. Self sabotage is defined as “behavior that creates problems in daily life and interferes with long-standing goals”. Surely it would be impossible to get the two confused? Apparently not.
Charmingly coined as the “snowflake” generation, 18-30 year olds in the present day are more clued up on the impacts of social media, mental health, self care and self awareness than many other generations. It is for this reason, that we have also become very familiar with acts of self care and compassion.
Within such a busy and confusing generation, it is important to take time out to practice self care. This varies from person to person, and it doesn’t take a genius to understand that compassion and kindness towards yourself is essential for successful growth.
A few years ago I had a therapist who would pull out an A4 piece of paper with a list of “self care” activities on it. These spanned from a bubble bath, to a walk in the park, to meeting up with friends. At the time, I found this quite patronizing, as I was confused as to how a bubble bath was meant to cure my crippling depression, but I took the tips on board and spent the next few weeks feeling cleaner and more in touch with the outdoors.
As time has moved on, and mental health rhetoric has become more focused in everyday life, self care has taken a shift into more action based behaviors. Self care has now become more about eliminating things that are making you feel uncomfortable or “treat yourself” mentality. Blocking people online, cancelling plans, quitting your job, buying new clothes, ending your relationship, buying meals out, sleeping in past your alarm, watching Netflix all day, putting off deadlines.
Whilst I can 100% understand why and how the above have become actions of self care, I can also stress how important it is to understand that many of the above actions are examples of self sabotage, masked as self protection. Each situation is completely different, and there have been times when quitting my part-time job, missing a lecture or cancelling a coffee date has been important to ensure that my mental health remains stable. However, the stickler with these behaviours is that you must also take action against the problem.
An example that is very close to me is the notion that cancelling plans or skipping university/work is “self care”. Admittedly, missing one lecture or flaking on a rota isn’t going to ruin your life, and it’s probably important that you use the free time to come to terms with whatever problem you are experiencing. However, I have been stuck in a situation where I would have absolutely no drive or motivation to attend university or go to work. I am fortunate to be surrounded by caring people, and I fell into the trap of using self care as an excuse to avoid responsibility. I just could not be bothered to do anything productive, and I allowed my depressed mindset to keep me confined in the comforts of my bedroom, or putting socialization above important deadlines. Self sabotage is using laziness or lack of motivation as an excuse not to do anything.
It makes sense to quit your job if you feel unhappy and the environment is not helping you thrive. However, you must have a plan or vague idea of how to move onwards from this. Do you have an alternative job lined up? if you are unable to work due to poor mental health – are you going to seek professional help/make positive changes in your life now that you are unemployed; or are you going to sit and watch Netflix all day? Self care is recognizing that your current employment is not supporting your mental development. Self sabotage is quitting your job and deciding to do nothing else with your new found freedom, and avoiding dealing with the issues that caused you distress
Treat yo self mentality supports the idea of buying new clothes, new gadgets etc in order to make you feel better about yourself. Again, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this and it’s important to reward yourself for successes, or pick yourself up if you’re feeling down. However, burying yourself into your overdraft by using shopping as a tool for happiness is not self care. Buying items that are meaningless and do not actually enhance your life in any way is not self care; it’s wasting money. If you cannot afford something or do not need it, then this isn’t self care – it’s self sabotage as you will then need to find a way to make the money up again.
A final example is the notion that avoiding exercise and eating junk food is self care. Missing one workout because your body aches, or you’re too busy is absolutely okay. Missing a whole week, or month of exercise is also okay – if it is for legitimate reasons. This doesn’t mean working out, this means day-to-day physical activity to get your body moving. Gym, sports and exercise isn’t for everyone, but physical activity like walking is integral to a healthy body and mind. Eating the odd doughnut or pizza every week is very healthy and is definitely more positive than completely eliminating entire food groups. We should be able to eat a balance of 80 nutritious foods, 20 not-so-nutritious foods. However many people get stuck in the idea that self care is laying in bed for days on end and living off crap food, because “self care”. When actually, this is just an example of self sabotaging your health.
Of course, I am not a therapist. I am not a professional and 75% of the content of this post is anecdotal based on my experiences and experiences of others. I have surrounded myself with a very vast variety of people in my short 22 years on this planet, and what I have learned is that the strongest, happiest and most successful people are those who strike a balance between protecting themselves and progressing themselves.