We Use Self-Care to Reward Harmful Behavior
The world is moving faster. As a result, we are more overbooked, overstressed, and overworked than ever.
We recognize that this hustle culture is not sustainable and thus, the term self-care has increased in popularity over the past few years.
Unfortunately, so have misconceptions and misinterpretations of what true self-care looks like.
In today’s article, I want to talk about self-care. Real self-care. What it is, what it isn’t, and how you can start taking better care of yourself today.
Self-Care is NOT About Treating Yourself
Self-care, like many other personal and mental health practices, has grown in popularity in recent years. Perhaps this shift is due to our increased awareness of the mental and physical strain of daily life in a chronically unsatisfied society. Or maybe it’s just capitalism trying to swoop in and make a profit by targeting individuals in need of some personal TLC. Probably a little bit of both.
Either way, the first thing that usually pops into our heads when we think about self-care is consumer-based. We think about going to the spa or getting a massage. Visions of indulging in expensive chocolates and champagne come to mind. We get luxurious face masks and bubble baths, manicures and pedicures, or buy ourselves something new. In short, we think about what we can purchase to treat ourselves.
But self-care is not about treating ourselves. A treat, after all, is something that’s used to reward behavior. We’re using self-care as a prize or bonus to give ourselves for living the hustle culture and overextending ourselves to the point of exhaustion and burnout. We’re calling it self-care when, in reality, it’s just a shallow reward for not taking care of ourselves in the first place.
Our society is encouraging us to use self-care as an emergency treatment to patch ourselves up after breaking ourselves down. The kicker is that we break ourselves down while trying to live out the unhealthy behaviors that society urged us to adopt in the first place. It’s this toxic cycle that reinforces our own bad behaviors. We are literally rewarding ourselves for making ourselves miserable and burnt out.
Stayed 12 hours at the office neglecting your own personal health? Self-care time.
Pulled an all-nighter to make final edits to a paper so you could get an A? Self-care time.
Taking on a new project even though your calendar is overbooked? Self-care time.
To think of self-care as a treat implies that we need to prove ourselves as worthy of being rewarded. Self-care is not about pampering ourselves or distracting ourselves from our daily stressful lives, but to live a life that’s less stressful in the first place.
Self-Care is About Taking Care of Yourself Every Day
True acts of self-care are intentional actions we take to support our mental, emotional, and physical health. It’s not to be used solely as damage control for emergency situations and crisis management. Self-care can and should be integrated into our daily lives.
Relaxing in a bubble bath, taking a day off work, or getting a massage are still valid forms of self-care. But we are using them for the wrong reasons. We’re using them as breaks from our lives rather than taking active steps toward building a more sustainable lifestyle.
We must also remember to work on strengthening ourselves from the inside out: to build ourselves up and not just treat the surface-level symptoms of needing a break.
Self-care is not a reward, it’s a necessity. It’s about finding a healthy balance in life. It’s showing enough kindness to ourselves every day so we don’t get overbooked, overstressed, and overworked.
True self care is adopting healthy habits. It is the routines and rituals that energize us and that strengthen our body, mind, and spirit. Real acts of self-care are the proactive choices we make to live a life of sustainable happiness.
Self-Care Isn’t Always Easy, But It’s Necessary
Self-care is about taking responsibility for own well-being and knowing what’s good for ourselves in the long term. It’s hard work, and requires courage and integrity. It’s nowhere near as glamorous as pop culture would have us believe.
For as long as I can remember, I have worked hard to be successful. I was an A-student all through my primary and secondary school years, and a 4.0 triple major in college. I wanted to build a safe and secure life for myself so I would never have to worry about not having enough to eat or a place to live. My determination and work ethic was driven by fear. I was terrified of the financial ruin that befell my family and so many others when the economy crashed in 2008.
I wanted to earn my PhD before I was 30. I wanted to publish papers and make a name for myself. I lost sleep over it, I cried over it, I worked myself past the point of exhaustion and burnout. But I kept going… I typed through my tears, and I pushed myself out of bed at 4am to start my morning, every morning. All the while assuring myself that I could sleep when I was dead.
I pushed myself. I beat myself. Until I realized just how toxic my pursuit was to my health and well-being. I knew I needed to take a break.
Even though I didn’t want to. Even though it felt like I was going backwards. I did it because it was what needed to be done. I decided to end my pursuit in academia, to focus on what I needed, and to take care of myself by choosing a less self destructive path.
I didn’t recognize it right away, but in time I came to realize that this decision was the purest and most difficult act of self-care I have ever done.
I realized that real self-care isn’t always what we want to do, but it’s what we should do.
It’s getting enough sleep, making our bed, eating a healthy breakfast, and moving our bodies.
It’s expressing gratitude, reflecting on our lives, and making room for the bloopy things.
It’s talking to our best friend, doing something that makes us belly laugh, and having meaningful conversations.
Most importantly, it’s knowing our boundaries and enforcing them by saying no when we need to. It is also about knowing when to say yes.
Self-care is not always glamorous or exciting. Going to bed early on a Saturday night because I need sleep is in no way thrilling. In fact, it can be downright difficult when the people around you give you grief for not staying up and going out. It isn’t easy choosing ourselves and standing up to other people, but sometimes it’s necessary.
Self-care is about developing healthy habits to build a healthy life. Taking care of ourselves is not a luxury, a treat, or a reward. It isn’t selfish or pampering. It’s not a matter of deserving it or having earned it. We don’t say that we need to prove ourselves to earn the right to oxygen or water. True self-care is no different. It’s a necessity to our health and well-being, but also to our survival in this world.