We are in the self-care era. The concept is so popular and widely embraced, it seems everyone is doing face masks and daily breathwork. But with so many voices applauding new rituals and practices in the name of wellbeing, it can feel a little overwhelming trying to keep up with it all. And that sensation of overwhelm begs the question: is all of this actually making us healthier or happier?
When scrolling through #wellness TikToks or my Instagram feed, I’m often reminded about how easy it is to get so obsessive about eating “clean” that it actually becomes stressful. The irony, of course, is that stress is bad for us too–including over-stressing about food. So where else in our wellness routines do we care so much about hitting the mark that we inexplicably miss it? Turns out: a lot of places. We can be so rigid with being “healthy,” that it’s actually unhealthy for us. So could the same be true with our culture’s obsession with self-care?
Before we dive in, you should know that I am pro-wellness. Like big time, it-saved-my-life kinda stuff. But as with all passions, there’s a tipping point. I believe we should all have self-care routines and our bodies deserve (and need!) time, energy, and resources to help them feel their best. But sometimes we become so mindless with our habits and get so involved in the latest trends that the practices that were meant to help actually become harmful. Here’s how to know if your self-care routine is truly caring for you, and tips to reevaluate your-self care practices now.
When self-care becomes damaging instead of helpful
The wellness industry means well, but in the name of making money, it can play a little too much into our fears and make us feel like we’re not doing, paying, or being enough. Like, Hey, are you zen enough? Are you going to wrinkle quicker than you should? Are your insides quietly decomposing before their time? Good news! There’s a skin cream/green powder/alt-therapy for that!
There’s “self-care” that looks like a desire to live more richly, authentically, and healthfully, and then there’s a fear of being (or going) “bad.” It’s like there’s two different versions of caring for yourself: the self-care practices that you do because you love yourself and know you deserve rest, care, and joy, and the self-care practices that you do because you don’t feel good enough as you already are. The former, I believe, provides us with a healthy relationship to self-care: it helps us feel good, and doesn’t suffocate the rest of our lives. The latter can become, well, a stressful obsession with the impossible pursuit to make your body and mind forever flawless.
I’ve experienced both forms, and if you’re diehard into wellness like I am, you probably have too. Thankfully, I’ve learned a few things about identifying if each self-care practice, ritual, or mindset is genuinely caring for you or making you more stressed, so read on for some key tips to reevaluate your self-care routine to make sure it’s actually caring for you.
Tips to Reevaluate Your Self-Care Routine
Get honest with yourself
Before you can even begin to protect yourself against accidental self-sabotage, you need to have “the talk.” What kind of relationship do you currently have with self-care? Is it flirtatious and fun? Committed and energizing? Or does it kind of talk down to you and make you feel small? Do you feel pressure to keep it up, or it feels like a chore? If you feel uncomfortable with your relationship to self-care, you can repair it. Awareness is one of the greatest superpowers at your disposal. Simply acknowledging where you’re at can give you power to shift course.
Name your fears
Whether or not you have a healthy relationship with self-care, you undoubtedly have some wellness-related fears. For example, one of my fears is that I’m accidentally doing something bad for me that I think is good for me (like a health supplement is actually filled with toxins, etc.). Other fears might be that you’re aging too fast, falling behind with your health, or that you have to strive for perfection. Maybe you even have some internalized fat phobia or orthorexic behavior where food that’s not considered nutritious can make you feel anxious or fearful.
Naming your fears allows you to pause before they get the best of you, and you should always seek therapy to work through mindsets holding you back. When you feel triggered to start a new self-care practice, ask yourself: will it feel good to incorporate into your routine, or stressful? Does the idea of dry-brushing your entire body every single morning give you hives, or get you all excited to assess the results? A little nervousness when trying something new is normal, but if maintaining a budding practice has become a stressful ordeal, you might be doing it out of fear instead of care. Either reframe your relationship to the practice or reexamine if it should even be in your routine at all.
Reconnect to your “why”
Your “why” is the opposite of fear–it’s what lights you up! If you are invested in self-care, it’s likely because it feeds something in you that makes you feel good. Maybe the endorphins from your exercise routine make you feel unstoppable, or the after-glow from your evening ritual makes you feel pampered AF and recharged for the next day. This is what self-care is all about. Connecting to what drives you can reinvigorate your entire relationship to self-care.
For example, the reason I want to exercise is to feel strong and powerful. Whenever exercise feels stale for me, I connect to my “why” and it completely renews my energy. When I connect to the affirmation “I am getting stronger” throughout my workout, it’s less of a slog and more invigorating. The aftermath of the workout is also more enriching because I’m focused on how good it feels instead of checking a chore off of a list. I can allow myself to basque in the glow rather than the burnout.
Reconnecting to your “why” is also a great tool to reach for if you notice that your fears are starting to run the show. Your “why” will connect you to your values, which might expose some of your fears as nonessential. For example, maybe you’re being told the skin cream you love isn’t as effective as a trending new face oil and it’s triggering a fear that you’re behind the curve. Is having the most effective solution what’s really important to you? Or is “effective enough” OK? If the skin cream you already have makes you feel radiant, smells amazing, and elicits all the relaxing vibes, isn’t that the goal? You don’t have to chase the trends or latest products if what you’re already doing meets your needs for self-care.
Eliminate all “should’s”
When push comes to shove, “should” is a shaming word. When you are connected to your “why,” self-care comes from I want to, not I should. So if you’ve tried all the steps above and still find yourself feeling overwhelmed by your desire to keep up with all the new methods of loving on yourself, hunt for the places you tell yourself “should.” I’m going to say something radial: When it comes to self-care, you aren’t obligated to do anything. Self-care just means making time and energy to care for yourself–that’s it! When we talk about self-care in today’s world, we have this image that it’s about bubble baths and gym memberships, but self-care can literally look like anything: a nap, a glass of wine with friends, skipping the gym for an hour of TV because you need it more, or going to therapy.
If you’re feeling pressure to do something that you know could be “good for you” but you just don’t want to, it defeats the whole purpose. So next time you hear yourself utter an “I should…” about your wellness routine, try swapping it with “I want to.” If that doesn’t feel right, then guess what? You might not want to—and that’s OK! Our desires—and our capacity in which to carry them out—ebbs and flows throughout our life. Something that feels hard now might feel really rejuvenating later. In the meantime, there are other self-care methods that will actually strike your fancy. Find what speaks to you, and I give you full permission to drop the rest.
Make your own definition of self-care
Ultimately, you are in charge of what self-care means to you (that’s where the “self” part comes from!). It can be so tempting to try to stay up with everyone else’s spin on the latest, but the constant seeking and second-guessing is enough to drag you down. It’s up to you to advocate for your own relationship to care. What feels good for you isn’t going to light everyone else up, and vice-versa. We are so lucky to be living in an era where self-care is applauded and encouraged. With an abundance of resources and suggestions at our disposal, it’s up to us to decipher which practices are going to have the most impact on our minds, spirits, and bodies. And–here’s the important part–you do not have to try them all. When you trust your gut, make friends with your fears, and lean into your “why,” your self-care routine actually cares for, recharges, and energizes you.
This article discusses obsessive thoughts, but it is not meant to treat or diagnose. Please take care of yourself if these topics could be triggering, and always seek professional help if you are struggling with an eating disorder or disordered thoughts or behaviors.
Call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237 for support, reach out to a qualified medical professional, or, for a 24-hour crisis line, text “NEDA” to 741741.
Source: Cosmo Politian