Is It self care or Is It selfish?
In which we discuss the internet’s most relaxing buzzword and how you can get in on the action.
Let’s be honest: who hasn’t snuck out of the office early to get a mani-pedi just because of the need for some time to recover from crazy deadlines? Bought an expensive, absolutely unnecessary bauble because it was made of happiness and joy and would look awesome in a flatlay? Slapped on a sheet mask and chilled out to the cheesiest movie streaming on Netflix? Or called in to file a sick leave (a “mental health day” being the official term in your head) because the thought of going to work was, in a word, unbearable?
If you have, then congratulations, you’ve practiced self care!
Well, sort of. Self care, in a nutshell, is anything you do to help maintain or improve your well-being. Despite the term only reaching peak trendiness these past couple of years, it’s an essential part of everyone’s life, no matter your age, gender, socioeconomic status, or beliefs.
Sounds pretty simple, right? Book a massage or buy a nice pair of shoes and, boom, you can consider yourself cared for.
Again, sort of. “These times are more stressful than ever. There’s information overload and overstimulation, and we’re not aware of it because we’re so used to it, but it does affect us. [Self care is] dealing with the stresses we accumulate throughout the day, as well as the stresses we’ve accumulated throughout the years,” says Dr. Randy Dellosa, psychologist and founder of the Lifechange Recovery Center.
Given that we’re so immersed in our stressful environments, and despite feeling like we have barely enough time to finish what we need to do, much less make time for additional activities, Dellosa says we need to trust our intuition about when and how we need to practice self care. “When we feel that we’re stressed, we might be stressed. We might even be numb to the stress, so we have to sneak self care into our routines,”
he shares. “Most people will wait for vacation time to relieve themselves of stress. However, when they go back to work, they may be accumulating a lot of stress again, so the proper way is to sneak stress relief into your day so you’re not accumulating it.”
The Good and The Bad
As with any trendy movement, like Crossfit or going gluten-free, there will always be supporters and naysayers. Regarding self care, the criticism has always been that it is, at best, selfish and selfindulgent and, at worst, consumeristic.
“The thing with the self care trends these days is they focus mostly on the physical aspect. However, as human beings, we’re multifaceted,” says Dellosa, who clarifies that although self care must involve physical well-being, it must also transcend simple corporeal enjoyment. He likens the practice to a wheel with four different spokes—physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual—and though one or more can temporarily compensate for the lack of satisfaction, fulfillment, or wellness in one area, without all four present and working in tandem, the benefits of self care cannot be maximized. “People use physical self care as a band-aid because they’re caught up in activities or relationships that are not meaningful. True self care means getting into activities or relationships that are already meaningful. If it’s shallow to you, or isn’t enjoyable, it isn’t self care,” he says. He further explains that self care is something intensely personal, meaning although the multitude of Pinterest-friendly ideas across the internet might be a good starting point, they aren’t a formula. “The operational word is ‘meaningful’. It has to be meaningful for you, otherwise, it might be a cause for stress,” says Dellosa, who suggests, “One thing that can help is making a list of things you might be curious about, interested in, or might have been putting off, so you can do those.”
So should you keep following the “treat yo’ self” mantra until the problem goes away? “There’s a fine line between self-indulgence and self care, because being self-indulgent may be the act of self care,” says Dellosa. “This is especially true for someone who is always taking care of other people. [Self care may be harmful] if it affects other aspects of life like, for example, if it eats up too much of your budget or your time. If it takes away from significant relationships or takes time away from obligations, or when it becomes an addiction, when it destroys the balance, essentially.” He adds, “The point is that escaping can be a good thing or a bad thing. It’s the same as indulgence: once you traverse the limit, it’s a bad thing. With self care, you’re limited by time. You can’t and shouldn’t self care all the time because the idea is balance.”
You Better Werq
At the heart of self care, then, lies awareness—of how you feel, who you are, what you love, what matters to you, what your limits are—for self care to be truly effective at helping you live your life at your healthiest and happiest.
“Find out what your triggers are for stress,” shares Dellosa. “Divide your life into the different facets and find out what triggers you physically, emotionally, spiritually, and relationally. From this, you can come up with a self care program for each facet, and try to squeeze in the steps throughout your day or your week so you don’t have to wait for a certain period.”
While this seems like a stressful process—because, let’s face it, self-reflection of any kind can be draining—it’s a necessary and eventually worthwhile part of the process. What’s important is that you’re able to address the issues that are stressing you out as well as cater to needs of every facet of your life, step by step. Think in both the long and short term, and about your physical, mental, and emotional needs. If necessary, seek out professional help. “Self care can be work, initially. You have to analyze—it’s not just about jumping into something. You shouldn’t just do what other people do,” says Dellosa. “Don’t forget that, sometimes, it’s all right to be selfish. Find what’s good for you.”
“If it’s shallow to you, or isn’t enjoyable, it isn’t self care.”