What Self-Care Isn’t

 I might break some hearts with this article, but we need to be honest with ourselves. What we claim is self-care is often the opposite. Overeating, hitting the snooze button, and spending more money than we have are not “self-care.” They are conscious acts of self-sabotage. Memes with “Self-care Sundays” and “Make time for self-care” might populate Pinterest, but how often do you take a walk to clear your head, sip calming tea, or rest in silence on a random Saturday afternoon? 

Exactly. We don’t do that. What we do do in the name of “self-care” often leaves us feeling crummy. Sometimes we might think to ourselves, Why did I do that? after overeating until we feel sick, but still look forward to the next time we can indulge. I’m not here to remove all joy from your life, but there is a way to indulge without feeling bad about it afterward. Self-care should make you feel good, not bad. Let’s examine three forms of self-care that we disguise as positive that leave ill effects. I used the word “we” purposely because we know intellectually that the following acts are not good for us. 

Overeating – Overeating is sooo easy to rationalize as self-care. Many of us overeat when we are bored, stressed, sad, celebrating, because it’s Friday, or since it’s Nancy’s birthday in another department down the hall at work. Are you nodding your head right now? Does this resonate? We invent reasons to overeat. Perhaps I should back up and define “overeating.” When I use that word, I am referring to literally eating past fullness. It might be your current routine to eat past fullness during most meals, which is, of course, the problem. 

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to go for a drink to celebrate a friend’s promotion, hit happy hour with co-workers, or splurge on Friday-night pizza. In the right portions, these situations can be healthy examples of self-care. It’s when we overindulge, eat until we feel sick, or eat when we aren’t hungry that we cross over into the danger zone. 

If you read last week’s article , “Enjoy Halloween Without Gaining Weight.” then you might remember my reference to “planned indulgences.” I followed my food plan all week, and all week I looked forward to splurging at a Mexican restaurant with my besties. And that’s exactly what I did. I had one alcoholic beverage instead of my usual two or three, had some chips and queso, but not enough to make me sick, and half of my entrée. That was my splurge for the week. It was a controlled indulgence. Afterward, I felt joyous from spending time with my friends, proud of myself for limiting my drinks to one (Do you eat more when you drink more alcohol? I do!), and for eating until I was full, but not sick. It was a win-win. 

Let’s pause here. You might have rolled your eyes or started to dismiss this article when you read “controlled indulgence” because when you go out with your bffs, you don’t want to be controlled. I hear you! We are responsible for 87,000 tasks every week. I have a full-time job in a stressful field, two little kids, a husband, and all the typical responsibilities that go along with all that. Plus, I have three planners, and I still forget stuff. I don’t want to be controlled! Eating is the one thing I can enjoy without having to plan and limit myself!

Do you identify with that? I get it. Let me ask you this, though: How is that working for you? It’s not. How do you feel after stuffing yourself silly when you go to a restaurant? How do you feel after eating pizza at a work celebration and then following it up with ice cream on the way home? How do you feel after you eat an entire bag of Halloween candy and then still go trick or treating with your children?

I know how you feel. You hate yourself. You feel shame, embarrassment, and disappointment. You tell yourself you will “start again on Monday.” And then you do, but the cycle repeats itself by the end of the week. Friends, it doesn’t have to be this way. This is not self-care. Self-care makes you feel good, not ashamed of yourself. 

You can still use food as a form of self-care, but limit the portions. Plan it out. Indulge in a way that makes you feel good about yourself, physically and emotionally. If your current version of self-care meals leaves you feeling sad, then you need to change. Period. Either way, it’s your choice. 

Morning routine – How many of you start the day rushed, panicked, and near-angry because you hit the snooze button one too many times and are now frantic to get out of the house on time for work? Deep breath. Even that sentence was stressful. How often do you wait until the very last minute to get out of bed and then if a single thing goes wrong, you will be late for work? Um, me. Or at least that used to be me. 

Often times in the morning we hit the snooze button or give ourselves “10 more minutes” to sleep as a form of self-care, but it ends up doing more harm than good. Not to mention if we promise ourselves we will start exercising before we leave the house and then inevitably hit snooze 187 times. Before I conquered my morning routine, the following was an everyday occurrence:

5:00 am (or whatever time for you) the alarm goes off. We think to ourselves; I hate you, alarm (or some version with an expletive), and angrily hit the snooze button. 5:05 am the alarm sounds again. If I get up now, I can still do a 30-minute spin class, have time to make my morning smoothie, and wash my hair. Snooze. 5:10, 5:15, 5:20 I can still do a 20-minute spin class. Snooze 6:00 Well, I’m not exercising. 6:05 I can still wash my hair if I jump out of bed this instant. Snooze 6:15 It’s gonna be a dry shampoo day. Snooze 6:25 Messy bun, it is, then. Plus, no time for smoothie

That was literally my morning for as long as I could remember. Do you identify? We know intellectually that five or ten minutes of sleep after turning off the alarm isn’t going to produce quality sleep. It’s fractured. It’s abbreviated. What good could it possibly do us? It literally only feels good in the moment. We feel warm in bed and luxuriate in the haze of a semi-sleep state. But, hello, it only lasts 10 minutes, and then you have to get up anyway. This consistent snooze-button pushing starts the day off in a frenzied fashion, and it carries over into the remaining hours. At that point, you’ve already thrown off your sleep cycle, and your body will spend hours trying to catch up to set its equilibrium. How you start your morning is how you will finish your day. The end result is not worth the five minutes between snooze alerts. 

THIS IS NOT SERVING YOU. You gotta get your nighttime and morning routine corrected, friend. We aren’t 12 years old anymore, trying to figure out how to set alarms and get ourselves out of the house on time. Come on! We are fully-functioning adults! We are grown-ass women! Let’s put on our big girl pants, stop hitting snooze, and step into our power! By starting your day in a reluctant manner, you are telling yourself that there is something in your day to dread. You are sending your body the message that there is nothing good to wake up for. 

Afterall, if you were excited about something, you would get up, right? Not necessarily. Hear me out. I am wrapping up my first morning routine group tomorrow (insert sad face emoji here), and I tell my students that motivation comes AFTER momentum. Most days we don’t want to get out of bed immediately, but if we want to feel calm, proud of ourselves, and be the best versions of us we can be, then we do it anyway. Motivation comes after a string of successful days. Some of you might have been thinking I don’t want to get up early. No one asked if you want to. That’s not the question. The question is: How do you want to live your life? Do you want to be frustrated, disappointed, and stuck? Or do you want to embrace all the feels and move forward anyway? Either way, it’s your choice. (Are you seeing a theme, here?) 

Spending too much – As a High School Counselor, I don’t work in the summer. When I returned to work in August, I immediately created the habit of stopping by Dunkin Donuts TWICE a day. I would hit the oasis drive-thru on the way to work because America runs on Dunkin, right? I can’t be expected to start the school day without a large Toasted Almond with cream (no sugar! Day 374!), can I? That was rhetorical. Of course, I can’t. After work, I would order a medium unsweetened Coconut coffee with cream AND hash browns AND a breakfast sandwich. The DD total for the day = $10.48. This went on for a few weeks until I realized this little habit was quickly blooming out of control. I rationalized this as self-care because I “deserved” a treat before work to start the day. Then, naturally, I deserved another one for getting through the day. Anyone identify? 

These “small indulgences” start to add up. Had I kept going on this path, I would spend over $200 a month on coffee and crappy hash browns. That’s my son’s taekwondo and my cell bill for a month! Maybe your indulgences are on a much grander scale, like buying multiple pairs of expensive shoes or purses every month, financial splurges on the kids, or maybe they are on the opposite end and much smaller. 

The key to whether these are problems is whether you have the disposable income. I didn’t say the phrase “afford it” because you might be able to afford to spend the money without it being allocated as disposable. See the difference? Either way, you know whether it’s ok to be dropping money like this. We generally spend frivolously for the same reasons we overeat or sleep longer than necessary – to avoid uncomfortable feelings. 

In the spending case, maybe you are bored during the weekend, stressed from carting the kids around to their 187 extracurriculars, or sad because you won’t see your partner for three weeks. Comforting yourself with spending isn’t about the amount you are expending; it’s about how you are using the expenditure. You get a sense of release and calm by not controlling the spending and throwing caution to the wind. It’s the same concept of not wanting to control every aspect of your life. But again, how is that working for you? You know if you shouldn’t be spending in this manner, just like I knew it. 

Regardless of how we compensate for the feelings, we have to be willing to sit in the discomfort. We have to embrace the boredom, restlessness, sadness, or stress to allow ourselves a chance to not give in by using one of these methods. Give yourself a chance to overcome the feelings to prove to yourself that you can do it. Sit in the discomfort. I’m right here with you. 

 Before you go, please share if you’ve struggled with any of the topics from today. Do you rely on any or all of those methods on a regular basis? If you could wave a magic wand, which one would you like to conquer the most? What advice can you give others? 

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