Self-Care is a term mental health and health care professionals have been familiar with for decades. Over the past several years there has been a shift in awareness moving the term, self-care, into the mainstream. The progress is fantastic, not without confusion though. I’ve seen a trend online, in the media, on social network sites, and with my clients in the therapy hour, there is a lot of confusion about self-care.
Self-care seems to be a catch-all phrase used for any activity or behavior a person feel like engaging in. Self-care is a broad and general term, and as a mental health provider, I spend time educating people on what self-care is and isn’t, and how to bring sustainable self-care behaviors into one’s life creating a foundation to manage life demands, stress and feel purposeful and happy.
Here are five myths about self-care I often hear from clients and see in the media:
Myth #1: Self-Care is Hard
Ask yourself the following questions:
Do you eat every day?
Do you sleep every day?
Do you drink water every day?
Do you walk, move, exercise every day?
Do you have thoughts every day?
If you answered yes to at least four of these questions, then you have an opportunity for self-care each day. Does this sound overly simplistic? On some level, of course. But what I want you to consider is even when you have a busy life, you do have moments and opportunities to make choices on how you are going to take care of yourself. We all have to eat, move, sleep and drink water to survive.
We also have thoughts every single day, hundreds and thousands of them. How many of them are positive, negative or neutral? Consider this: an act of self-care is to choose to have thoughts of gratitude and self-compassion instead of negative and critical thinking.
Making mindful choices to use opportunities throughout the day as self-care moments can shift your perception from self-care being hard, to a mindset of self-care as a series of decisions.
Self-Care Isn’t Hard; We Just Think It Is. Every day we are given choices and opportunities to take care of ourselves. Choose them wisely.
Myth #2: Self-Care Requires Large Amounts of Time
The vast majority of the clients I support are parents. Moms and dads stretched thin, working, caring for a family and trying desperately to balance self-care and family demands. So many parents do not prioritize their well-being due to time constraints and demands of work and home. I get it-I have four daughters, work and strive to find sustainable and creative ways to bring self-care busy family life. Finding time for self-care can be challenging at first, but once you embrace the power of finding moments every day for self-care, you’ll notice the positive results.
What I share with them is this: Self-Care can be done in small increments of time, which add up and have a beneficial impact on well-being. It does require planning and having an awareness of what you need to feel rested, restored and healthy. And, for those who stressed with limited time, planning healthy meals, drinking water, getting enough sleep and exercising even in small amounts, indeed will make a difference!
Self-Care requires the ability to be aware of what you need in your life to feel healthy, happy, and connected to important people in your life.
Myth #3: Self-Care Requires A Lot of Money
Ok, so some acts of self-care do require money, but likely not the amount of money you think. Sustainable self-care is an investment in yourself. The most significant investment in adopting a self-care lifestyle is time, planning and commitment to place your well-being as a top priority in your life. For example, gratitude is an act of self-care. Practicing gratitude require no money, rather having an ability to acknowledge and express what and whom you appreciate-and costs nothing. Making sure you get enough sleep to feel rested takes no amount of money, rather a discipline of knowing how much sleep you need to feel rested and adhering to a bedtime. Again, this self-care act costs nothing. And chances are you already have a budget for groceries and food, so using what you already have, make healthier nutritional choices.
Self-care doesn’t have to cost significant amounts of money. There are many ways to take care of yourself physically, emotionally, mentally, socially and spiritually that costs nothing, rather, an investment in time.
Myth #4: Self-Care is for Vacations or Days Off
In the workplace, there is an epidemic of constant productivity and accessibility with no clear boundaries when the work day or work week begins and ends. We as a culture seem to be in a crisis of productivity leaving minimal time for restoration, self-care, and joy. The current of productivity appears to be paired with a belief there is no time for self-care, other than vacation, holidays or days off. I see this mentality in the therapy hour as well; clients who adopt a mindset of taking care of oneself is reserved for breaks from work. What ends up happening more often than not: once the client has a vacation or day off-guess what happens? They get sick, have a migraine or another health event.
Self-Care is a lifestyle choice, a commitment to take care of your needs-physical-emotional-social-mental-spiritual facets of yourself. It is not something we can reserve only for days off or holidays. Instead, the key is to find moments every day to incorporate self-care into your daily routine.
Myth #5: Self-Care is Doing What Feels Good
Self-care is not being self-indulgent or seeking pleasure at the cost of personal mental health and well-being. Having a glass of wine and a nice dinner with friends has elements of self-care on the surface but consider this: what if the friends you spend time with are not supportive or create drama in your life? And, what if your concept of self-care is having several drinks leaving you feeling horrible the next day, irritable with your kids and with a raging headache? Can these activities be considered self-care?
From my point of view, no.
Self-care enhances well-being and health, not detracts from it.
Self-care is different than self-indulgence or self-pampering. Of course, who doesn’t enjoy a decadent piece of chocolate (self-indulgence) or a manicure/pedicure (self-pampering)? These are fantastic activities to do, but considering these activities as self-care isn’t how I define self-care as a psychologist.
Self-care behaviors are activities that bring health and well-being in a sustainable way to your overall functioning. Self-indulgence and self-pampering are great ways to relax and feel good, in moderation of course.
As a psychologist caring for others at work and a family at home, self-care is a practice I have incorporated into my everyday life. I believe the key is understanding self-care is a lifestyle practice, not a one-time event. And with any practice, self-care takes awareness, habit, and commitment.
Self-care is not about checking a to-do list off each day. Instead, self-care is being in tune with what is needed to stay healthy, happy and purposeful. And self-care is also about being mindful how impactful life events or stressful times can be a call to action to shift, modify, and often, increase self-care activities.
After reading this, my hope is you feel inspired to go out there and take care of yourself because YOU matter! If you’d like to learn more about your self-care and well-being, I’ve created a free quiz on my site: How is Your Well-Being and Self-Care at DrClaireNicogossian.com.