The toxic side of self-care

If you’re anything like me, when you hear the words “self-care”, images of bath bombs, mental health days-off from work and “treating yourself” come to mind. The term “self-care” has become a household term over the past couple years, and for good reason. Normalizing our need to take care of ourselves has helped us to be mentally healthier. We’ve learned how to be easier on ourselves and recognizing when we need to take a step back to assess our needs. 

With self-care becoming so popular, it’s apparent that aspects of it have turned into somewhat misconceived versions of what it means to take care of yourself. The dominant narrative is that self-care should consist of doing things that you enjoy, and treating yourself kindly. These forms of caring for yourself hold immense value, however they don’t express the totality of what we may need to feel our best inside. This interpretation of self-care certainly has more complexity — but with that, a more stable foundation of long-term wellness. 

Your self-care arsenal needs to contain more things than just running a hot bath or taking a day off from work. It has to involve things that you may not enjoy, but contribute to your overall well being. This tough-love approach might include things like forcing yourself to go out with friends when you just want to stay in, because sometimes, surrounding yourself with people that care about you may be better for you than isolating yourself with binge watching Netflix — the only person you speak to the whole night being the Uber Eats delivery guy. This conception of self-care could include something like going to class when you’ve missed a couple weeks because getting a bad grade or failing is not conducive to your long-term wellness. 

You need to eat healthier. You need to make doctor’s appointments for the “check engine” lights of your body that you have been ignoring. You need to study for tests, go to class, and ask for help if you need it. It’s okay to start small, such as making that one phone call that you’ve been putting off or just looking up a professor’s office hours. But avoiding the things that will genuinely help you ultimately leads to self-destruction. 

While these things are a start to taking better care of yourself, it’s also important to take steps to understand more wholly and deeply what you need to be more okay. This involves a good amount of self-reflection. Maybe you’ve been bottling up negative feelings, or have an unresolved conflict with a loved one simmering in the back of your mind. Taking steps to work on these subconscious problems, too, is important. These could be affecting your happiness and you may not even know. 

It’s worth acknowledging however that these ideas methods of attaining wellness might come with difficulties for some. If you’re at a particularly low point and the idea of doing something like going to the gym, or going out is overwhelming to you, and all you feel like you can handle is taking a bath, that is okay. But you still need to focus on doing things that might genuinely suck, that will help you. More approachable ways of doing this are maybe reading a book instead of watching so much Netflix, drinking more water than you have been, taking a long shower, playing a game you love, or talking with someone you’re close to. Self-care doesn’t have rules and requirements — but you have to understand that it is not meant to be fun all of the time. 

The best way to think of self-care is “self-parenting.” This may sound weird, however when you’re a young adult and transitioning to being fully self-sufficient, you might not be completely used to not having someone tell you what to do all the time. For college students especially, the transition from having parents that keep an eye on you, or teachers that remind you when things are due, to being on your own, can be hard. Learning to be the pushy parent to yourself that makes sure you’re eating your vegetables, going to bed at a decent time, not missing classes, and showering enough, might actually be the best way to take care of yourself in the long run. 

The cliche things like buying a bath bomb, treating yourself to a good meal, and others, have value. It’s important to do things that you enjoy and to treat yourself with compassion. However, don’t be fooled into thinking that this side of self-care will lead you to deep wellness. It shouldn’t always be warm and fuzzy when you’re trying to take care of yourself. Sometimes, self-care sucks.