We have been talking a lot about self-care recently at both of the places where I work. In these conversations, self-care is usually framed as doing nice things for yourself. Maybe this means taking a walk in the woods, going out with friends, meditating, or taking a mental health day off of work. It could mean eating a really healthy meal or spoiling yourself with a piece of pie after dinner:
Looks pretty good, right? Who wouldn’t want to fill their days with these kinds of activities? If only we had all the time in the world for self-care and could only do this!
Some Self-Care is Not Fun
Unfortunately, this idea that self-care is always a walk in the park or a piece of pie can be a dangerous trap. For some, engaging in these types of activities can even become a way of avoiding doing the activities we really need to be doing. After all, if given a choice, who wouldn’t want to take a bubble bath instead of sitting down and paying the bills?
I’m getting to the point where I think it is almost always MORE important to make sure we are doing the things to take care of ourselves that we DON’T want to do.
Take a look at what your life looks like. What are you avoiding doing? What do you know you should be doing, but aren’t right now? Is it sitting down and doing that work project? Saying no to doing a fun activity so that you can get organized for the week ahead? Maybe it’s taking the plunge to ask for help. Or, here’s one of mine—spending that dreaded time in the kitchen planning and prepping healthy food so I don’t eat junk food all week.
Sounds awful, right? Sitting down and doing work? Saying no to fun activities? Doing what we dread—even asking for help? But…are these things more awful that struggling along and never feeling like we’re getting anywhere? If we asked someone to help us, how much might that allow us to get unstuck???
For some people, asking for help may even mean asking for professional help. I meet people all the time who would benefit so much from being in therapy with a licensed counselor or social worker. But they’re either scared or won’t carve out the time from other activities to do this.
It’s certainly true that therapy can be scary. Your therapist may challenge you to make changes. Most of the time, though, you already know that you need to make those changes. The therapist just helps you get there and keeps you accountable.
Balancing Good and Bad Self-Care
Okay, maybe “good” and “bad” self-care is a bit of a stretch. Maybe it’s more “fun” vs. “necessary” self-care. But both are important!
So, here’s the trick: finding balance. How do you get enough of the fun self-care, but also take care of the things you know you should be doing?
I might suggest creating a list, writing out what you love doing and what you need to do, or even journaling about your thoughts and feelings as you tackle this process. I have a student who recently did a project on bullet journaling. She had amazing success. The process of doing the journal even helped her clarify her goals!
There are TONS of websites with tips and journals you could purchase, if you opt to go this route. Perhaps the first self-care activity calling your name is taking some time to explore them. Perhaps instead, taking a couple of minutes to free-write about what you feel you need to be doing but aren’t is the way to go. Or about what you want to change, and what needs to happen for you to do that.
Then (deep breath): Go and do it.
Of course this doesn’t mean you need to change your whole life system overnight. That would never work!
Maybe this week you set aside an hour to work on what you need to. Even if you would rather be eating pie.
Maybe you call and make that therapy appointment.
Maybe you find a journal and get things organized.
Once you’ve done what’s necessary, THEN reward yourself with doing one of the self-care activities on your “fun” or “want to do” list. Congratulate yourself on taking that positive step, and take the bubble bath. Go for that walk in the woods. Or eat the chocolate.