Self-care is a bit of a difficult topic these days because a lot of the online world has begun using it to mean “indulge yourself” when it is really supposed to mean something like “take proper care of yourself and your life, even if it’s hard. ESPECIALLY if it’s hard.” It’s been interesting watching a counter movement crop up in response to the “self-indulgent self-care” movement. People seem to get quite angry or insistent that self-care means scheduling doctor appointments, doing your taxes, and cleaning your place, often while asserting that things like bubble baths, naps, and quiet activities for yourself aren’t really self-care.
Like most things, the truth lies in the middle. Self-care definitely includes getting your taxes done in time, but it can also include bubble baths, so long as the bubble baths aren’t getting in the way of living a healthy life. If you find bubble baths relaxing, then self-care is totally doing your taxes and then winding down from stressing about money by soaking in some scented bathwater and bubbles. Maybe with a good book or a glass of wine. You do you. The important part is that you’re seeing to your needs, not just doing whatever you want all the time.
Sometimes, your needs are quiet time filled with books and video games. Sometimes it is cooking healthy meals, working out, and staying active every day. Sometimes, it can even be some ice cream after a difficult day, so long as it isn’t always ice cream and you’re not eating it by the pint. A pint of ice cream as a reward for doing your taxes is a dangerous step toward self-indulgence. A small bowl of it totally is. Self-care is complicated and varies from person to person, so it can be difficult to work out a definitive list of what “counts” and what doesn’t.
For me, self-care is a lot of the important stuff that I don’t like to do, such as scheduling appointments, updating my budget, limiting my expenses so I stay within my budget, and cleaning my room. I’m already really good at the self-indulgent side of things, which I really ought to scale back a certain amount. At the same time, sometimes I just need a quiet evening of popcorn and favorite cartoons, or a good book, because I feel every kind of drained. Tonight’s going to be one of those nights.
The occasional night like this, and every version of self-care like them, is important to me because I spent a lot of time wrapped up inside my own head and sometimes need a chance to be pulled out of it. If I spend all my time wrapped up inside my head, my thoughts get muddle, my emotions go haywire, and I usually wind up making myself feel miserable because I get so wrapped around whatever problem I’m trying to work through that every other part of my life fades away. I need something engaging and fun to pull me out, but that still makes me think about things, so I can stretch my mind out again. Pull it away from the problem I’ve been worrying at for however long. Give myself a chance to recover and the thoughts/problems time to breathe. Usually, after a few nights of this kind of peaceful relaxation, I have the clarity I need to finish working through whatever’s on my mind.
Proper self-care is important. If you aren’t taking care of both your mental and physical health, you’re going to wind up causing worse problems for yourself further down the line. Taking care of one at the expense of the other can work for a short time, if you’re in desperate need, but it isn’t something I’d recommend doing if you can avoid it and definitely something you shouldn’t make into a habit. It can be incredibly tempting to lose yourself in some athletic activity in order to avoid what’s on your mind or to indulge in a giant bag of chips or some sweets because it pushes the happy buttons in your brain. Once is not good, but it isn’t bad. Repeatedly losing yourself in athletics until you’re too tired to think or eating a bunch of junk food because it feels good becomes a serious issue.
Well-rounded self-care is key. Some therapy for the mental stuff, rest for your body and mind, healthy meals and exercise for the physical stuff, and a decent amount of the things you enjoy to keep your spirits up. Moderation in all things, of course, but that’s more of a suggestion than a rule or a guideline. You’re really the only person who can say when something goes from self-care into self-indulgence or self-harm, so make sure to keep an eye on what you’re doing and how it makes you feel.