Self-care became an incredibly popular topic in the 2000’s–2010’s. On the one hand, this is fantastic, as people began to recognize that they have some autonomy and felt empowered to manage their own well being. On the other hand, it led to a lot of misconceptions about what self-care even means or looks like. This article will explore some of these misconceptions and provide responses for each.
1. Self-care is just doing your favorite things.
While self-care may, at times, involve doing your favorite things, this is a gross oversimplification of the concept. Self-care can look like many different things and serve many different purposes, so on a day-to-day basis, it will change. Ideally, you will take inventory of what your needs are at any given moment and tailor your self-care to that need. Therefore, sometimes you might need to do one of your favorite things, but sometimes you might have to muster up the motivation to do something you have neglected but is causing ongoing stress in your life (hello, sink full of dirty dishes!). When practiced optimally, you will have a whole toolbox of practices that you can do to tailor to your needs.
2. You have to spend money to do self care.
It likely comes as no surprise that with the rise of self-care talk, many companies (particularly wellness companies) jumped on the bandwagon to create, market, and sell self-care products and services (bath bombs, yoga mats, candles, skin care products). While some of these products might actually be beneficial to some people, you can certainly practice self-care without purchasing anything. In fact, some of my personal favorite self-care practices are product-free. Money acts as a buffer to stress, but is not a direct means for increasing happiness. When folks don’t have enough money to sustain their basic needs, that makes self-care a lot more challenging. As a lifelong perfectionist, one of the best ways I can practice self-care is through giving myself permission to make mistakes and be imperfect sometimes. No purchase required!
3. I don’t have time for self-care.
Because self-care has been equated with things like getting a massage or doing a 15-step skincare routine, many people think it takes significant time to engage in self-care. Similar to spending money, taking time out of your day to engage in time-consuming activities might be helpful for some, but is not required. There are ways to practice self-care that you can do while engaging in daily obligations. For example, you can stop and take a few deep breaths when you notice yourself stressed, plan out foods and meals that nourish your body and also make you happy, take technology time-outs, or practice gratitude. None of these things require significant time, and even short moments of self-care can increase calm, presence of mind, and/or happiness.
At the same time, if what you need is something that does take time, you can schedule it into your weeks. Prioritizing yourself and fitting other obligations around it might be exactly what you need if you tend to put everyone and everything else before your own needs (though I recognize not everyone is able to do this).
4. I must earn self-care.
Many people think that you only “deserve” self-care if you have worked a long, stressful day of work or if you have some large chronic stressor in your life. Self-care can be viewed as a reward for hard work and is often necessary in these situations. However, I also like to think of self-care as a preventive measure from all sorts of physical, mental health, or spiritual ailments. We do it not just to overcome a problem, but as one means of preventing the problems from developing in the first place.
5. All or nothing thinking.
Often, people feel like if they can’t do a 30 minute intense workout or a 10 minute meditation, then their self-care routine is ruined and not worth it. However, self-care is not all-or-nothing — engaging in a short self-care practice or something that seems “small” can still have a large impact on your overall well being. If you notice this cognitive distortion emerge for you, practice self-awareness in recognizing this mindset and both accept and challenge it in that moment. This might be all the self-care you need today.
6. Self-care is optional.
Sometimes people feel like self-care is not a priority in their life, so it becomes the first thing to let slip when life gets busy. People feel guilty for doing something other than a given task if there is a lot of pressure to get it done. When we are busy or when we feel overwhelmed, that is often the time when we need self-care the most! In fact, engaging in self-care practices often gives us more energy and motivation to complete those tasks. Viewing self-care not as an optional task, but rather as a regular and required preventive activity (like bruching your teeth), has lasting impacts on our well being.
7. Practicing self-care means I have good mental health.
While practicing self-care certainly helps with sustaining one’s mental health (along with other domains of health), it is not an outright given or the only factor in the development of health concerns. It is important to still seek out the appropriate forms of help (whatever that means for you and your concerns) for any physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual concerns that arise in your life.
These sorts of myths often develop out of a lack of experience with that concept or a fear of the unknown. Self-care is not easy to sustain for long periods and these misconceptions make it even harder. What myths about self-care have you heard? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!