Why Self Care Isn’t Selfish

Self care is a term that’s becoming more and more mainstream, but some people still have a difficult time getting on board with the concept. There are lots of reasons someone might shrug it off:

Sounds great, but I don’t have time.

That’s just something that people who have mental or emotional problems need to do.

I’m too busy taking care of others to worry about myself.

But all of these are misconceptions! Self-care isn’t just a luxury for people who don’t have demanding schedules or a strategy for people who are in therapy, and it’s definitely not an example of selfishness. It’s something you need to prioritize if you don’t want your wellbeing to suffer physically, emotionally, or mentally. Let’s look at each of these reasons individually and talk about why you shouldn’t let them prevent you from practicing self-care.

“I don’t have time.”

If this is your attitude about self-care, then you might not quite get what self-care is. Self-care isn’t a nice add-on or bonus for people who work fewer hours than you do. Writing for Psych Central, Raphailia Michael, MA, defines it as “any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health.” It’s not just that your life will be better if you practice self-care; it’s that you’ll see negative consequences if you don’t. Many people who feel too busy to practice self-care have gotten so used to the consequences of not practicing it that they hardly even notice them anymore. For instance, if having an unstable diet or nonexistent exercise routine becomes the norm, then you forget that the way your body feels day-to-day is not as good as it can and should feel. If you aren’t taking the time to emotionally recharge with activities that you find enjoyable and calming, then you forget what it’s like to not feel overstressed every day. But just because these things start to feel normal doesn’t mean that they’re okay.

“That’s just for people with problems.”

On the contrary, self-care is one of the best ways to ensure that you’re preventing the development of physical, mental, or emotional difficulties. Therapists absolutely do recommend self-care for clients who come to them with all sorts of issues, but people who practice it earlier can help themselves prevent lots of problems before they begin.

 “I’m too busy taking care of others.”

This is probably the biggest misconception of all when it comes to self-care. Think of it exactly like the ever-popular airplane gas mask metaphor: You have to put on your own mask first or you’ll be useless when it comes to helping anyone else. Neglecting your own needs in favor of helping others will only make you less effective at helping them. Maybe your physical health will suffer. Maybe you’ll experience emotional burnout and start to feel too moody or too tired to provide the level of support that you want to give to others. However it happens, lack of self-care will take its toll. You’ll be a better helper of others if you’re physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy.

Avoiding self-care can start to become a pattern (often unconsciously) for lots of people. 

And there are some people who are more susceptible than others, according to goodtherapy.org.

First, if you’re suffering from depression, then you might notice that you want to practice self-care but seem to lack the motivation; it feels like it requires an impossible amount of energy.

Second, if you have codependent tendencies, your over-attention to the person (or people) you’re in a codependent relationship with are likely distracting you from self-care.

Third, if you’re the parent of a child with a physical or learning disability, you likely struggle to get past the feeling that caring for yourself is selfish in comparison to caring for your child.

Finally, if you’re a professional in any kind of care-based industry (like nursing, social work, etc.), then there’s a very high chance that you need to devote more time to self-care. These people often see helping others as part of their identity and feel that they simply have no energy left to give themselves the same attention.

So what can you do to actively practice self-care?

  • Be intentional! Michael explains that if you’re not doing an activity as self-care on purpose then it’s not really self-care. It’s about the frame of mind. For instance, going on walks might be calming and recharging for you, but if you just happen to get lost on your way to a coffee shop on lunch break and end up taking a 1 mile walk, that doesn’t count as self-care because you weren’t in the frame of mind that “I’m going on this walk for The exercise is the same (which is great), but the effect on your emotional health is not.
  • Remember to practice self-care in all dimensions of life, not just one. Don’t neglect your physical health while taking care of emotional health, for example, or vice versa.  Setting boundaries or spending enough time with loved ones are as important as healthy eating and exercising.
  • Look at activities that experts suggest to help with all dimensions of self-care. For instance, this fact sheet and this list are full of great ideas. (One is from a women’s resource center, but the ideas on it are useful for anyone.)

If you’re interested in finding out about ways you can be more intentional in practicing self-care, you can reach us at (305) 501-0133 or schedule a free 15-minute Clarity Consult.  

Envision Wellness is a private practice that offers psychotherapy, psychological testing, and life coaching in Miami, FL.  Our team has a passion for helping others achieve happy, fulfilling, and change-making lives that make the world a better place.  Each therapist has their areas of expertise.  Not sure who you’d like to work with?  Click here to schedule a free 20-minute phone consult to help you decide.

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