When you think about self-care, what types of activities come to mind?
It seems that our culture often tries to convince us that self-care is the same as pleasure and enjoyment. By pursuing pleasure and self-indulgence on a regular basis we’re told that we are taking good care of ourselves, giving ourselves the life we deserve.
We’ve been told that self-care activities might include bubble baths, massages, pedicures, Netflix binges, a delicious piece of chocolate, a bowl of ice cream, a glass of wine to help us unwind, and the like.
I’m not against pleasurable activities. And I’m not telling you that you should never take part in the above activities.
But I would like to point out that those activities are not self-care.
What is Self-Care, Really?
Self-care is quite simply taking care of yourself. You take care of yourself so that you can be the healthiest, best, happiest version of yourself possible.
Always seeking pleasure and avoiding hard things is usually the opposite of self-care.
If you want to be the healthiest you can possibly be you’re going to have to forgo pleasure once in a while (probably more often than once in a while) and actually do things that are uncomfortable and hard.
Consider parenting for a moment. There are some really fantastic and enjoyable parts about raising kids. They are funny and sweet. It’s incredible to watch your little humans grow up into functioning members of society with their own unique personalities and talents. Kids help you to view the world in different and better ways and they enrich our lives so much.
But, there are also some downsides. Taking care of children involves dirty diapers, epic meltdowns, sleepless nights, endless laundry, homework battles, and more.
You choose to endure these difficult and uncomfortable parts of taking care of children because your kids are worth it.
Likewise, we must pursue the difficult and uncomfortable parts of taking care of ourselves because we are worth it.
Pleasure Versus Self-Care
The majority of the time self-care is hard. I’m not sure who came up with the lie that led us to believe that self-care automatically equals pleasure because most of the time it doesn’t. The pleasure might come later, but the actual task itself is typically hard or at least hard to get started on.
Self-care is deciding to go to the gym. Pleasure is choosing to sit on the couch and binge on Netflix.
Self-care is eating a big salad full of nutritious veggies. Pleasure is chowing down on a mountain of cheese fries.
Self-care is creating and following a budget to better manage your finances and get out of debt. Pleasure is swiping your credit card and deciding to figure out your finances another day.
Self-care is going back to school to get the education you need to reach your dreams. Pleasure is ignoring the call inside of you and choosing to take the easy path instead.
Self-care is going to therapy, taking your meds, getting a mammogram, and visiting the dentist. Pleasure is self-medicating with alcohol, social media, junk food, shopping, or whatever addictive indulgence you prefer.
The Result of Excess Pleasure and Indulgence
So many people have fallen for the lie that we are taking care of ourselves with rewards, treats, and indulgences that we “deserve” because of this hard life that we live.
But the truth is that always pursuing a life of pleasure, gratification, indulgence, and distraction puts us on a path to nowhere. At best we will find ourselves stuck in our lives, constantly feeling like we need indulgences and rewards just to make it through the day.
But what most people experience, is even worse. These small pleasures, indulgences, and distractions send us on a slow downward spiral that just serves to make our lives more difficult and unhealthy. We don’t even realize it’s happening at the time. We’re just trudging through our lives the “best we can” rewarding ourselves with lattes, shopping sprees, and Netflix binges just to make it through. Until a few years down the road and we don’t even recognize ourselves.
We’ve gained more than a few pounds, we’re constantly stressed, filled with anxiety, and short-tempered. We have few coping skills and choose to numb our feelings instead. We might find ourselves facing an unexpected health diagnosis. Our relationships are a mess and we’ve hidden behind a fake persona for so long that we don’t even know who we are.
This, my friends, is completely the result of living a life of constantly pursuing pleasure and avoiding pain. That is not self-care.
Discomfort isn’t a bad thing. Choosing the difficult option instead of the pleasurable choice is usually the smartest decision. Pursuing the hard things in life can often lead to our best results. This is self-care.
I do want to make a point about rest and rejuvenation. It is very true that rest is a vital part of self-care that many people need more of. We need to alleviate our schedules, slow down, relax, and get more sleep. But I’m going to guess that the majority of the people who need more rest would probably balk at the idea of taking a nap or sitting down to relax once in a while. True rest and relaxation is actually a hard thing for many people to pursue these days. It feels unproductive, a waste of time, or it’s simply more enjoyable to stare at our phones or the TV, which does not count as rest or relaxation.
Are you in need of some real self-care?
Think back over your activities and decisions throughout the last week.
Maybe you are the type of person who isn’t choosing pleasure and indulgence, but you aren’t choosing self-care either. You’re so busy doing everything for everyone else that you rarely think about taking care of yourself or even rewarding yourself. Your task this week is to begin to find ways that you can truly take care of your own self. This doesn’t need to take loads of extra time and energy, just start small and choose one small way you can take care of yourself in a healthy way each day.
However, I’m guessing that most of us are in another situation. We have fallen into the trap of indulgence, reward, and self-gratification. We’ve been calling it self-care when we snooze our alarm, pick up our daily latte, or zone out on social media for hours before falling asleep each night. And we tell ourselves that our nightly glass of wine or bowl of ice cream has been a well-deserved reward for all our hard work.
If this sounds like where you’re at, be gentle and easy with yourself. This is not a time for shame and beating yourself up. It’s simply a time to notice a pattern you’d like to change. This week find one indulgence that you’d like to swap out for one self-care activity. Maybe you skip your daily latte and make it a goal to drink a gallon of water instead. Or maybe you forgo your nightly glass of wine and Netflix binge and instead try out a new exercise video (I’ll include links to several online exercise resources at the end of this post). Or perhaps you choose to go on a sugar fast and see how your body responds.
Let’s stop living under the lie that our best life must be the most pleasurable, easy, and reward-filled life and let’s instead intentionally pursue a life of health, wholeness, and true happiness. These things can only be found when we push past our discomfort and do the things that truly involve taking care of ourselves.
Resources to Help with Real Self-Care
Aaptiv – like a Netflix for workouts, but it’s all audio so you can take your workouts on the go. There are so many great options for every level.
YouTube – there are thousands (if not millions) of workout videos that you can watch for free on YouTube. No excuses if you don’t have the budget to pay for workout programs or a gym membership.
Prep Dish – if you need help with meal planning and getting healthy food on the table each night then definitely check out Prep Dish. With an hour or two of prep time on the weekend, you can prepare all of your meals in advance so that you only spend 10-15 minutes in the kitchen on busy weeknights.
Thrive Market – if you live in an area without a health foods store you might want to check out Thrive Market. They have a huge variety of health foods including gluten-free, organic, non-GMO, etc.