The Dangerous Myths of Self Care

The concept of Self Care has hit the mainstream. It’s on everyone’s To Do list – or rather, everyone’s “I Should Do” list – and on the cover of every women’s magazine. There are entire social media feeds devoted to it. Memes abound in muted colors with perfect serene images. 

While “Self Care” certainly sounds like a positive term, I notice that when people say it, it’s generally followed by a sigh, a flash of impatience, or a steely look of determination. The sub-text is, “if only I could…” or, “yeah, right,” or “I gotta mash this in somewhere, maybe after I finish my taxes.”

The view of Self Care that’s promoted in the media has some seriously harmful ramifications. Here are the 3 most problematic myths I see wrapped up in today’s pop-culture version of Self Care:

  1. Self Care is an appointment. It’s time away from normal daily life. We assign it to 2:00 on Thursday – and if something “more important” (or simply more on fire) comes up at 2:00 on Thursday, we’ll just postpone Self Care until the fires are out (which essentially never happens).
  2. Self Care is for sale. It’s a massage, a spa treatment, a fancy salad, an indulgence we are told to give ourselves – we deserve it. The advertisers have co-opted the term and are using it to sell something – namely, the concept that “I need to buy something to treat myself kindly,” or “I’m not enough.” We need to do something/get something/be something different in order to “care.” It takes resources to have Self Care. No wonder there’s never enough of it to make an impact. 
  3. Self Care is an add-on. It’s an appendage to a schedule or lifestyle that, at the moment, may be inherently UNhealthy or UNcaring. At its worst, the add-on dynamic perpetuates our tolerance of intolerable conditions. We push, push, push through our lives, and at the end of the month, or the project, or the pay cycle, we take a deep breath and pat ourselves on the back and add-on a moment of respite – but then we plunge back in at our usual break-neck pace. Add-ons don’t change the underlying structure that’s creating imbalance and disease. 

And there’s a hidden double-whammy in here: there’s an implication that if we’re NOT “practicing Self Care” in these mythical ways, we must not really care about ourselves. So then we feel guilty because we can’t fit it in, or frustrated because we can’t afford it. The truth is, it’s precisely when we are feeling overwhelmed, time-pinched, or out of money that we most NEED true self-caring. So that’s an important sign that today’s co-opted “Self Care” is missing the target.

Of course, I’m not advocating for a LACK of caring for ourselves. Caring for ourselves is essential. Caring for our fearless body, our busy little mind, our tender spirit – these are requirements if we are going to live a satisfying, fruitful life.

Yet for our caring to be truly effective – meaning, for it to replenish us and reverse the depletion that is epidemic among so many people today – it has to be woven into the very fabric of our day. It can’t be an optional add-on when we have some extra cash or time. 

The good news is, caring for ourselves is absolutely doable. It DOES take focus and attention, but it’s doable, and it doesn’t have to cost a dime. In fact, it’s slightly addictive, once we get started…   

The challenge is to allocate our focus in very intentional ways. It may require that we re-think the way we typically do things. We may have to disappoint some people, or ourselves. We may need to disrupt the status quo that is slowly but surely depleting us.

Here are 5 ideas to help us truly care for ourselves:

  1. Practice the medicine of subtraction. Make a list of 5 things that would make you feel more nourished if you STOPPED doing them. Some possibilities: Checking email or social media feeds every 30 minutes. Comparing yourself to others. Saying yes reflexively without assessing the time commitment. Skipping lunch. Engaging in predictable conflict with someone who baits you. Accepting other people’s poor planning as your emergency. Practicing perfectionism. (Add your ideas in the comments below!) Now choose one that is the most doable for you, and make a commitment to stop doing it at least once this week. (I didn’t say this would be easy – but I guarantee it’s worth the effort!)
  2. Get enough sleep. This one really must come at the top of our To Do list, not as the prize when we’ve done everything else on the list. Have a firm Lights Out time. If you aren’t caring for yourself every night in this way, depletion is the inevitable outcome. 
  3. Notice your mind’s tone of voice when it’s talking to you – and talk back. Our mind is naturally geared to focus on the negative in its effort to protect us from danger. As you eavesdrop on the tone your mind uses with you, ask yourself: “Would I tolerate someone else using that tone of voice with me? Would I talk to my child that way?”  If the answer is “NO!” then a shift is needed. Chances are, that bully voice is afraid – afraid of missing out on something, or of not being enough. Verbalize out loud a gentle response to the mind that acknowledges what is really going on and puts you back in an empowered place – “Honey, I know you’re worried right now, but I’m handling this. Thank you for trying to look out for me. You can take a break now.” Practice taking the upper hand in this inner dialogue.
  4. Make quiet time a rock-solid part of your day. 5 minutes is a perfect place to start. Sit in your bathroom if that’s the only place you can reliably hide undisturbed. It’s in the quiet that we have a chance of hearing our own needs. It’s in the quiet that we can notice the leading edge of depletion, so we can DO something about it. Make quiet a priority.
  5. Find a tribe that prioritizes true self caring. Find a group of folks who treat themselves with kindness and defend their needs, and spend more time with them. Let a wave of communal intention carry you. Surrounding yourself with others who care for themselves AND for you makes self-caring SO much easier and more fun. Yes, this will take time. Find a movement class you really like, or join a book club focused on a topic that lights you up. Join the Inner Wisdom Circle, my Ayurveda mentorship program, a powerful community committed to deep caring for ourselves. (We have an Information Session next week – details on the website above!)

Now, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t also get massages and give ourselves joyful treats. By all means, let’s do that too! 

But let’s make sure we are truly and deeply caring for ourselves in the very structure of our day, in the way we talk to ourselves, in the expectations we hold for ourselves. Let’s create an inner environment of deep self prioritizing that permeates every waking moment. 

You really are a profound, priceless treasure worthy of exquisite care and deep self-love. Let that truth be the baseline of all you do, not the add-on.

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