International Self-Care Day is on July 24. Some people view self-care as a form of pampering themselves. If you’ve been wanting to start a self-care practice, you may default to the belief that self-care is something that can only happen once you’ve checked everything else off of your to-do list or when you can afford something expensive. And with that mindset, many put self-care on their ‘eventually’ list.
It can feel impossible to consistently practice self-care. Here are a few reasons why.
1. You’ve Got The Wrong Definition
Self-care was once defined as performing low-risk medical treatments oneself (insulin shots, exercise, etc.) to free up doctors for more advanced tasks. Today’s image- and hashtag-driven culture suggests a new definition of self-care: prolonged pleasure that brings peace, happiness, and beauty.
Theoretically, it should be lovely and packed with things we enjoy. The problem is that this type of self-care takes a lot of energy. It’s hard work. The process is very specific: setting up a peaceful space, going inward and reflecting, coming out refreshed and filled with self-acceptance (and possibly better hair).
When you dig deep enough, you’ll find self-care’s roots. Being proactive about our health and well-being is a good idea. However, with this hashtag version of self-care, we are only successful if we improve ourselves. What’s the result? We tell ourselves to practice #selfcare, but we don’t. We just don’t have the energy.
Self-care is no longer self-care when it produces reluctance. Then it’s called self-growth. You don’t have to do self-care and self-growth at the same time.
2. When You Put Yourself First, You Put Others Last
In grade school, we learn about opposites (happy and sad, awake and asleep, etc.). This all-or-nothing mindset never goes away. Consequently, it’s natural to think that selfishness is the opposite of selflessness, that to care for others, we must sacrifice our own needs.
In particular, new relationships (babies, romances, friendships) often result in a battle between time and to-do lists, causing us to ignore certain tasks. When we prioritize our new relationship, it shows love and commitment, and it shows we are good people who care about others.
Everyone who has flown on an airplane knows the rule: if the oxygen masks come down, secure yours first. But why? Before helping others, you yourself must be OK.
That’s why it’s important to prioritize self-care. A car can’t run without gas. By practicing self-care, we improve our ability to care for others. It is not selfish to maintain a practice of self-care.
Self-care that feels selfish doesn’t consider the long term. We are more capable when we take care of our physical and mental health.
3. You don’t think you can afford it
The more expensive the product, the better it works. Right? That’s what advertisers tell us. As self-care gains popularity, so does the opportunity to profit from it. Self-care has now become a luxury item. We can only feel good with the fanciest candles, softest sheets, and most expensive shampoos.
More power to those who find joy in these things. The issue occurs when we start listening to the subconscious message that self-care is not available to those who cannot afford it.
Consequently, what was originally a self-empowering practice has now become inaccessible to people from lower socioeconomic levels. People are led to believe that either they can afford self-care, or they must accept that it’s not for them.
It is possible to improve physical and mental well-being through thousands of practices, many of which are free and quick. So yes, that hour-long yoga class you’ve been paying for is self-care. So is a five-minute yoga video on YouTube.
Self-care does not require fancy things. Rather, we should consciously engage in practices that will benefit ourselves. Sometimes they’re big, sometimes small, but we own them and they work.
4. It’s hard to know when you’ll need it
It’s that old banner-waving motto: hard work pays off. The push-through-it mentality permeates politics, economics, and even gender expectations. “Work hard!” dominates our language. Keep going. Overcome weaknesses.
Our quest for mental toughness led us to believe at some point that listening to our feelings robs us of the power we need to succeed.
We cannot develop self-assessment skills when we numb ourselves to feelings. We never learn how to pause and ask, what is happening inside me right now? What can I do to address it? Taking care of yourself can seem impossible. What are we supposed to do if we don’t know what parts are in need of attention?
Self-care involves redefining our relationship with our feelings, and learning to respect them. Eventually, feelings will no longer be viewed as weaknesses. They will become data, telling us which parts of us need attention.
Don’t ignore how you feel. You should instead use your feelings to determine when you need self-care. And if you just thought, “Well, other people may need self-care, but I don’t,” then you could be the person who needs self-care.