What People Get Wrong About Self-Care

by Lily Feinn

If you've logged on to the interwebs in the past few months, you've probably come across quite a few articles touting the benefits of the "self-care movement." While a bunch of excellent information is just a Google search away, there are a few surprising things people get wrong about self-care that could impact your journey to a less stressful lifestyle. These common misconceptions may make it difficult to "find the time" to practice self-care or seem like an unrealistically expensive undertaking. Political upheaval and lengthy to-do lists weight on a person, so there's no better time to take a quick break from social media and the daily grind and find out what works for you.

So, what are we actually talking about when we mention self-care? The concept of self-care can encompass everything from the little things we do to deal with our daily basic needs to the extra steps we take to relax and feel emotionally balanced. While the goal of self-care is simple — to feel healthy, both mentally and physically — the paths each person must travel to achieve this goal can be vastly different and a tad bumpy.

Sometimes these acts can feel selfish or luxurious, but self-care doesn't always boil down to a spa day. Taking time for yourself, whether that's in a spa or not, may prove to make you more productive, get you more engaged in your relationships, and improve your general outlook on life. For those in search of a more balanced life, here's a few things to keep in mind so you can get the most out of your self-care rituals without the pitfalls:


It's Not Always Fun Or Relaxing

The concept of self-care has become synonymous with relaxing, pleasurable activities like getting a mani-pedi, soaking in a lavender-scented tub, or taking in the sunshine. Rarely do we think of those little niggling chores we'd rather put off for another day as part of our self-care regimens. The truth is, taking care of ourselves properly also involves checking off some of the things on that overwhelming to-do list (and saving the fun stuff on the bucket list as a reward). To have a healthy balance, you must still pay your bills, go to the dentist and get that cavity filled, and put away the laundry. Avoid the little things and they will weigh on you, and there's no amount of yoga classes or "treat yo' self" mentality that can fix it.


It Takes Time

Integrating acts of self-care into your daily routine will produce instant results, but you won't know if your new strategies are truly working until months pass and you feel better. Not all self-care routines are sustainable in the long term (financially or logistically), so while going on a yoga retreat may give you a new lease on life, a few weeks going back to the grind and the under-eye bags may creep back as well. If you fall back into old habits, don't stress! There is no time limit on self-care.


It's OK To Ask For Help

Self-care may be about learning to take care of your needs and view them as a priority, but that doesn't mean you're alone in this venture. Often one of the first steps of self-care is reaching out to friends and family for help lightening the burden. If you're feeling sad, stressed, or alone, talk to someone about these feelings. Easing depression and anxiety may take professional help, and therapy can help uncover the root of the problem as well as provide useful coping strategies or necessary medication. The idea that you have to "fix" everything by yourself puts unnecessary pressure on the situation, so keep in mind when working out your self-care regimen that you don't have to be self-sufficient right away.


Sometimes Self-Care Involves Other People

The primary tenant of self-care involves putting your needs first, which can make it seem like an exclusionary, selfish act. In fact, though, self-care involves many people. Communicate with loved ones about what you need and ask what they need from you. Their responses may provide more insight into your behavior and how you should move forward.


It Takes Constant Recommitment

If you're feeling pretty good right now, I have some unfortunate news for you: Self-care is not something you can cross off your list and consider "done." If you stop paying attention to yourself once you feel better, that good feeling may soon dissipate. Changing your lifestyle takes time and effort, and it's important to take your emotional temperature, check in with your body, and see how your self-care practice might need to be tweaked to be truly effective. As your life changes, so will your self-care needs. Working little acts of self-care into your every day life and routine will help you keep up the momentum. It's an ongoing process — and it's OK if you're never really "finished" with it.


It Doesn't Have To Be Expensive Or Self-Indulgent

The self-care trend has led to a misconception that in order to do it "right," you have to spend a chunk of change. Not true! Contrary to popular belief, taking care of your needs does not necessarily require a spa trip or expensive yoga retreat (although if that's what works for you and you're able to do it, then go forth). Think about what makes you feel calm, happy and alive. It can be taking 15 minutes each day to read a book or volunteering at an animal shelter. Feeling like you can't afford to practice self-care might keep you from ever trying, so keep in mind that there are no parameters when it comes to personal fulfillment.


There's No One Way To Practice Self-Care

We are all wonderfully unique humans, and it's important to keep in mind that stress relieving activities are not one-size-fits-all. Hot yoga and gratitude journals work for some, but others may find watching reality TV or going rock climbing to be better fits. It's important not outlaw an activity because it's not "socially acceptable" as an act of self-care — find out what works for you and do it! Eating regularly, sleeping, and exercising are a good start, then find out how to personalize your relaxation. There is no "best" or "right" way to approach self-care.


Worrying About Self-Care Can Lead To More Stress

Yes, self-care is important, but if taking time for yourself is adding to your daily stressors, something is off. Vocabulary like "I have to go to the gym" or "I need to eat healthy" will only make you feel worse. Give yourself a break every now and then (after all, that's what self-care is all about) and rephrase your daily goals in a less stress-inducing way.


Self-Care Can Happen In Tiny Changes

You don't need to give your life a complete overhaul to significantly improve your stress levels. Quitting your job, leaving a relationship, and altering your schedule may certainly be helpful, but paying attention to the little things can produce results as well. Start small and work your way up — make self-care part of your daily life and it may provide more clarity when it comes to those big changes.