self care

Sustainable Self-Care for Greater Self-Love

Putting a band-aid on a broken arm

The term ‘self-care’ has become more about treating yourself than actually caring for yourself. The term is often used to describe an excuse for unhealthy habits, or as a catalyst to escape the reality of a stressful life. Is this so-called self-care actually helping anything? Or is it a surface fix, creating a false perception that doesn’t address any real issue?

I’ve definitely tried it; on one particularly horrible day, I missed an important deadline and still had an unfinished article. I was feeling morose, uninspired, and pessimistic. I weighed my options: I could work late, try to force creativity and have something mostly (not perfectly) done in the morning. Or, I could embrace the apathy washing over me in waves as I glared at my laptop’s blinking cursor. I said fuck it, packed up my desk and went home to drink wine in a bubble bath, telling myself my hard day meant I deserved some self-care.

The next day I woke up with a rosé hangover, soap in my hair, and a still unfinished article that was now two days late instead of one.

Actual self-care is finding solutions instead of making excuses.

Falsely perceived self-care is procrastination; it’s destructive behaviour; it’s smoke and mirrors that ignore or hide the causes of your problems.

“Spa Day” = temporarily escaping your life

With the holidays right around the corner, remember that things don’t have to get to a stress level that you can’t handle. By practicing actual self-care you can develop healthy habits to help prevent difficult situations from forming.

Turning to distraction techniques to find momentary gratification is the opposite of what self-care claims to be. It’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing in that it validates treating yourself poorly until you can’t take it anymore – until you’re about to be swallowed whole.

Getting a manicure in order to feel better for an hour isn’t the solution to allowing yourself to be stressed out the rest of the time – it’s simply treating the symptoms instead of the root cause. Get a manicure because it’s a part of your life you enjoy, not because treating yourself is the only way you can get through your week.

Actual self-care can be a tedious chore.

Prioritizing what’s important to you is one form of effective self-care. It can be creating a budget and a schedule so that you can spend your time and money in the areas that you genuinely want to. It can mean working a job you don’t want to in order to get to a position that you do. It can mean saying no to a night out with friends so you can spend the next day with your family.

Actual self-care can cause friction in your life.

Self-care can be cutting ties with a toxic friend. It can be saying no to a project, whether it’s because you aren’t passionate about it or you don’t have time. It can be taking a career risk, voicing what you want, or standing up for yourself or your beliefs. Self-care can cause conflict.

Self-awareness and self-care are co-pilots.

Understanding that you can only do so much with your day is equally as important as recognizing your latent potential. You can’t be everything for everyone, and knowing your limits is important – but so is knowing when not to limit yourself.

Examine why you aren’t taking the creative or professional risks that you know you should be. Take an occasional day alone if you need it. Recognize your failures, forgive yourself, learn from them, and then move on. Practicing self-reflection is self-care.

Don’t get distracted and don’t get destructive.

It’s not something we usually want to hear, but the stressful situations we find ourselves in are sometimes our own doing. Procrastination and partying are not long-term fixes. Instant gratification can distract you from your stressful life – and even feel blissful at times – but will eventually compound your stress, not provide a sustainable solution to it.

Self-care is dealing with the small stressors in order to improve your life overall. Healthy habits don’t always have that instantly gratifying feel; cultivating them can take time and effort and can be difficult. But in the end, self-care will promote self-love.
Give yourself the freedom to experience self-acceptance and confidence so, at the end of the day, you don’t go home and drink a bottle of wine to forget your stressful day. You do it because you’re a strong, independent person who loves wine.

Colleen Christison