Today, I'm finally writing about toxic self-care, something that I've been wanting to discuss for quite some time. This topic is near and dear to me because I myself fell into self-sabotaging habits without realizing it. I am carefully working my way back to a powerful, loving version of myself through all sorts of personal growth practices.
This is a tricky topic because, in the end, self-care is really our own opinion. We should do whatever makes us happy and not feel forced to pick up "healthier" habits if we don't really want to. Our lives are ours to live, and how we care for our souls is entirely up to us.
But if we aren't careful, we may find ourselves sucked into toxic self-care.
With this new wave of slowing down, being kind to our bodies, allowing ourselves rest, avoiding pain, it's difficult to see the difference between real self-care and plain indulgence. And when we are ready to push ourselves at something, we feel the need to not push too hard or are looked down on when we do.
But before I go into what toxic self-care is, let's talk about healthy self-care, and how it all started.
What is self-care?
According to Google, the definition of self-care is the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one's own health, or the practice of taking an active role in protecting one's own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress.
Or, according to Anges Wainman, self-care is, "something that refuels us, rather than takes from us.”
Self-care is even explained in the word itself: caring for yourself. It is not a routine or something that should be incorporated into everything but is something that should be balanced into our lives through morning or evening rituals, or daily habits.
People also mistake self-care for present care. What we want and crave right now. We forget that whatever we do now impacts ourselves later, and by avoiding things or indulging, we are putting more stress onto our future selves. Self-care is caring for ourselves all-around and figuring out what is best for us and our health.
When we take care of our mental, physical or emotional health, we are partaking in self-care. So, according to its definition, self-care is not the trend-like hobbies we see on Instagram and Youtube. It is not big cups of coffee and cravings and saying "no". It's so much more than that.
Self-care is the awareness of our health, our thoughts, and emotions and the actions taken to balance them. It's a way of life; a mindset.
The history of self-care
Self-care didn't originate from fellow bloggers or even from self-help books and psychologists. It began in the late 1960's and expanded through the 1970's by the Black Panther Party and other human rights groups. It began as a civil rights movement for African Americans so that they could empower themselves and take care of their mental health through harsh times. Self-care also helped bridge the gaps in government services by providing minorities dental care and even food assistance to those in need.
Self-care extended into the early 80's, but by then it had transformed into something entirely different. Self-care was looked at as cultish or hippie. With the popularity of yoga and meditation arising, people began relating self-care with wellness and body movement and spirituality rather than empowerment.
Then, the term self-care began to subside. The only people who practiced it were the hippies. It wasn't until post-9/11 that the world began leaning on hobbies and activities to heal their mental health and emotional trauma. People began turning back to self-care, and this time it was more mindset and emotionally-based than before.
Through social media, especially Tumblr, self-care began to spread among the younger crowd through artsy posts and quotes. Now, self-care is a trendy topic that is brought up most often during times of stress, such as during the COVID-19 pandemic. Youtube and other social media platforms are cluttered with all sorts of tips and tricks to reach a healthy mental state during times of uncertainty.
With pretty pictures, elegant phrases, and quirky videos, self-care is seen as sweet, innocent, and fun, something that everyone should do. Self-care is treating yourself to shopping, treats, sleeping in, not going to social events we don't feel like attending, and soaking in warm baths. What's so toxic about that?
But, it can be more sabotaging than we think.
Why self-care can be toxic | self-care vs. treating ourselves
Today when we think of self-care, we think of being gentle, slowing down, sleeping in, and feeding into our cravings. We put ourselves first, setting boundaries and saying "no" to plans or even work so that we can tend to our mental and physical well-being.
One might say some people put the self before the care.
I am a strong believer in the idea of slowing life down and paying attention to our surroundings, even finding what feels good. I even wrote a blog post called The key to finding balance in each day, where I discussed the importance of prioritizing what feels good and how putting needs first will help your day naturally balance out.
Life is short, and we shouldn't deprive ourselves of things that feel good. We should treat ourselves every now and again--that's what cheat days are for. It's even good to attend to a hobby that we love each day.
But treating ourselves is different than self-care.
Treating yourself means giving yourself that sugary treat, going to the movies or shopping for new clothes. It's doing things, commercially, that you enjoy.
While treating yourself could mean caring for yourself temporarily, and feeding into your wants, it's not the same as self-care in the fact that you're not protecting yourself from illness, healing your health, and doing what's good for your soul.
You can't buy or indulge your way to happiness and wellness.
The real issue at place is that pushing ourselves is looked down upon. Stress, pressure, strain, and feeling overwhelmed are bad, and feeling relaxed, cuddled up in a blanket with no care at all and a donut is good.
The thing is, feeling stressed and rushed can be a good thing because it works as a fuel to push us. When we feel pressured at work, it'll only encourage us to work faster and perhaps even better.
For instance, I write two posts every week. Before making this decision, I wouldn't post because I didn't have anything to say, or I felt too tired. Of course, now I have more time on my hands, but I learned that skipping posts or avoiding my blog wasn't benefiting me at all. In a way, it made me look at my blog as a hobby rather than my future dream-job.
So now, I push myself to write two posts a week, and I see so much improvement in my blog. Before each month, I plan out my posts in my bullet journal, so I know exactly what I'll be working on.
In my post Why it's important to stop giving so much of yourself, I discuss finding a balance between consumption and creating, and how sometimes we are putting out more than we actually have, which leads to burn-out. It's important to be aware of our feelings and understand that sometimes, we do in fact need breaks.
We just need to note whether we are taking breaks because we need them, or because we want them. The moment we feel stress or fear, we stop and retreat to our little self-care routines and activities. While it is important to manage our stress, doing this can be toxic because we are never reaching our potential or our full worth and never reach optimal flow. If you never push yourself, you'll never get anything done.
The video above really opened my eyes to the silent damages of self-care!
How to avoid toxic self-care
If you want a piece of cake, then indulge in a piece of cake. However, it's important not to mistake food for self-care or even happiness. Face masks and baths and having a me-night are fantastic ways to destress, but they will not completely ease stress, nor will they provide long-term happiness.
We avoid toxic self-care by knowing what's truly good for us, what makes us feel healthy, and figuring out what gives us long-term happiness.
In order to avoid falling into toxic self-care, we must remember that self-care is about our full, unconditional love for ourselves. It's not about putting our needs first, but remembering to care for ourselves physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Self-care is the nourishment of our present and future selves, and the focus of our overall well-being.
The following are some self-care ideas that don't suck, or that won't negatively impact you in the long-run. Like I said in the beginning, self-care is your opinion, but the following are great ways to start implementing into each day.
6 ACTUALLY HEALTHY self-care ideas
1. Push yourself, and challenge yourself
Growing, learning, and strengthing our minds and bodies is so important for overall health and wellness. If you feel stuck, bored, or unfulfilled, try to take on a new goal or project and really push yourself. When you start getting tired, go that extra mile. When you feel doubtful and defeated, work hard for 15 more minutes.
It's important to allow things to happen and attract good things into our lives, but we also can just sit and wait for change to occur. So get up, get going, and have fun.
For productivity tips, read 7 realistic ways to be more productive.
2. Reward yourself and take breaks, but only when you actually work or actually need it
I fell into a bad habit of watching tv while working. It was temporarily fun, but I wasn't ever reaching peak performance or flow during work. So now, I work hard for 30 minutes to an hour, then treat myself to a tea and a fun video. After work, I'll cozy up with a book and celebrate my hard work for that day.
When we reward ourselves constantly, we won't feel fully rewarded when we do work hard. Save those fun treats and movies for celebration and achievements!
3. Begin a Good Thing journal
I started this a few days ago, and it is already doing wonders! I have an entire journal dedicated to only good things. This way, I can rewire my brain to focus on and find good moments. When I feel down with negative thoughts and stories, I can turn to my journal and remind myself of all the good in my life.
Bad things happen, but good things happen, too, and it's important to remind ourselves of this so we don't fall into those downward spirals of emotions.
For more on how our self-talk can affect us, read Why your self-talk could be blocking your happiness.
4. Choose healthier options
Self-care is nourishing our bodies and protecting ourselves from illness. So, think about that next time you reach for a donut because of self-care. Choose a healthier snack or treat, so that way you can carry on without feeling heavy and be prone to breakouts and heart issues.
Also, while sleeping in may sound like self-care, sleeping in is actually incredibly bad for our minds, especially long term. Try sleeping 8-9 hours every night, even if that means waking up early. You'll have more time in your day, feel much more awake and alert, and your brain will thank you for it!
For healthy and realistic meal ideas, read What I eat in a day | healthy, inexpensive, & realistic.
5. Partake in an activity that fuels you
Whether it's a passion project, writing a book, or tackling that TBR pile, start an activity to help grow and expand your mind. Even if it's hard, or scary, or not as fun as binging TV, doing something creative or productive every day will expand and stretch your mind and help you feel well-rounded and even happier. Do something that makes you feel empowered and accomplished, and tend to it every day, or whenever possible.
For hobby ideas, read 8 peaceful (and free) things to do on your own.
6. Step away from your phone and social media, but DON'T ignore people
Strong connections and friends are important for our well-being. Good social connections are one of the key foundations of a happy life. It's good to avoid social media and technology for an hour or more a day, allowing ourselves to be at peace with our minds and bodies, but it's not okay to ignore people for the sake of our own well-being. This will lead to arguments and possibly more mental health issues.
For some digital minimalist ideas, read 5 minimalist tips that make life a little easier.
In the end, self-care is what makes you happy, and self-care is going to look different for everyone. But, what I've learned over the past year, as well as while doing research, is that self-care is really just about self-empowerment, and giving ourselves time to flourish and be us now and again.
Oftentimes, we get caught up in work, drama, or world events, and we forget to take care of the home that is our bodies and our minds.
Maybe we just need to reevaluate how we view self-care. Before reaching for that treat after a hard day, maybe we go for a run instead. Maybe before zoning out to a tv show, we sit down and journal.
All I know is that I learned the hard way that saying no to plans because I felt lazy, cutting out friends because they felt toxic when really it was me, and avoiding the gym because it felt better to stay home, is not how I want to care for myself.
Sources used ~
How do you view self-care? What are some self-care hobbies you partake in?
Let me know below!