Maybe it’s Not Really Self-Care
It’s way more than just bubble baths
I think self care gets a bad rap. A lot of people look at it from the outside and assume it’s all just bubble baths and treat yo’self mani-pedi days. There’s a large-scale misunderstanding of what self care is and what it really does, and it hinges on the difference between two similar ideas. There’s self care and then there’s self soothing; I think a lot of people perform self soothing activities and mislabel them as self care.
What’s the difference?
Self care is aptly named: It involves caring for yourself physically, emotionally, or spiritually. This can be things like doing yoga, going to therapy, taking your medication or vitamins, or talking things out with friends or family.
Self soothing is a little different: These are activities that you do to make yourself feel good, but which ultimately do not help you grow or heal. These are where bath bombs, Netflix binges, cheat days on diets, playing video games, and shopping for shoes fall.
So self-soothing is… bad?
There’s nothing inherently wrong with self soothing, it’s healthy to a degree, but it isn’t self care. Here’s the thing a lot of people seem to miss: Self care is often made up of the things that aren’t any fun.
Sometimes self care is doing the hard stuff: eating those vegetables, sitting down and paying your bills, turning down one more round at happy hour and going to bed early, making a budget so you don’t overdraw your account again, or making yourself exercise even if you don’t feel like it. They don’t satisfy the same need for immediate gratification that retail therapy or chocolate cake do, but they overall contribute to your well being in a more meaningful and lasting way.
Don’t worry, there’s room in your life for both self soothing behaviors and self care, but be sure you know which you’re doing so you don’t misunderstand the impact your activities are having on you.
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Deidre Delpino Dykes, an author of speculative fiction, may actually be three birds in a trench coat. She is the co-organizer of the Columbia Writers critique group in Maryland and a passionate player and GM of tabletop role playing games. She is working on a novel-length manuscript and enjoys writing short and flash fiction, some of which has appeared in Wizards in Space vol. 1, Ghosts on Drugs, and Flash Fiction Magazine. Deidre tweets as @DeidreDykes and previously worked as a slush reader for Clarkesworld Magazine.