Self-Care Burnout

How much is too much?

Most of us have heard of self-care, as it has been trending for a little while now. It’s the incorporation of activities and behaviors that will decrease stress and improve our overall mental health and well-being. Many mental health professionals recommend this practice, and there are numerous resources available online that offer a plethora of activities that promote self-care. These activities can include listening to music, meditating, taking a hike, and the list goes on (see here for more suggestions).

Initially, I was a little doubtful of the idea, and wasn’t convinced that integrating evening tea into my routine would really reduce my stress levels. Because of this skepticism, I was a little slow on the uptake; but once I got into self-care, I fell hard. I was a runaway train and attempted to incorporate any and every self-care activity into my daily routine, as often as possible. Anything in the name of stress reduction, right?

Drinking tea every morning and evening? Check. Lighting scented candles? Check. Reading a book for pleasure? Check. Meditation? Check. I could go on, but you get the point. In my attempts to engage in self-care, I essentially tacked on an hour and a half of commitments to my day. Some days, I didn’t have time to complete all of these activities. Other days, I just flat out didn’t want to. Candles lost their relaxing aroma, tea lost its soothing effect, chapters in a novel became insurmountable, and meditation became pure hell. In my haste to complete each self-care task, those tasks lost their value, as I wasn’t a mindful participant. Instead of giving myself a break from the rat race of daily life, I was perpetuating it.

Another difficulty I encountered when I began practicing self-care was a guilt-complex. I not only felt guilty if I didn’t complete the selected activities, but also because my interests didn’t seem as mindfully profound as I thought they should be. For example, if one morning I wanted to listen to a true crime podcast rather than an inspirational Ted Talk, I felt guilty.

Why didn’t I want to engage in the right activities? Why wasn’t I finding contentment in the right things? And why in my quest towards self-care was I judging myself?

Why? Because because I lost sight of the actual purpose. The purpose of self-care is to prioritize time to nurture ourselves. The activities are less important than the outcome they provide us.

Once I had this epiphany, my approach towards self-care drastically changed. The focus of self-care isn’t the destination I was chasing; it is the process. So rather than dedicating 15 minutes in the morning to a specific “self-care” task, I have started simply dedicating 15 minutes to something I want to do. Some mornings I may listen to an innovative podcast; other mornings I may watch an episode of Law & Order: SVU. And that’s okay. Whether I spend time petting my dog or calling my mom, I have made a choice to spend those 15 minutes doing something that brings me joy, and that is enough.

While practicing self-care, know that it is individual and non-uniform. Self-care looks different for everyone. Do what works for you, when it works for you. And in your pursuit of self-care, remember to be gentle with yourself and to not lose sight of your goal.

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