We are in the self-care era. The concept is so popular and widely embraced that it seems everyone is doing face masks and daily breathwork. But with so many voices applauding new rituals and practices in the name of wellbeing, it can feel a little overwhelming to keep up with it all. And that sensation of feeling overwhelmed begs the question: Is all of this actually making us healthier and happier?
When scrolling through #wellness TikToks or my Instagram feed, I’m often reminded of how easy it is to get so obsessive about eating “clean” that it actually becomes stressful. The irony, of course, is that stress is bad for us too–including over-stressing about food. So, where else in our wellness routines do we care so much about hitting the mark that we inexplicably miss it? As it turns out, a lot of places. We can be so rigid with being “healthy” that it becomes unhealthy. So, could the same be true with our culture’s self-care obsession?
Before we dive in, you should know that I am pro-wellness. Like big time, it-saved-my-life kinda stuff. But as with all passions, there’s a tipping point. I believe we should all have self-care routines. I believe our bodies deserve (and need!) time, energy, and resources to help them feel their best. But sometimes, we become so mindless with our habits—and get so involved in the latest trends—that the practices meant to help us become harmful. Here’s how to know if your self-care routine is truly caring for you and tips to reevaluate your self-care practices now.
When self-care becomes damaging
The wellness industry means well. However, in the name of making money, it can play a little too much into our fears. It can make us feel like we’re not doing, paying, or being enough. Like, “Hey, are you zen enough? Are you going to wrinkle quicker than you should? Are your insides quietly decomposing before their time? Good news! There’s a skin cream, green powder, or alt-therapy for that!”
It’s like there are two different versions of caring for yourself. First, there are self-care practices you do because you love yourself and know you deserve rest, care, and joy. These practices support a healthy relationship with self-care. They help us feel good, and they don’t suffocate the rest of our lives. Then, there are self-care practices you do because you don’t feel good enough as you already are. This can become a stressful obsession with the impossible pursuit to make your body and mind forever flawless.
I’ve experienced both forms, and if you’re into wellness like I am, you probably have, too. Thankfully, I’ve learned a few things about identifying self-care practices and whether or not they’re genuinely caring for you. So, read on for some key tips to reevaluate your self-care routine and make sure it’s actually caring for you.
Tips to Reevaluate Your Self-Care Routine
Get honest with yourself
Before you can even begin to protect yourself against accidental self-sabotage, you need to have “the talk.” What kind of relationship do you currently have with self-care? Is it flirtatious and fun? Committed and energizing? Or does it talk down to you and make you feel small? Do you feel pressure to keep it up? Does it feel like a chore? If you feel uncomfortable in your relationship with self-care, you can repair it. Awareness is one of the greatest powers at your disposal. Simply acknowledging where you’re at can give you the power to shift course.
Name your fears
Whether or not you have a healthy relationship with self-care, you undoubtedly have some wellness-related fears. For instance, I sometimes fear that I’m accidentally doing something bad for me that I think is good for me—like a health supplement that is actually filled with toxins. Other fears might include that you’re aging too fast, falling behind with your health, or that you have to strive for perfection. Maybe you even have some internalized fatphobia or orthorexic behavior where food that’s not considered nutritious can make you feel anxious.
Naming your fears allows you to pause before they get the best of you. Additionally, seek therapy to work through mindsets holding you back. When you feel triggered to start a new self-care practice, consider this: Will it feel good or stressful to incorporate this into your routine? Does the idea of dry brushing your entire body every single morning give you hives or get you excited to assess the results? A little nervousness when trying something new is normal. However, if maintaining a budding practice has become a stressful ordeal, you might be doing it out of fear rather than care. Either reframe your relationship to the practice or reexamine if it should be in your routine at all.
Reconnect to your “why”
Your “why” is the opposite of fear–it’s what lights you up! If you are invested in self-care, it’s likely because it feeds something in you that makes you feel good. Maybe the endorphins from your exercise routine make you feel unstoppable, or the after-glow from your evening ritual makes you feel pampered AF. This is what self-care is all about. Connecting to what drives you can reinvigorate your relationship with self-care.
For example, the reason I want to exercise is to feel strong and powerful. Whenever exercise feels stale for me, I connect to my “why,” and it completely renews my energy. When I connect to the affirmation “I am getting stronger” throughout my workout, it’s less of a burden and more invigorating. The aftermath of the workout is also more enriching because I’m focused on how good it feels instead of checking a chore off of a list.
Reconnecting to your “why” is also a great tool to reach for if you notice your fears are starting to run the show. Your “why” will connect you to your values. This might expose some of your fears as nonessential. For example, maybe you’re being told the skin cream you love isn’t as effective as a trendy new face oil, and it’s triggering a fear that you’re behind the curve. Is having the most effective solution what’s really important to you? Or is “effective enough” OK? If the skin cream you already have makes you feel radiant, smells amazing, and elicits all the relaxing vibes, isn’t that the goal? You don’t have to chase the trends or latest products if what you’re already doing meets your needs for self-care.
Eliminate the phrase “I should”
When push comes to shove, “should” is a shaming word. When you are connected to your “why,” self-care comes from I want to, not I should. So if you’ve tried all the steps above and still find yourself feeling overwhelmed by your desire to keep up, hunt for the places you tell yourself, “I should.” I’m going to say something radical: When it comes to self-care, you aren’t obligated to do anything. Self-care means making time and energy to care for yourself, and that’s it! When we talk about self-care in today’s world, we have this image that it’s about bubble baths and gym memberships. But self-care can literally look like anything: a nap, a glass of wine with friends, skipping the gym for an hour of TV because you need it more, or going to therapy.
If there’s something that you know could be “good for you,” but you just don’t want to do it, that’s OK. Feeling pressured to do something defeats the whole purpose of self-care. So next time you hear yourself utter an “I should” about your wellness routine, try swapping it with “I want to.” If that doesn’t feel right, then guess what? You might not want to, and that’s OK! Our desires—and our capacity to carry them out—ebbs and flows throughout our lives. Something that feels hard now might feel rejuvenating later. In the meantime, there are other self-care methods that will strike your fancy. Find what speaks to you, and I give you full permission to drop the rest.
Make your own definition of self-care
Ultimately, you are in charge of what self-care means to you. (That’s where the “self” part comes from!) It can be tempting to try keeping up with the trends, but the constant seeking and second-guessing can drag you down. It’s up to you to advocate for your own relationship to care. What feels good for you isn’t going to light everyone else up, and vice-versa. We are so lucky to be living in an era where self-care is applauded and encouraged.
With an abundance of resources and suggestions at our disposal, it’s up to us to decipher which practices will have the most impact on our minds, spirits, and bodies. And most importantly, you do not have to try them all. When you trust your gut, make friends with your fears, and lean into your “why,” your self-care routine will care for, recharge, and energize you.
This article discusses obsessive thoughts, but it is not meant to treat or diagnose. Please take care of yourself if these topics could be triggering, and always seek professional help if you are struggling with an eating disorder or disordered thoughts or behaviors.
Call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237 for support, reach out to a qualified medical professional, or, for a 24-hour crisis line, text “NEDA” to 741741.