When Does Self-Care Become Too Much?

Amie Edmonds ponders the fine line between self-care and self-sabotage.

Self-care has been around for what feels like forever, or rather the phrase ‘self-care’. Particularly since the beginning of the pandemic, it pops up day in and day out. If you were to refer to Instagram for what constitutes as #selfcare, you could be under the impression that once you run a bubble bath and light a candle then you’re suddenly a self-care queen, and all your problems will basically disappear into thin air. If only, eh?

In reality, self-care can be whatever you want or need it to be. It can be taking a day off to do nothing but stay in bed with €20 worth of chocolate and watch Netflix all day. It can be saying no to something that you just don’t want to do. It can be an hour of yoga followed by a green tea. Me time. Making ourselves a priority. Taking care. Literally, it’s up to you to determine what caring for yourself is really about.

Of course, I’m not here to diminish the meaning of self-care, or what it may mean to you. But over the past few months, the idea of caring for yourself has been more important than ever. Because again, hello global pandemic. But is there a point when self-care becomes too much? Or becomes an excuse to not push or motivate ourselves? When does self-care stop being about our mental, emotional and physical health, and become more like self-sabotage? Like a small ball of chaos that we’ve invited into our lives?

For instance, my idea of self-care after a long day is getting into my pyjamas, putting on a face mask, ordering a stunning pizza with garlic dip and cracking open a bottle of Pinot Grigio. Sounds divine, I know. But realistically, this isn’t going to help me in the long-run.

According to nurse and life coach Laura Conlon (lauraconlon.com) caring for yourself is a lot more than a face mask and cosy pyjamas. “To me, as a life coach, self-care is all about working on yourself and realising what the stresses are in your life so you can work on them, It’s so important to identify what the trigger is and where it’s coming from. Another big part of self-care is learning to say no to things.

“It seems small, but it is such a huge thing. When you say no to one thing, you’re giving yourself an option to say yes to something that you might enjoy doing. I find a lot of times we’re taking on so much in this age, there’s so much going on and we’re not really doing stuff that we love or things we want to do for ourselves.”

So when does caring for yourself turn into the exact opposite of what you initially wanted to achieve, and end up causing harm? Laura explains to STELLAR: “Of course, it’s great to have a glass of wine after a stressful day if that’s what you want to do to unwind, but then you go back into work the next day and you’re just as stressed out as you were the day before. So again, you go home to unwind with a glass of wine or whatever it may be and the cycle continues. It’s more of a quick fix, like putting a plaster over a cut and dealing with it later on.”

Since self-care became ‘a thing’, it hasn’t gone anywhere. If anything, it has become more of an obsession, but also something that we are all taking more seriously, in parts. We’re aware that moving too fast, fitting as much into your day as possible and constantly striving or hustling isn’t the ideal situation.

There needs to be balance in our lives, without going overboard on either side. But just because something feels good, doesn’t mean it’s doing you any good. If you have a certain goal to reach for instance, and you’re skipping what you need to do to achieve your goal under the terms of self-care, this is when it can easily cross the line into sabotage and chaos.

“The problem comes if you can’t get back into your pattern and back to your goal, or focus on what you want to do. It results in you avoiding and avoiding your goal, which will actually increase your anxiety,” explains Laura.

Recently, I tried to think of when I used the term self-care as a Get Out Of Jail Free card. I’ve backed out of opportunities, said no to invitations, and instead, stayed at home all comfortable in my fluffy little comfort zone, knowing I’d probably be raging with myself the next day.

According to Laura, if you’re backing out of something that you already feel like you’re going to end up regretting, it won’t result in you caring for your mental, emotional or physical health. “In the moment you feel good, but if afterwards, you’re like ‘God, I should have done that’, or ‘I should have gone there’. Or, on the other side, you could be asking ‘Why did I do that?’ If you’re going to be beating yourself up over your decision to do or not do something, it doesn’t constitute as self-care.”

After I thought back to when I used my Get Out Of Jail Free card, I’m pretty sure that each time I told myself that should have done this, should have done that. Let’s just say that none of this resulted in Passing Go and Collecting €200.

Let’s be clear: Self-care is an absolute essential, but if you’re using this ever-so-popular term as a distraction or an avoidance technique, it’s time to pause. Occasionally, taking your mind off the day-to-day stresses of life is what we all need. But if you find yourself in a constant circle of loopholes (‘I deserve a day off’, ‘I’ll start Monday’, ‘I did x earlier today so I’ll do y now’). that’s when you can’t get back into your pattern and end up jumping from distraction to distraction.

Laura explains this further, saying: “Ideally, self-care starts by creating a new awareness about yourself. For example, if you’re eating pizza too regularly, drinking too much wine or bailing out of occasion constantly as part of self-care, you will eventually realise that this isn’t self-care anymore and will likely result in you feeling worse.”

In an ideal world, we would all have time each and every day to enjoy what we determine as self-care with no repercussions, second thoughts or any little negative vibes floating around. But in reality, we need to ensure that we’re not just sticking a plaster over something that needs attention. Because in the end, that’s the real self-care – isn’t it?


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