NAMI Blog: Why You Struggle With Self-Care (Caregivers)

By Britt Mahrer

You may see self-care as a luxurious act of pampering yourself. You may have thought to yourself, I should enact this ritual of personal dedication, resolving to begin a self-care practice immediately. That is, right after those things on your to-do list. And after you help your friend move. And when you get your next paycheck, so you can afford candles. Maybe self-care starts next week? But that deadline next Friday…maybe you’ll just add self-care to your to-do list. You’ll get to it eventually.

Consistently practicing self-care can feel impossible. Here are a few reasons why.

1. You’ve Got The Wrong Definition

Once upon a time, self-care meant “care of self.” It was the act of performing one’s own low-risk medical treatments (insulin shots, exercise, etc.), freeing doctors for more advanced work. But today’s image and hashtag-driven culture points us toward a new definition of self-care: prolonged pleasurable time resulting in peace, happiness and beauty.

In theory, it’s lovely and filled with things we enjoy. But the problem is that this version of self-care takes a lot of energy. It is a massive undertaking. It mandates a very specific process with a very specific result: create a peaceful space, sink into presence and reflection and come out refreshed and filled with self-love (and perhaps with better hair).

The roots of self-care are still there, if you look hard enough. Engaging in practices that prevent the decline of our health and well-being is a powerful notion. Yet this hashtag version of self-care means we are only successful if our actions result in self-improvement. The result? We tell ourselves to create a #selfcare practice, but we don’t. We simply don’t have the energy.

Conclusion: The moment that self-care produces reluctance, it is no longer self-care. It is self-growth. And while there is a time and place for self-growth, it doesn’t have to happen at the same time as self-care.

2. You Think Putting Yourself First Means Putting Others Last

We learn about opposites in grade school (happy and sad, awake and asleep, etc.). In many ways, this all-or-nothing thinking never leaves us. Thus, it’s natural to think the opposite of selfless is selfish, that to care for others, we must sacrifice the care of ourselves.

In particular, new relationships (babies, romances, friendships) often result in a battle between time and to-do list, forcing us to choose something left undone. Prioritizing our new connection becomes a sign of love and dedication, an indication we are good people who care about the needs of others.

Yet anyone who’s flown on an airplane knows the rule: if the oxygen masks come down, secure yours first. Why? Because you have to be okay before you can help others be okay.

This is why prioritizing self-care is important. You can’t drive a car without fuel. Maintaining a self-care practice is not an act of selfishness — it is an act of improving our ability to care.

Conclusion: When self-care feels selfish, we aren’t seeing the long game. Taking time for our physical and mental health makes us more capable for others.

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The opinions expressed in this post are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Edmonton and area Fetal Alcohol Network Society, its stakeholders or funders.

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