Unravelling the Self-Care Struggle

When the world of self-care promises relaxation and rejuvenation, why is it that for so many, the practice of self-care is hard to do? It’s not a surprise that people are asking themselves the question ‘why don’t I enjoy self-care?’ Why is it that when you finally put time aside to focus on yourself, the experience of self-care is far from the blissful mental and physical retreat envisioned? Why is it that self-care doesn’t pull us towards it with the same appeal as cake, trash TV or phone scrolling? Let’s try to understand what’s going on.  

Do I Deserve Self-Care?

This question could be rephrased as ‘do I deserve to be cared for?’. If you have had experience growing up without being cared for or nurtured, the concept of self-care may seem hard. It can feel like you are doing something wrong by caring for yourself as it does not fit with a version or experience you have of yourself or people in your family. You may be causing some ripples in your lineage by prioritising yourself. The ‘right’ thing might feel like avoiding self-care altogether. The process of breaking this will not be easy but it is possible. Have a goal in mind about why self-care is important to you and why you want to do it to help guide your self care practice. Also, it is important to develop an awareness that the initial stages especially may feel very uncomfortable. This is because self-care is new, unfamiliar and strange. Self-care involves change. The brain can easily feel threatened by change and make you believe you do not deserve self-care as a way to stop the change from happening. A way to navigate this is to give your brain a clear reason as to why you want to do this and keep going while your brain develops its neural pathways to adjust to the idea. With experience it will lead to an acceptance of you caring for yourself.

Bloom where you are planted
Bird breaking free

Breaking Free from Guilt

For many people, the very idea of ‘me’ can be hard. Most people stop at the planning stage and don’t make it to the action stage of self-care because of longstanding patterns of putting themselves at the bottom of their list. Self-care just won’t be enjoyable at these early stages for some people. This strategy helps to reduce guilt, but this is not the answer to ensure healing. Addressing feelings of guilt when thinking about self-care is crucial. Understanding that self-care is not selfish, but a vital component of overall well-being can help shift the narrative around taking time for yourself. For others, it might be important to hold the guilt voice in mind, whilst also holding a ‘it’s time for me’ voice in mind at the same time and start there. Start where you are, over time the guilt voice will become clearer in terms of its origin and easier to work with and challenge.

Redefining Expectations

Unrealistic expectations can sabotage your self-care efforts. Before starting a self-care activity, it would be worth thinking about your expectations of said activity. For example, if you are planning to walk more this year check out your mind’s expectations about this – is it telling you that you should X Kgs lighter in 1 month or is it happy that you are just making a little time for yourself every day? Explore how small, consistent actions can be hugely impactful creating a sustainable routine that fits seamlessly into your life. Ensure that expectations are realistic and do not end up causing you more stress. Self-care activities are a step forward towards healing, not a jump. With time those steps will lead you towards a different path to where you are today. Keep going.

Is the Self-Care Approach Right for You?

Too many self-help Gurus advocate a one-size-fits-all approach to self-care. I.e., have a bubble bath and all your problems will be solved.  It’s essential to recognise that self-care is more complex and nuanced than this. It also depends a lot on where you are in your recovery journey, your unmet needs and your ability to ‘sit’ with your thoughts and your emotions. If the activities you engage in don’t resonate with your interests, it’s time to explore other avenues.

Diverging from the Mainstream

Mainstream self-care practices may not resonate with everyone. A social media influencer may advocate a lifestyle of 5 am meditation, runs, journaling, yoga, cold water baths, 2 litres of water and a TED-talk podcast all before breakfast in their picture-perfect feeds. This is not realistic for most people. Find your way to bring in self-care and tailor that approach to fit your needs. Embrace unconventional approaches that align with your personality and lifestyle, ensuring that self-care feels authentic and tailored to your needs. It might be as simple as lighting an incense stick as you go about your morning routine to begin with. Start there.

Be Realistic about the Ebb and Flo

Recognise the impact of life events on your ability to stick to a routine of self-care. Some days we feel better, some days worse. Sticking rigidly to a plan when you simply need to sleep because the kids have been up all night will probably not serve you well. You may have had a recent break-up and need time to process the events, so easing off your plans may also be more helpful. Life triggers us, throws curve balls at us, and can often scarper our high hopes for daily self-care. Having a realistic view of the fact that you will be more involved in your self-care at certain times and less involved at other times will stand you in good stead for a realistic self-care journey. It may be a good idea to offer yourself options for self-care which you can vary depending on the day’s events and triggers so the focus becomes self-care in one form or another rather than a rigid plan.

Watch out for Burnout

When self-care feels like an added burden, something has gone wrong. Reassess the list above and permit yourself to ease your expectations of self-care. Think about what is feeding your ideas about what self-care should and shouldn’t be. When you think of self-care what image pops into your mind – think what that is based on and whether it needs to inform your view of self-care.

Prepare for Unexpected Emotions

Self-care is more often than not a solitary activity, even when in a room full of people doing a spin class. Difficult emotions may naturally start to emerge. Loneliness, sadness, fear, guilt, anxiety… the key is not to interpret self-care as a bad thing because of these emotions. More often than not self-care is acting as a form of release of difficult emotions. Your job is to observe the emotions being released rather than be weighed down and caught in them. It might be a good idea to sign up to the fact that difficult emotions will surface and to keep a note of which activities lead to which emotions. If these emotions are related to trauma you may want to consider seeking help from a therapist through your journey. 

In the intricate dance of self-care, finding your rhythm may take time. As a trauma and imposter syndrome specialist, Dr Kaur encourages you to embrace the uniqueness of your journey. By personalising your self-care routine, understanding the roots of resistance, and seeking support when needed, you can unlock the transformative potential of self-care and turn it into a source of genuine joy and nourishment. Remember, your well-being deserves to be a priority, and the path to self-discovery starts with a single step.

If you notice that self-care is hard and want some guidance through this process, consider seeking support. Dr Kaur can offer therapy to help you understand what these blocks might be and has techniques to help you work through them so that you live the life you want to.

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