Can Your Self Care Practices Actually Be Making You Unhappy?

Self-care has been one of the most popular wellness buzz words over the last few years, with an almost constant stream of articles, #selfcaresunday posts on Instagram, podcasts, and more dedicated to the topic.

The idea that we need to take time out of our crazy busy schedules to care for ourselves, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, is no doubt a noble and important one, as so many of us are overworked, over-scheduled, and overwhelmed.

However, there is another side to our self-care practices that aren’t as widely discussed, one that may actually be counteracting their well-intentioned benefits. According to some experts, self-care may actually be contributing to the stress and unhappiness it was meant to relieve.

Are we saying to cancel your massage appointment or stop making time for your Epsom salt baths? Absolutely not! But if the title of this article struck a chord with you, it may be worth giving this a read and considering the other side of self-care. The idea here isn’t that the practices themselves are harmful, but rather than the intentions or reasoning behind them might be.

Keep reading to see if any of the potential pitfalls of self-care ring true for you.

Relaxation, or another item on your to-do list?

If you added up all of the small self-care recommendations that take “just 5 to 10 minutes a day!” you’d have a chock-full schedule that would leave you without any time to actually live your life. Meditating, oil pulling, journaling, yoga class, face masks, crystal work, sound baths, mindful cooking- these things can all be great, but they take time! And if you’re trying to fit them into an already overwhelming schedule, it can start to feel less restorative and more stress-inducing.

Be honest: do you truly look forward to and revel in your self-care activities, or do you feel a tug of anxiety or unease when you think about them? Do you really want to sit in lotus pose and recite affirmations, or do you just feel like you should?

Holistic psychologist, Ellen Vora M.D., says that sometimes the best self-care is to simply let go of the wellness to-do list and just do nothing. “Oftentimes, I think introducing more self-care rituals and practices is just adding fuel to the fire,” she said in an article for mindbodygreen. “Sometimes I think we're better off just doing nothing for a while. Nothing-ing may make us feel lazy, but my self-care recommendation for you…is to cut out many of the rituals and just rest in silence.”

Sometimes the most restorative and loving thing we can do for ourselves is to just let ourselves be and chill out rather than trying to, as Vora puts it, “white knuckle” ourselves into health and happiness.

Is it too much pressure to try to be happy all the time?

The self-help world has done a ton of good, but some experts are starting to ask if this constant pursuit of happiness and betterment is setting up unrealistic expectations.

Svend Brinkmann, psychologist and author of Standing Firm: Resisting the Self-Improvement Craze, says we in the Western World have become so obsessed with trying to be our “best selves,” that it can actually stunt us. He argues that this movement has caused us to become self-absorbed and fixated on our flaws, which is limiting our ability to connect with others and truly grow.

In an interview with GQ, Brinkmann had the following to say about the problem with a fixation on self-improvement:

“It's a process without end. You can never say, ‘Now I've realized my full potential. Now I am actually the best version of myself.’ Of course, it's part of the human condition that we strive for things. [But] if we're only okay as long as we are striving, moving, developing, then we're never okay. Then we can never really say to ourselves, ‘Well, I do something valuable. I lead a meaningful life. I don't have to strive to become someone else over time.’ I think that is quite dangerous.”

Again, we’re not here saying that self-improvement or self-care is wrong or bad, by any means! However, if you’ve found yourself under pressure to be happy or constantly working on yourself, this could be something to consider!

Is this playing into a feeling of “not enough-ness”?

On a similar vein, the self-care/self-improvement world can sometimes cause people to feel like they’ll never be enough. Walk into any book store and you’ll see rows upon rows of books dedicated to helping you better your life.

Seeing this endless barrage of books (and podcasts, and blogs, and workshops, etc.) can leave us wondering- is there really that much I need to know to be happy?

Vora says that sometimes the best thing is to just shelve the self-care and go about your day:

“Sometimes pointing so many spotlights at the fact that we're hurting and wanting to heal ends up digging the groove deeper. There are times when it's better to just go about your day without drawing so much of your attention to the fact that you need to heal. In fact, it can be revolutionary to see the ways you're actually healthy instead! Recognize the ways you're already intact and thriving and allow yourself a day when you're not trying to fix what's wrong.”

Is your self-care practice getting too expensive?

The wellness industry is booming, and new “must-have” self-care items are popping up on the market every day. Collagen powders, jade rollers, acupuncture mats, essential oil diffusers- the list goes on and on (and on and on). There are so many products, services, retreats, workshops, etc. vying for our dollars, and it can start to seem like feeling better and caring for yourself isn’t affordable.

While some of these things can be fun and enjoyable, keep in mind that you don’t need them to be happy. If you enjoy having them, that’s great! But if you feel overwhelmed by the amount that your self-help regime is costing you, remind yourself that the key to happiness doesn’t lie in that crystal infused water bottle.

They old saying that the best things in life are free really is true. Fresh air, sunshine, rest, and time spent with loved ones don’t cost a penny but can do us so much good.

Regardless of how you choose to spend your time or your money, remember that your self-care practices should feel good to you. Your routine doesn’t have to be demanding, perfect, or like anyone else’s. Doing what’s right for you, whether that means a candle lit bath or putting wellness out of your mind and just living your life, is what it’s all about.

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