Take a break. You deserve it. While yes, you deserve self-care, every creature does, the commodification of it often leaves us with some confused messages and understanding, and a propensity to beat ourselves up for not doing all of the things.
Self-care is all the rage these days. I’m a huge proponent of you learning what self-care means for you and making a commitment to taking care of your perfect self each and every day.
My clients love to talk about self-care and the 47 things they’re doing on the daily, but also the 473 things that they are not doing that they know they should be doing.
Which is usually said in this self-deprecating, self-flagellating way. A listing out of their failures to live up to some standard of care that someone else told them is vital for wellness.
Self-care is a super-hot buzzword right now, and as such is being marketed to us in a thousand ways.
To sell us sugary drinks, alcohol, vacations, new clothes, new shoes, new bags, new expensive gym membership.
There are two frameworks I hear and see folks using to talk about caring for ourselves.
One, self-care is a one-off activity, an event, or action we take in the world. Two, self-care is a daily practice or a series of small practices that we do for our own health, wellness, and healing.
Examples of the former, self-care as an event, would be what we see all over social media, a la #selfcare. Taking a bath, going out with friends, or consciously not going out, doing a nice face mask, exercising, saying yes, saying no, buying something, having ice cream or wine. Events. Purchasing things. An occasion of active self-care, and the list goes on and on.
The thing that all these activities have in common is that they give us a wee hit of dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that makes you feel good temporarily, which makes you want to do that thing again. To be real, dopamine flooding our brains and bodies feels so good.
So I’m not out here saying that doing a thing for the dopamine hit is inherently bad or problematic.
I’m saying that if event or activity-based self-care is our only focus, we’re missing out on a deeper form of wellness, which is a focus on consistency.
That is consistently doing the small daily things that build up an internal trust in yourself, that show you that you will show up for you on the daily. With a focus on long-term and short-term health in all the ways. Mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional.
These things often aren’t as shiny, as sexy, as Instagrammable, and I’d say that these things are the things that bring me the most wellness. While the episodic things—the face mask, the night out—are like icing on the proverbial gluten-free, sugar-free cake of my dedication to myself.
The social media sort of culture of self-care can be harmful in a few ways.
One, it can make it seem that we need to have money and spend money to engage in self-care, and that is just BS.
Two, these frameworks can be very centered in a patriarchal, sort of white straight ideal about what it means to care for yourself, which can often look like makeup, skincare, hair care, activities for the sake of thinness.
As always, I have no beef with these activities per say, not at all. I’m just saying they’re selling you a story about what self-care looks like and it’s often a manicure, an expensive hair treatment, a fancy expensive gym class. Obviously, lots of humans of all genders, all races, all sexualities have gorgeous hair, skin, and nails.
Beauty matters in all ways, and you get to decide what that means for you. That’s not the problem or even what I’m speaking to here. You do you, my darling. It’s this way this #selfcare culture label these things as the pathway to being a put together human who takes care of themselves that I find problematic.
The outward external focus that can sometimes accompany these activities. Perhaps doing so so someone else will hopefully think something of you is the thing that I’ll invite you to get curious about.
Are you doing these things because they bring you joy? Independently of anyone else?
If so, proceed. I may or may not have a really nice homemade hair mask in place right now because I’m a Leo and I’m obsessed with my hair, and I enjoy it when it looks really nice. But if you’re doing these things, these self- care activities that are focused on outward appearances in the hopes of influencing what someone else may think of you, then I’ll simply invite you to consider pausing. Contemplate what activities are truly in line with your wellness, your time, your money, your energy, and all the rest.
Three, a focus solely on self-care activities versus self-care as a state of being takes the focus away from living your life as an active daily self-care.
When we use that massage or spa day as a way to buffer against the feelings that come up about not taking care of ourselves the way we’d like to Monday through Friday.
Fourth and finally, occasional acts of self-care can also serve as a buffer against our feelings of guilt or shame around doing things that we judge ourselves for, or that society finds worthy of judging.
Like eating off plan, though if you’re eating intuitively, there is no plan. Or binge-watching Netflix, or whatever, as a way to escape our own minds.
So many of us are using self-care activities as a way to attempt to release the stress and exhaustion that comes from not managing our minds.
It’s a form of self-soothing, like a little kiddo sucking their thumb or rubbing their ear while holding their blankey. Again, never judging because soothing ourselves is super important. It’s actually really vital for grounding ourselves, particularly if we have a tendency to get disregulated.
Another way is possible.
You don’t need to seek the temporary pleasure of buffering against your feelings and calling it self-care.
Instead, you can learn to hold space for your feelings, to truly and deeply feel them, which is the gift of breathwork.
Then once you’ve felt into it, have experienced how it feels in your body, you can do the thought work. This can shift your thinking so you don’t feel stressed. You can change your story so you don’t feel overwhelmed.
You don’t need to order some fancy special meal or go to a Grecian island to feel less stressed.
You feel stressed because of your thoughts and your somatic bodily reaction to those thoughts. And that, my love, is where you have control.
Thought work is the ultimate self-care and your breath is the greatest tool that I know of for accessing our thoughts. Through our breath, we can feel deeply, somatically, within our bodies. We can make peace with our thoughts and then shift what doesn’t serve you.
Looking at your own thoughts and feelings is scary at first, for sure. It’s a skill that takes a lot of practice and guidance of a trained coach such as moi. So we continue to buffer and call it self-care.
I think about self-care the way I think about medicine, which is through the lens of functional medicine. It’s all about root cause care.
Getting to the root cause of our health concerns by learning to love ourselves and manage our minds. When I was practicing functional medicine, I was always digging for the root of the imbalance, the illness. A patient would say to me, I have irritable bowel syndrome, IBS, and I would ask, why? Why? Why? Like a four-year-old.
I would dig until I found the root. The parasite, the imbalance of stomach acid, the bacteria hanging out where it shouldn’t be, the food sensitivity, the thyroid or ovaries or adrenals that weren’t getting the right signaling.
After 20 years in health and wellness, I have come to really see how the root cause behind all of it, each and every physical imbalance, is so often stress.
An inability to manage your mind, leading to more stress, more suffering, more anguish, more buffering. So I shifted my career to the deepest root cause work. Life coaching, breathwork, and mind management, as the most true and vital functional medicine. A way to truly heal ourselves.
This is my life’s work because it works.
When you manage your mind, you don’t need to buffer or to call your symptoms a problem.
You live in acceptance, in your truth. You are aligned with your own capacity to choose your thoughts and feelings so stories like I’m so stressed about whatever it may be, can shift.
You can drop the rock of that overwhelm story. That story that you are so stressed out. You can find another way to interact with the world, starting with your own mind.
So when we’re talking about self-care, I think that our motivation and intention really matter.
The root cause driver of the actions we take are our thoughts. For example, you’re going to yoga because you don’t want to stay home and have a challenging conversation with your partner. Or you watch an entire season of a show, calling it self-care, to avoid thinking about work or dating or whatever. Maybe you go to the gym because you hate your body. In all of those situations, the root cause isn’t being attended to.
The avoiding the fear, the sadness, the self-loathing, those are symptoms of an unmanaged mind. It’s like taking a chemical antacid instead of asking why you have heartburn in the first place. You aren’t really addressing your food sensitivities, acid imbalance in your stomach, possible SIBO, or bacterial overgrowth that underlies it all.
It’s Band-Aid medicine, that chemical antacid, and so often we use self- care as a Band-Aid on our feelings.
A temporary reprieve versus true deep healing.
Truly caring for your mind, body, and spirit, versus just doing a thing to get the dopamine and endorphin hit so you feel good for a minute. Then you have to do another thing and another thing and another thing to get that same hit because you haven’t dealt with your thoughts, which are the root cause issue.
We can wear the fancy yoga pants and eat the perfect salad and do all the things while never really getting the healing we need. Let it sink in.
Breathe into it and ask yourself with love and gentleness and kindness please, am I using self-care to cover up feelings?
As a buffer? As a way to not look at my thoughts and feelings about myself and the world?
If you’re hearing your mind or body say yes, take another deep breath. All is well. There is nothing to feel guilt or shame about. You just have more information now, and that is a beautiful thing, my love.
So does all this mean you shouldn’t do these acts of self-care? Of course not.
I’m a huge proponent of doing the things and doing them with the intention of showing yourself more love versus doing a cover up job on your feelings.
Because the cover up doesn’t serve you. Not in a deep root cause, sustainable healing way, which is what I want most for myself, for you, and for each of my coaching clients.
Sustained, sustainable, lasting healing. Part of that is about doing the daily things that keep you feeling healthy and well in all the ways. Yes, breathwork, yes, thought work, and yes, to daily actionable self-care.
I want to invite you to ask yourself if you’re doing these acts of self-care because you enjoy them, because they bring pleasure and peace and calm and love into your life.
Or is it because you don’t know how else to cope with the anxiety, stress, and turmoil of an unmanaged mind in a world that can feel pretty bonkers.
Ask yourself if you’re doing these things for the dopamine or because they’re a vital part of your healing, your health, your short and long-term wellness. If you’re doing them to forget for a moment, to distract yourself, or because these activities bring you joy and joy is your birthright.
If it doesn’t spark true joy, then it’s likely a cover up.
Which doesn’t mean that we don’t do hard things like learn to run, do breathwork or face our wee internal gremlins. Because all of that’s hard. It’s super challenging to hold space for change. Your brain will fight you every step of the way because that’s its job.
My love, you can do hard things. They become easier when the action is aligned with your thoughts, when you are truly managing your mind. Only you know the real reason behind the choices you make so ask yourself with an open heart, and open mind. Remember to leave the shame, guilt, and judgment out of it.
They have no place here. They don’t serve you. They certainly don’t spark joy.
True self-care is root cause medicine.
Learn to manage your mind so you can come to your life without the baggage of buffering against your feelings. Rather, you can show up from a place of empowerment and dedication to your most profound wellness.
Thank you for taking the time to read Feminist Wellness. I’m excited to be here and to help you take back your health!
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