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Are You Confusing Self-Care with Self-Indulgence?

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Heather Golubski

RD, Stronger U Coach

Society is passionate about advocating for self-care for all, and so many people are committing to creating more space in their lives for self-care. But what happens when you are practicing self-care that isn’t refilling your tank? Is it really self-care or are you falling into the trap of self-indulgence? Is there a difference between self-care and self-indulgence? Stronger U Coach Heather Golubski, RD shed some light on this topic recently and was willing to share her perspective to help Stronger U members start practicing more substantial self-care. 

So, What is Self-Care Anyways?

First, what truly is Self-Care? Self-care is a set of specific and intentional actions that we engage in that promote emotional, physical, and mental health, proactively rather than reactively.

When we routinely partake in self-care activities, we promote personal growth and development while connecting to our values and identity. Self-care is rarely spontaneous and/or in response to an emotional stimulus; it is behaviors that we need to habitually repeat in order to achieve long-term benefits from them. 

Without appropriate self-care routines, we frequently become overwhelmed, burnt out, and feel like we are unable to get ahead. If we aren’t meeting our own needs, we’re not equipped to meet others’ needs, either! 

Generally, self-care isn’t fun, y’all. At least not in a traditional sense. Self-care activities usually feel more like work and aren’t things that we do passively or by chance. Depending on what we’re engaging in, they can be downright uncomfortable! 

What are some examples of self-care?

  • Having a strict work-life balance and being confrontational, if necessary, to defend that balance.
  • Dietary restraint. Not restriction, not “treat yo’ self”. True moderation.
  • Routine physical activity. Most people you know who are routinely active weren’t always like that. They had to force themselves to show up until it wasn’t forced anymore.
  • Turn off the TV and the phone and going the f*ck to sleep!
  • Therapy, counseling, meditation. This means addressing your problems head-on. Particularly for those with trauma in your past, therapy will NOT be fun.
  • Seeking medical advice for health issues we are ignoring or avoiding. And if requiring medications, taking those as prescribed!
  • Expanding your comfort zone and continually challenging yourself. Talk to strangers. Read books. Learn a new skill. Put yourself out there.
  • Setting boundaries with social media and all technology, including periods of time “unplugged”.
  • Engaging in positive self-talk and practicing daily gratitude.
  • Creating a financial budget and sticking to it, including building a savings and/or retirement account.

“I Think the Best Form of Self-Care is Unwinding with a Beverage at the End of the Day”

How do we know if we’re engaging in self-care, or if we’re avoiding the real work of self-care and instead self-indulging? Indulging behaviors are often spontaneous and in response to an emotional stimulus. 

What are some examples of self-indulgences justified by calling them “self-care”?

  • Drinking alcohol to “loosen up” or “destress”.
  • Mani/pedis, or other types of spa treatments.
  • Shopping for more and more unnecessary shit (food included. No, you don’t need the latest and greatest mystery food that everyone is raving about in the Stronger U Facebook group!).
  • Buying more self-help books or courses as a form of procrastination from taking action.
  • Mindlessly scrolling social media or the internet.
  • Revenge Bedtime Procrastination (staying up late to pursue leisure activities because our daily schedule is lacking in free time).
  • Frequently going out to eat or picking up take-out.

These are reactive behaviors that provide no true long-term benefit, nor do they get us closer to our goals. They’re often enjoyable and provide temporary good feelings, but don’t directly address the things that are depleting us or causing us stress. And in a worst-case scenario, self-indulging behaviors actually take us further away from our goals! 

Does This Mean I Can’t Indulge?

To be clear, we at Stronger U don’t think self-indulgences are bad! Indulgence can help make life fun and lighthearted. But it isn’t self-care. Too many of us hide behind indulgence-as-self-care in order to avoid doing the real work of taking care of ourselves, physically and psychologically.

The next time that you experience a stressful day at home or a less-than-stellar eating day consider the following: am I trying to put a bandaid on my bad day and choices by _________ (eating that extra brownie, buying those extra things at Homegoods, your vice goes here). If the answer is yes, you are most likely giving into self-indulgence. At that moment, challenge yourself to look beyond the temporary comfort you’re seeking and attempt to address the deeper need for self-care.

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