In our society self-care is largely misunderstood.
Its narrow and inaccurate perception explains why many of us — women in particular — feel guilty about attending to our needs. It explains why many of us stumble around drained and depleted.
However, self-care offers a slew of benefits. And it feels good to nourish our needs.
Below, experts dispel seven of the most common myths surrounding self-care.
1. Myth: Self-care is all or nothing.
Fact: Many people believe that self-care means spending an entire day of pampering or “it’s not worth it,” said Anna Guest-Jelley, a body empowerment educator, yoga teacher and founder of Curvy Yoga. However, while pampering is a great way to nurture yourself, it doesn’t define self-care.
“I believe that self-care is really found in the small moments of life – when you choose to take a deep breath because you notice you’re feeling stressed, or when you give yourself three minutes before bed to sit quietly and reflect on your day.”
2. Myth: Self-care requires resources that you don’t have.
Fact: Self-care is often viewed as a luxury that many of us have neither the time nor the money to enjoy. “Self-care does not need to involve an expensive spa or tropical vacation, nor does it need to take hours of your day,” according to Joyce Marter, LCPC, a therapist and owner of the counseling practice Urban Balance.
For instance, self-care can be “10 minutes of mindfulness meditation a day or doing some stretching or taking an Epsom salt bath,” she said. These simple practices “can go a long way in rebooting your mind and body.”
3. Myth: Self-care is optional.
Fact: Running yourself ragged can lead to unhealthy habits, because our needs can’t go unmet for too long. “If you choose not to create room for self-nurture or rest, it will elbow its way in, often in forms that feel less than self-caring in the moment,” according to Ashley Eder, LPC, a psychotherapist in Boulder, Colo. These forms include compulsive behaviors such as overeating and even symptoms of depression, she said.
If you find yourself turning to these kinds of habits, explore the needs you’re meeting with them. And “offer yourself that choice directly instead of through these backdoor behaviors.”
4. Myth: Self-care is unfeminine.
Fact: The media perpetuates messages that femininity is “other-focused and self-denying,” Eder said. We typically see female protagonists focusing on everyone else’s needs, listening to others instead of speaking and playing a supporting role, she said. Care-taking is portrayed as a woman’s job.
“This only makes sense in real life if you want the star of the play to be a man. It does not work for a woman to play a supporting role in her own show.”
If you notice that your needs are going unmet, “try asking yourself who the main character in your life is right now, and whether you would like to stick with that or change it.”
5. Myth: Self-care is anything that soothes you.
Fact: Many people turn to alcohol, TV marathons, smart phone games and food to soothe their stress and unwind, Marter said. But these habits are the opposite of self-care. “Self-care practices need to support health and wellness and should not be addictive, compulsive or harmful to your mind, body or bank account,” she said.
6. Myth: We have to earn the right to practice self-care.
Fact: “Our lives are organized culturally with an emphasis in the first third of our lives on education, the second around career and family development, and the last third for leisure,” said Sarah McKelvey, MA, NCC, a psychotherapist with a private practice in Centennial, Colo.
This creates the notion that we can only take good care of ourselves after we’ve accomplished certain goals. Yet it is self-care that gives us the energy and nourishment we need to achieve great things.
7. Myth: Practicing self-care means making a choice between yourself and others.
Fact: “When we are not taking care of ourselves, we end up in a cycle of deprivation in which the activities of our day deplete our energetic and emotional reserves,” McKelvey said. We become frustrated, cranky and needy, she said. We look to others to nourish our needs and replenish those reserves.
“Ironically, all of our efforts of sacrifice make us vulnerable to actually ‘being selfish.’” Yet, when we’re meeting our needs, we have more energy to give to others. “There is nothing greater to offer the world than your inspired and well-nourished self.”
Self-care is an important part of our lives. It is the basis for our well-being.