6 Reasons Why We Suck at Self-Care and How to Break Through the Obstacles

Self-care | Agnes Wainman | London Psychological Services

Self-care | Agnes Wainman | London Psychological Services

Self-care gets a lot of attention.  We know it’s important. We know that making time for ourselves should be a regular part of our routine.  We know that the wheels start coming off when we don’t do it.  And yet, it can be such a struggle!  As a psychologist, I know the importance of self-care.  I talk to everyone that I work with about the importance of self-care. I even have a board on Pinterest that is dedicated to self-care.  But here’s the truth – even I struggle with making it a priority.  Why do we have such a hard time with incorporating enjoyable, rejuvenating and fun activities into our lives? 

Here are 6 reasons why we suck at self-care and how we can start making it a priority:

Reason 1:  It’s not even on our radar.  In theory we know that self-care is a good thing, but we don’t actually put it on our own priority list.  It doesn't actually occur to us that this is something we need.

Solution:  Put it on your to-list, on the family calendar, in your phone schedule.  We are more likely to do something if we write it down.  Bold it, underline it, highlight it.  Make self-care stare you in the face!

Reason 2:  We feel guilty about taking time away from our family or work .  It feels indulgent to do something that is just for us.

Solution:  Guilt is a tricky one.  It is the response to feeling that we are doing something wrong.  Is taking care of yourself wrong?  Of course not!  In fact, you need to be well taken care of in order to take care of everyone else (i.e. put on your own oxygen mask before helping others put on theirs).  We may have very real restrictions on our time, but sometimes it’s not about finding time, it’s about making the time. 

Reason 3:  We have unrealistic ideas about what self-care should be.  A lot of advice about self-care include similar suggestions; yoga, meditation, going on a long hike.  These are great suggestions, but not necessarily for everyone.  I remember when I tried to take up meditation; it was a disaster.  I was warned that the monkeys in my brain would be active and I just needed to observe non-judgementally.  However, no one warned me that my monkeys would throw poop!  It was not a good fit for me.

Solution:  Self-care does not have to be fancy, complicated or take a lot of time.  It just needs to feel good!  Have a dance party in your kitchen.   Grab a colouring book and some pencil crayons.  Read some really fluffy chick lit.  Self-care does not have to be a spiritual journey! 

Reason 4:  We have unrealistic expectations about what self-care will do for us.

Solution:  Self-care is not a quick fix for all that ails you.  We need to maintain a regular self-care routine especially if we are feeling really stressed.  It is unrealistic to expect that a few minutes of an enjoyable activity is going to make a huge difference; however, over time, it may.  

Reason 5:  We wait for motivation to strike.  Once the motivation appears, we'll totally do it!

Solution: Um, no.  If we sit around waiting for motivation to magically appear and grace us with its presence, we could be waiting for a very, very long time.  Sometimes we just have to force ourselves to do something.  As the brilliant ad executives at Nike told us, "Just Do It."

Reason 6:  We mistake zoning out for self-care.

Solution: I love binge watching a show on Netflix as well, so definitely no judgement!  However, plopping in front of the TV for hours on end isn't necessarily self-care.  We get to escape and not do anything for awhile, but is it really recharging?  We need to balance our screen time (computers and tablets included) with activities that we actually have to engage with.

It can be really challenging to incorporate self-care into our lives, but it is so, so important.  Start small, with just a few minutes at a time, and see what happens for you.  It may take a few tries to find something that is a good fit for you.  It will be worth it though!  

Balancing Self-Care and Care Giving

Care giving can come in many forms. You might be caring for children, for elderly parents, an ill spouse, siblings who turn to you at a time of need. Your profession may involve care giving. Care giving can be physical acts (feeding, clothing, wiping snotty noses!) or providing emotional support. Regardless of whom you are caring for and what that care looks like, it can be exhausting! While there is no doubt that taking care of others can feel good (and is often necessary), it can be tricky to balance the care of others and your own self care. Self care is critical to your own emotional well being. There is basic self care such as eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep and engaging in physical activity. Even these basics can be neglected when caring for other people. Sleepless parents can definitely relate to the experience of having their own sleep affected by care giving to a child in the middle of the night. In addition to basic self care, we greatly benefit from participating in activities that we find enjoyable. Having a hobby is linked to greater creativity, increased problem solving skills and overall emotional well being. Self care can also include seeing friends and engaging with our support system. Feeling a sense of connection is associated with better mental health, decreased levels of depression and anxiety and can help us cope better with stressors.

Often caregivers feel that their own self care is very low on the priority list. There may even be guilt associated with engaging in self care. This lack of self care however, can have detrimental effects. If we do not engage in our own self care, we can start to suffer both emotionally and physically. Our ability to cope begins to decrease and we start to feel overwhelmed. When we feel overwhelmed, we are unable to provide optimal care giving. We may start to feel frustrated with those that we are caring for. Requests for our help can feel enormously stressful. We may eventually feel so burnt out, that we are no longer able to provide care giving.

In order to avoid these feelings of being frustrated, overwhelmed and burnt out, we need to make self care a priority. It is not a luxury, but a necessity in order for us to be able to take care of those that we love and value. By taking care of ourselves, we are taking care of others as well. Take the time today to do something that is just for you, something that you enjoy and value. Banish feelings of guilt, as you are not doing anything wrong by taking care of yourself. Just enjoy, recharge and reap the benefits of self care.

Busy, busy, busy

A common problem that individuals find themselves struggling with is feeling too busy, too overwhelmed, being stretched too thin.  It seems that once you check one item off the to-do list, five additional items seem to appear out of nowhere!  Between the demands of home, work, school, family, friends, children, activities, it may appear that there is no time to meet your own needs (or actually figure out what your own needs are!)  This can lead to feelings of exhaustion, anxiety and stress. While there are absolutely things that must be done, sometimes we may have a tendency to pile on obligations for ourselves.  This can be due to unrealistic expectations (whether priorities are self-imposed, or from people depending on us), distracting ourselves from other issues or we may feel guilty if we are not busy.  However, taking downtime for ourselves is critical for our well-being.  It can help hold at bay the feeling of being burnt out, it allows accumulated stress to decrease and it can make us more content.  Relaxing and taking a break has its virtues.

Here is a challenge for you.  Take ten minutes today to do something just for you, something that you enjoy, something that makes you feel good.  How did that feel?