Self-care has gained notable momentum in the wellness community. We are all familiar with the concept that we, “cannot pour from an empty cup” or that we must, “put on our oxygen masks first before we help others.” While this is absolutely true, I have found, in my work as a licensed professional counselor, that there are many myths about self-care that hold us back from a deeper, more realistic understanding of what an active and consistent self-care practice looks and feels like.
When it comes to self-care, it is crucial to “clean out” some of the attached myths so that you can make room for what really works for you. Below are my top 5 self-care myths that you can start letting go of today.
5 Myths to Stop Believing
1. Self-Care is Selfish
Selfishness entails consistently taking from others without reciprocity, thoughtlessness, inconsideration and a lack of empathy. Self-care involves setting limits with our time, people and places (aka, setting boundaries). We are able to spend time alone and make space for self-reflection with respect to our feelings, relationships and behaviors.
Believing that self-care is selfish is a relationally based myth that has roots in idolizing self-sacrifice over caretaking. I hear the words “guilt” and “selfish” used synonymously when it comes to self-care. The reality is that we cannot be present for others or ourselves when we don’t take care of our mental, physical, and spiritual well-being. To reframe, self-care is really not 100% about you. It is about being able to attend to your needs so you can show up in the best way possible for others.
2. Self-Care is Grandiose
Large self-care gestures are important, but they aren’t inclusive of all the other critical aspects of self-care. Self-care on a moment-to-moment, hour-to-hour and day-by-day basis is what needs our attention the most. This includes what I call grace, pace, and space. Grace is the way you speak to yourself in your head. Pace is the tempo that you go about your day. Space is what you make room for in your life and heart.
3. Self-Care is Secondary or Optional
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If you don’t budget for self-care, it will make time for you in the form of illness and stress. If you have a super busy day that is filled with tasks and stressors that are all priorities, self-care should not be neglected. It means that self-care needs to be on the top of that priority list and not an afterthought. Goal-seeking is a form of self-care but when it is at the cost of your mental and physical wellbeing or a “Prize/Reward” then Houston, we have a problem. We are supporting the lie that self-care needs to be earned. While some weeks may require more of your attention on certain tasks, you cannot run mental-marathons on a consistent basis. Taking care of yourself is your birthright. You do not need to earn it.
4. Self-Care is Anything that Relaxes You
This is the myth that surprises a lot of people. Yes, many forms of self-care are relaxing and help regulate the nervous system. When we are stressed, our nervous system is on FIRE so calming strategies are like water for that fire. However, sometimes calming strategies fan the flame in the form of procrastination. The reality is that self-care can be really challenging and the best way we can take care of ourselves can be described in two words: yes and no. Yes is the willingness to care for yourself by agreeing to things that safely push you outside of your comfort zone and promote growth. For example, signing up for a 5k or being more open and honest in your relationships instead of guarded and distant. The no is when you set and honor boundaries with people, places and things. This includes limiting social media and contact with people that drain you, and disengaging from things that drain your energy and do not reciprocate. Self-care can and should be challenging at times.
5. Self-Care Takes a Lot of Time
Notice your breath at this moment while you are reading this article. Just notice, without changing it. Notice where you feel tension in your body and send the breath to that area. Start to elongate the breath and repeat ten times. Feel the tension start to shift. Feel your heart rate start to slow down and your body feel more centered. What you just did was an act of self-care! When we take deep breaths, we are giving our nervous systems a big, self-care hug. I love breathwork because it does not take a ton of time and we can access it at any time or any place. In order to be effective, self-care can and must happen on a consistent micro level.
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Considering making yoga a part of your self-care routine during or post-abuse? Read “I Tried Trauma-Sensitive Yoga” to learn more about a special kind of class especially for survivors.
Editor’s Note: Erica Wilcox is a licensed professional counselor and certified EMDR therapist who dedicates her work to holistically helping individuals and groups heal from stress and trauma. She is the founder and director of Wilcox Wellness Center for Personal Growth in Southington, CT. Subscribe for practice updates and journal prompts at wilcoxwellness.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org. This piece was originally published on naturalnutmeg.com and reprinted with permission.
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