Health Care, Love, Life Stories, Advice, Wellness

When self-care does more harm than good

Self-care can be revolutionary, but if we engage in unhealthy behavior, we only end up hurting ourselves.

Last night, I spent $70 on skincare products in my attempt to revamp my skincare routine. The purchase would seem insignificant if I hadn’t invested close to $400 on the same crusade a month ago.

This is a trend with me.

I pump hundreds of dollars that I really cannot afford into my skincare and overall health, buying products that I have no intention on routinely using, in the name of self-care.

I’m not just this way with skincare products.

I impulsively sign up for gym memberships and workout classes, vitamin subscriptions, download apps geared towards wellness under the guise of self-care just to remain the living epitome of a couch potato. Each swipe, scan, and chip read is a desperate attempt to get my life together because glowing skin equates to a well-managed, happy life to me.

The problem is splurging on self-care products gives me the illusion of control over my life and mental state. When I’m feeling aimless and uninspired, it gives me the same rush as when I start a New Year’s resolution. But, as with most resolutions, my self-care splurges only bring me temporary happiness, and they fail to tackle the root problem.

Self-care, defined as the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress, is revolutionary. In Audre Lorde’s book, A Burst of Light, she wrote, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare.”

And with it being synonymous with wellness, a $3.7 trillion industry, how self-care manifests—and is substantially manipulatedvaries from person to person. It can look like a person binge-watching a mini-series in between studying for exams or the abstaining from the news to get some reprieve from the daily assault of current events.

Despite predating back to the Ancient Greeks, self-care is widely popular with millennials, somewhat missing the Baby Boomer population. According to Pew Research, boomers tend to be pessimistic and more anxious than younger generations, while millennials seem to be a ‘generation of emotional intelligence’. In comparison to our predecessors, we funnel a lot of time and money into self-care practices and wellness that it makes sense why we are called the Me, Me, Me Generation.

There is no limitation to what self-care is and what it looks like, and yet, we often confuse depressive and destructive behavior with healthy self-care practices. Overspending, lying in bed all day, or canceling all your appointments to isolate yourself might feel good but that doesn’t mean it is good for your mental health or general well-being. 

Yes, we all need a day or even a week to rewire ourselves after traumas that we encounter, but that doesn’t mean you give up on your responsibilities or yourself.

My purchases often aligned with high-stressed and anxious situations I was trying to avoid like finishing work projects or writing gigs, but more so during my bouts of impostor syndrome when I failed to apply for jobs. I’d convince myself that I was unworthy of a job that was fulfilling or that whatever piece I would write, I would be exposed as an unqualified hack whose tired charade was on the verge of exposure.  I was vulnerable.

So I’d turned to retail therapy as a way to ease my insecurities, but it resulted in me rewarding myself for moping around. I wasn’t looking for jobs. I wasn’t writing. I was sitting around watching The Office while pretending to look for writing gigs – great jobs that asked for cover letters were avoided like the plague – and gifting myself with sheet masks and peels for trying.

By the end, I depleted my savings, had a soul-sucking full-time job where I’m still employed, and healthier looking skin. I invested more in ignoring myself than working to elevate myself.

Instead, I should have been working on myself, investing in my future career, and making positive life changes instead of avoiding what made me unhappy. Self-care also means self-work.

Balance.

It’s the buzzword in every self-help book, child-rearing book, and dog training guide. There’s a balance we must maintain when we practice self-care as a reward system for work or coping mechanisms. We must learn that not every hurdle you overcome needs a participation trophy, but also that too much of a good thing can go sour.

Allow yourself to tap out and take the necessary breaks by doing whatever your self-care routine is. Sit in your feelings. Be uncomfortable. Binge watch that Netflix series but remember that at some point you have to work through whatever caused you that discomfort.

After all, that trauma or discomfort will continue to affect you even if you avoid it – so who is that really helping?