It seems like everyone is talking about self-care these days, and the conflicting messages can be confusing. Are you really supposed to buy a specific product or commit to completing a certain activity every day in order to stay on top of your self-care?
The truth is that self-care is a highly personal experience. Activities that benefit you mentally and physically may not be the same ones your friends, colleagues, partners or influencers engage in. The challenge with this is that it can be hard to know what self-care really looks like for you, especially if everyone is doing something different.
Here are some ways to tell if your self-care plan is actually working for you (and what to do if it’s not).
1. Where does it fall on the ‘fun scale’?
Okay, yes, we can all admit that self-care isn’t always fun. Essential care tasks like bathing, grocery shopping or brushing your teeth probably don’t get you excited. It’s still important to make these tasks a priority. However, if you’ve nailed the basics and are looking to incorporate additional activities, using the ‘fun scale’ can be helpful.
Here’s how it works:
The ‘fun scale’ is a continuum that can help you gauge how much enjoyment or benefit you get out of certain activities or actions.
Taking a second to think through your self-care activities and categorize them based on this scale can help you determine if they are actually benefiting you. Spending too much time on things that don’t make you feel good or help you recharge can leave you feeling drained or defeated, which isn’t a great way to practice self-care.
It’s also important to consider what is motivating you to participate in certain activities. Do you go to the gym because it genuinely makes you feel better? Or do you go because you feel pressured to look a certain way? If you find that you’re mostly relying on external motivators like positive feedback, external validation, diet culture or ‘wellness ideals’, you’re probably not getting the most out of your self-care activities. Instead, try to focus on activities that you actually want to do and enjoy doing (even if you don’t feel that way until after the fact).
2. Are you obsessed with productivity or ‘optimizing’ your life?
Self-care is often marketed as a way to become the ‘absolute best version of yourself’ or to streamline an otherwise hectic schedule or lifestyle. If you enjoy things like bullet journaling or habit worksheets to stay on track, that’s great! Similarly, if you enjoy ordering meal kits to help save time while meal prepping, go for it!
However, obsessing over whether or not you are ‘optimizing’ your life or becoming the ‘best’ or ‘most productive’ version of yourself can take a toll. In some cases, you may use efficiency and betterment as a coping mechanism, which can distract you from the real purpose of self-care.
Instead of seeking out the next best productivity or life-enhancing solution, try to focus on skills and tools you already have. Prioritizing and practicing healthy coping skills and meaningful self-care activities can help you grow, reduce stress and feel better longer term. This is especially true if you find that the initial excitement for a new habit or product wears off easily.
3. Does it make you feel guilty?
Ideally, self-care should never make you feel guilty or ashamed. If you beat yourself up about skipping the gym or eating ‘junk food’ on a particularly rough day, it may be time to reevaluate your self-care plan.
Keep in mind that we all face a variety of expectations, challenges and pressures related to academic success, work, internships, relationships and more. If you try to dedicate 100% of yourself to all of them all the time, you’ll likely burn yourself out. Similarly, if you fall short of high expectations, which are often subjective, you may feel guilty or like you’re doing something wrong.
That’s why it’s important to tailor your self-care plan to fit your life right now and allow for flexibility. Not only do your needs change day-to-day, but you also may not be able to meet every demand that life throws at you.
Remind yourself that self-care doesn’t refer to any one thing. It’s not as simple as meditating for 15 minutes or going for a walk (though these activities can certainly be beneficial). Instead, try to think of self-care as the sum of all its parts. Self-care is a culmination of decisions that you make related to how you spend your time, what you put your energy towards and how you try to take care of yourself.
When you look at self-care this way, you may realize that you don’t actually need to go for a jog or journal or meditate every single day. In fact, you may find it’s more beneficial to simply reduce your time on social media, divvy up household responsibilities or avoid overcommitting to social events. Reflecting and refocusing on the activities that will benefit you most in terms of your time and energy can actually help you create more space for yourself and the things you genuinely enjoy (hello, type one fun).