When Self-Care is Doing the Dishes

When the words self-care are spoken, visions of things like bubble baths, chocolate cake, and massages come to mind.  Self-care has become to many this fantasy of self-indulgence, a “get out of chore free” card that justifies doing and sometimes even having that thing you frequently tell yourself you can’t or shouldn’t.  We tell ourselves “I deserve this,” and wrap it up in the self-care bow and pretend that it will make everything better, after all, this is self-care.

Except, that’s not how self-care works.  Sure, sometimes self-care is a nice relaxing evening, or giving yourself permission to binge watch a couple episodes of your favorite show, or to have that special treat you’ve been wanting.  Self-care is much more than that though.  Self-care is doing the things you need to do to take care of yourself – mind, body, and spirit.

When we focus on self-care as indulgence we often create a feedback loop of negative self-judgment and emotions, like feeling lazy, unproductive, guilty or shameful at our level of indulgence.  Spiritually we may feel defeated, because our indulgent actions don’t align with our goals and we feel like we’re falling short or failing.  Physically we may feel sluggish, uncomfortable, or dissatisfied because we aren’t giving our body the nutrients and activity it needs.

Sometimes true self-care means doing the dishes, even when you really don’t want to, because you know when you’re done you’ll feel better at seeing an empty sink.  Sometimes self-care means going to the gym or taking a walk, even after a long day when all you want to do is sit on the couch, because you will feel energized, healthier and accomplished when you finish.  Sometimes self-care means cooking a nutritious dinner, even when swinging through the drive-thru on your way home is appealing, because you know that eating fast food leaves you feeling physically uncomfortable and eating well keeps your body feeling good.

In a world of intense pressure and stress, of constant activity and over scheduling, sometimes we need the down time.  When we feel tired in mind, body, or spirit sometimes a little indulgence is exactly what we need to recapture our sparkle.  Indulgence in moderation can be motivating and healthy and give us the well deserved break or treat we need.  But indulgence in excess can be harmful, and sometimes self-care becomes an excuse we use to justify ineffective behavior patterns.

Yes, have a piece of cake if you want it, but don’t eat the whole cake – and when you’re done, go ahead and wash the dishes.

Submitted by  Rachel Narow, Licensed Clinical Social Worker