Differentiating Self-Care from Self-Indulgence

Self-care seems to be the universal prescription of choice as of late. Recommended in the form of bubble baths, essential oils, adaptogenic chocolate and weighted blankets to snuggle up in, it’s regarded as the antidote to the all-encompassing addiction to busyness we all struggle with.

Of course, it’s great to take care of ourselves, but there’s a fine line between self-care and self-indulgence, and unlike popular belief, true self-care is not the same as “me time” and has little to do with “treating ourselves.”

Indulgence is fine once and a while, and I’m not suggesting there’s something wrong with chocolate (because there is nothing wrong with chocolate), but shouldn’t we think about self-care more in terms of what benefits our long-term health and wellbeing?

For example, imagine coming home after a long day of work. You could, on the one hand, grab a glass of wine, roll up like a burrito in a comforter and Netflix-and-chill with yourself for the remainder of the night. Or, on the other hand, perhaps the weather is perfect outside for a relaxing neighborhood jog… is one option better than the other? Both have the potential to become either self-care or self-indulgence; the distinction lies in the motive and execution.

You see, unlike self-care, self-indulgence consumes our time, mental focus, finances and health to a degree that robs us of our means of being present and attentive in our lives. So, while jogging is considered “good” for us, for instance, it can become self-indulgent if we do it to the extent that we become exercise fanatics and/or neglect our friends. Same goes for giving ourselves a night in. It’s “good” to rest both our minds and bodies, but if we do it as an excuse to avoid our responsibilities or as a band-aid to cope with difficult times, then it becomes a problem.

True self-care is not an excuse to escape from our lives, but rather, a means to create a life we don’t feel the need to escape from in the first place.

There is no one-size-fits-all, universal prescription for how this is done, but often, it involves doing the things we know are best for us and that contribute to our overall wellness. For some that might mean regular cooking, journaling, knitting or moving. For others it might mean getting outside, splurging on flowers for the home or scheduling a little more time to be with loved ones.

The important thing is to listen to (and not ignore) ourselves and our bodies; our intuition gently nudges us when we need a mental or emotional break, and our bodies let us know when it’s time to rest. It’s easier said than done, I know. After all, it’s a universal temptation to feel like we need to meet the needs and expectations of others before our own. Yet in disregarding our personal needs, we function at less than optimal levels and are less present to the moment and people around us.

That said, self-care isn’t a one-time, once-in-a-while thing. It’s an investment that should be a regular part of our lives. There’s a place for indulging ourselves, but our main focus should be on creating true, lasting habits that nourish our bodies and souls throughout our lives.

What does self-care look like for you?

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