The Problem with Self-Care (and What You Can Do Instead)

What comes to mind when you think of self-care?

Maybe you think of taking a bubble bath or getting a massage or taking a much-needed vacation.

And although these things fall into the self-care category, narrowing self-care to these types of actions can be problematic.

Why?

Because they’re what we would consider “emergency self-care.”

In other words, they’re the things we do when life has become too much and we just need to get away from it all.

So what’s the alternative?

That’s exactly what I’m going to talk about today…

The attraction of the hamster wheel

Before I share my alternative to emergency self-care, let’s first talk about why we so often have to turn to emergency self-care in the first place.

Recently, iCadenza CEO Lisa Husseini talked about her difficulty shifting from an 80-100 hour work week to a 40-50 hour work week.

What she thought would feel like newfound freedom actually felt uncomfortable, and she missed the adrenaline rush of always having something to do.

This is an easy cycle to fall into:

You keep moving until you’re burnt out, at which point you slam on the breaks and escape from life—and that escape is what usually gets labelled as “self-care.”

For many of us, our addiction to being busy goes beyond the adrenaline rush.

Most of us (in the U.S. especially) feel valuable when we’re working. We feel productive, and therefore, worthy.

So while emergency self-care can help in the short term, it doesn’t resolve the underlying feelings of unworthiness that come from taking breaks.

That’s why I encourage you to go beyond emergency self-care, and do this instead:

Embrace more sustainable self-care

Consistent self-care is different from emergency self-care. And honestly, it’s a lot less sexy!

Consistent self-care is about building a sustainable life where escaping becomes unnecessary.

It’s a lot of work to implement a system of self-care in your life.

For me, I have to schedule time and come up with a structure to take care of myself. I can’t be spontaneous about this!

That might sound counterintuitive but I highly recommend approaching a consistent self-care routine the same way you would approach any other challenge in your life.

You know yourself best, and you’ve likely learned what works for you over the years. So do that.

Consistent self-care could look like changing your daily schedule, making time to call friends and family regularly, setting up doctor’s appointments, spending less time on your phone, having a difficult conversation with someone at work, or even taking naps…

Not as fancy as bubble bath but important nonetheless!

Speaking of rest, The Nap Ministry believes that rest is a form of resistance, and they examine the liberating power of naps, especially among people of color.

The same can be said for many of these examples of consistent self-care. Putting your own needs first, in a culture where productivity is idolized, can be a revolutionary act.

Chrysanthe Tan is a composer, violinist, and writer who specializes in lullabies and musical-poetry. In 2015, she released her chamber music album Stories, was featured on ASCAP’s website as a Spotlight Composer, and toured the world as Ariana Grande’s violinist. In addition to composing, Chrysanthe is one half of Duo Meranti, a Balkan + contemporary classical duo with guitarist Sean Hayward. At time of publication, Chrysanthe is working on her next album at a composer residency for Sound/Word specialists in Syros, Greece. If you’re interested in commissioning a solo or chamber piece, or would like to order a custom lullaby for a loved one…

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