When self-care is bad for you

CATEGORY: , 09.06.18

Self-care became a buzzy and hash-tag-worthy mantra. 

“Take care of yourself first.”

It makes sense, right? This is what we tell anyone going through a difficult time: Focus on prioritizing one’s personal needs. You need to fix yourself before you can do anything else.

 

Is too much self-care bad for you?

Currently there is a massive obsession about focusing on ourselves. Social media as full of selfies, full of motivational quotes and even more aggressive statements on what we deserve to have and get from the world. Rarely we get reminded that too much focus on the self — or rather, not enough focus on others — can have a negative effect on our wellbeing.

 

As a psychologist, I’m totally in the model of taking care of ourselves – and at the same time I have observed that, I’ve never had to highlight the importance of self-understanding, deep awareness and balance as often as I have now. As Dr. Samantha Boardman said, ‘mental health is more nuanced. It does not exist in such absolute “either/or” terms.  Of course, it is important to take care of yourself but it doesn’t mean you should retreat into yourself and disengage from the world around you’.

 

UPDATE: You can take care of yourself and be there for others at the same time.

I had a patient, let’s call her S, who became so preoccupied with self-care that it began to undermine her wellbeing. She withdrew from her book club so she could read self-help books on her own. Plus, the group didn’t always choose books she liked so she felt justified in her decisions. Making herself a priority gave her the license to decline invitations that weren’t convenient or to her liking. She decided not to attend a friend’s birthday dinner because it wasn’t at a vegan restaurant. She privileged “me time” over family time. When her sister came to town for a visit, she barely made time to see her.

It was self-care on steroids. S was getting lots of sleep, eating a healthy diet, reading a self-help book a week, meeting with a life coach on a regular basis, meditating 30 minutes a day and getting plenty of exercise. But she was missing out on what matters most — social connections.

 

Instead of focusing exclusively on your own wellbeing during tough times, remember to look up, to look out and, above all, to connect with others. We know that having a shoulder to lean on helps us get through a bad day and studies show how social support is one of the best salves for stress.

 

Less well known are the studies that show how providing a shoulder to lean on helps buffer against stress. In a research article entitled “Prosocial Behavior Helps Mitigate the Negative Effects of Stress in Everyday Life,” participants who engaged in “other-focused” behaviour, such as holding a door, asking someone if they needed help, and lending a hand, reported better moods and lower daily stress levels than those who didn’t engage in helping behaviour’ explains Dr. Samantha Boardman

 

Providing a shoulder to lean on for someone else helps puts our own issues in perspective and can bring out the best. More than that, it enables us to fulfil that vital human need: to add value.

 

 

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