Self-Care and Self-Indulgence: How I Tell the Difference

“I’m doing my self-care!” I yelled at my friends as I ate a third cupcake.

“I need this!” I told myself as I watched yet another episode of The Office.

Self-care has become something of a hot topic in our culture. Recent studies have touted the real benefits of intentionally caring for ourselves and looking out for our own needs. However, it’s really easy to conflate self-care with self-indulgence or self-comfort.

It is okay to indulge sometimes. But that indulging has often led to me trying to rationalize behavior that fuels procrastination, avoidance, and self-sabotage, and I’ve found I can excuse all sorts of destructive behaviours under the guise of self-care.

A few skincare items spread out on a purple blanket.
Doing my skincare routine is one of my favourite ways to look after myself.

So how do we draw the line between self-care and self-indulgence? One good way is to ask yourself: Am I getting closer to feeling the way that I want to feel or reaching the goals that I am trying to reach?

I’ve decided that an activity counts as self-care only if I’m actually caring for myself and not just deluding myself into thinking that I’m caring myself. In other words, if I have to rationalize it or convince myself that “I need this”, It likely is a form of avoiding myself rather than caring for myself.

Here are some things I think of as self-care:
– writing in my journal or praying.
– reading an enriching book or article.
– having a phone call with a friend or family member I miss.
– going for a run or doing a workout.
– cleaning up – whether it’s doing the dishes, making my bed, or folding the laundry. I always feel lighter afterward!
– taking a bath or shower.
– eating nutritious food that makes my body happy and that I love to eat.
– working on an art piece, a blog post, or DIY project.
– painting my nails, doing a face mask, styling my hair, or doing my skincare routine.
– trying something new.
– being with friends.
– going to bed early.
– making time for these things aside from the time that needs to be spent on schoolwork or other responsibilities.

And here are some things I think of as self-indulgence:
– eating too much dessert or junk food (I assess this based on how much added sugars or processed foods have been in my diet on a particular day or week).
– surfing the internet/social media or watching Netflix with no particular goal or end in sight.
– doing any of these things when I know I should be doing something else.

Try making your own list! Only you who can know which items fit into either category. It depends on what you struggle with and what you know is good for you. Tell us below: what’s your favourite self-care activity?

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