I remember when I used to work a ton of hours, I would go into a store and buy something I didn’t really need, just because I could. After all, if I am working this much, there needs to be some benefit to it.
More recently I had a bladder infection and my small group cancelled at late notice. I was in pain and frustrated. The least I can do for myself after such a bad day is get ice cream.
When life gets tough we all need a little self-care. I need comfort and distraction.
Self-comfort and self-care are two different things. A few decades ago that ice cream would have been a night out drinking. Or it could be talking to ten people about my problems just to complain and gossip and get it off my chest.
I hear from others of even more destructive approaches to self-comfort under the guise of self-care:
- Getting attention from the opposite sex because I am not receiving it from my spouse.
- Running up huge credit card bills and joking on social media about shopping therapy.
- And if it isn’t binge drinking or shopping it may be gambling, missing work, or some other immediate comfort or distraction.
The problem is that this is really the opposite of self-care. These are just my thoughts on self care as a person and as a counselor.
Self-Care Is Actually Good For You
Self-care involves things that are good for you in the long run- good for you physically, mentally, spiritually, relationally, financially… The list goes on.
What is good for you is not necessarily what is immediately comforting. Satan likes to sit on our shoulder and tell us that we deserve a break today, but that fits in his plan to lead us to long-term destruction.
What Is Self-Care?
- Developing a program of healthy eating and exercise that will keep us in better health and feeling good long term, but may be very painful in the moment. No you can’t have that whole pint of ice cream and bottle of wine just because you have had a stressful week
- Creating a personal spending budget that provides financial margin and sticking to it. Is it hard short term, yes. We have to sacrifice. But, debt and financial problems create more stress, relational problems, and issues in our life than the benefit of splurging on a new car because we deserve it.
- Mundane things like regular doctor’s visits, good sleep, quiet weekends and long walks with your friend or spouse are self-care. They are giving yourself permission to get out of the hectic busyness of life and take care of yourself.
Slowing down, spending time with people you love, reading a great book on a rainy Saturday are all small habits we can put in our life to replace our unhealthy cravings.
How To Move Away From Self-Comfort To Self-Care
But to truly care for ourselves we have to recognize that short term comfort and distraction are not always healthy and sometimes can be destructive. If you see yourself in a pattern of self-medicating through activities that falsely offer short term comfort, admit it and plan for new self-care habits.
The reason you need to plan is because when the need arises, our desire for comfort and distraction overpower our new awareness for the need for a healthier coping mechanism. We are at our weakest in the moment. We have to get ahead of it by looking back. Look back on how you have handled stress and despair. See the patterns. Assess what is truly healthy for you and what is only providing immediate and short-lived relief.
As you identify the triggers and the unhealthy coping mechanisms, you can then create long-term replacements- things that will change the stress in your life so you won’t need the comfort or distraction. What do you enjoy that brings you peace and rest rather than numbness?
My go to list is things like:
- Going to art galleries and seeing beautiful creations.
- Sitting out in the sun or taking a walk on a nice day.
- Finding time to hang out with my husband or kids that is not a hectic logistical nightmare.
- Writing to God in my journal – anytime day or night. He is always there.
And please don’t get me wrong. For most people a bowl of ice cream may be the perfect prescription for self-care… For me it is an addiction I have been trying to break (no I am not being dramatic) and I took a big step back because of course now I have to finish the whole carton.