When self-care sucks

As I dragged my tired butt out of bed at 5am this morning to get in a 30-minute sweat-fest before work, I realized how long it’s been since I was in a workout groove. I haven’t worked out consistently in months, which is a huge aberration from my norm. I love working out. It makes me feel good mentally, it makes me feel good physically, and it gives me a few more calories to blow on lattes, wine, fancy cheese, or fruit snacks.


Macadamia Nut Milk Latte from Morning Glass Coffee in Manoa. Totally worth a stupid 5am sweat sesh.

But getting back INTO shape, back INTO working out after months of not? No. Not fun. Do not want. Want to sleep. At that 5am moment, what I wanted was to treat myself to 30 minutes of dozing off wrapped in warm blankets. After all, it’s been a stressful couple of months! I deserve a little self-care, right?!

What actually got me out of bed was reminding myself that working out this morning was the best kind of self-care I could do, even though it didn’t feel like what self-care is supposed to feel like. Self-care is not always indulgences like bubble baths and cozy alarm silencing. Sometimes self-care is doing the hard, unpleasant thing that we know will make us feel better in the long-term. (Sometimes the very distant long-term…) Thinking of self-care in terms of immediate benefit or enjoyment misses the larger point and a huge aspect of self-care.

Self-care is doing the things that lead to our overall health, betterment, and well-being. What that entails and how it looks must bend to the circumstance.

Long-term self-care is developing the habits that will lead to your overall well-being. It’s doing things like eating broccoli every day. Foregoing a few minutes extra sleep for that early morning run. Or, if you have been working your body too hard, turning off that “you should be working out!!” voice and giving your body the rest it needs to perform best. It’s giving up sugar for a while to tame the sweet tooth. It’s having the hard conversation to resolve a long-simmering conflict. It’s getting that mole checked out even if you are scared of going to the doctor or scared of what you’ll learn.

Short-term self-care is treating yourself to something immediately refreshing and restorative. And this doesn’t have to involve indulgences, either. It certainly can! Sometimes it’s taking that extra-long bubble bath. Getting that hour-long massage. Taking that afternoon nap. Eating the piece of chocolate because it was a hard day and getting a dopamine boost from delicious food is a wonderful part of being embodied. But it can also mean silencing the self-talk of shame or guilt that is trying to drag you down at the moment. Shutting the world away through an engrossing novel for a bit to let your brain rest. Choosing not to respond to that one toxic person who makes your life unnecessarily hard.

Long-term and short-term self-care often bleed into one another, and short-term self-care certainly has long-term effects. (Learning to silence undue shame in the moment can lead to a habit of silencing undue shame, for instance.) But I think it’s good to remind ourselves that choosing to do the hard things is practicing a different, but no less impactful, kind of self-care.

And when we need a break from the hard things, there are plenty of mini indulgences and respites to give us a breather from the world.

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