Why What You Thought Would Be Self-Care Didn’t Work

(Written by Katie Tieken)

With the holidays in full swing and the doldrums of January just around the corner, burnout is likely to be a part of the next few months. While fully healing burnout is a multifaceted process, the core of keeping it at bay is a strong self-care practice. I’ve found the term self-care to be a rather loaded topic. It means different things to different people, and within the LDS culture, we often equate it with self-centeredness – which is a valid pitfall when self-care goes too far. 

While trying to define the line between selfishness and self-care, I realized a powerful distinction. Selfishness disconnects you from others and, at the deepest level, from yourself. This understanding is especially helpful when we apply its inverse. It shows us how to practice self-care that is actually effective and rejuvenating. True self-care connects us with others, our environment, and ourselves. 

The core of good self-care is to use a popular term, to be present; to fully engage with life, the world, and others; it is connecting. 

As mothers, this full engagement becomes a challenge for many reasons. Mainly because of the tendency to see that kind of engagement as one more thing we just don’t have energy for. Today I’d like to challenge you to reconsider what you think of as self-care. You may think, “Yeah, I’m stressed, but I don’t have time, money, or energy to go out and get a massage!” But the truth is, anything can be self-care when it’s done with the intention of being present, of fully engaging.

This brings me to the big takeaway I have for you. When we are burnt out, we engage in behaviors that we tell ourselves are self-care, but that often leave us feeling even worse. We have had a long day, so we deserve to eat the entire bag of chocolate, right? We haven’t had a minute to ourselves all week, so we’re going to stay up all night binging Netflix. We want these things to be satisfying and to make us feel better, but the best they can do is take us from bad to “meh.” And “meh” doesn’t get you out of bed in the morning. 

These kinds of extreme behaviors aren’t self-care. They are its counterfeit, and numbing. As I said before, self-care is all about helping you connect with the world, others, and yourself. When you eat the whole pan of brownies, you aren’t connecting, you’re disconnecting. You are drowning your sorrows. You can’t take your negative feelings anymore and are trying to drown them out with some other sensation, trying to distract yourself and hide the hard things. You are numbing yourself.

The distinction between numbing and self-care was a huge breakthrough for me. Most of us were never taught how to process the hard emotions of life, so numbing behaviors are an instinctive attempt at self-preservation. This understanding allowed me to start catching myself when I was engaging in numbing behaviors and ask myself, “What am I trying to hide from?” Then I can use healthy emotional processing techniques to address what was coming up for me.

So, as we move through the holidays and into the gray January days, be mindful of how you practice your self-care. Simple, consistent, and intentional moments can make a difference. Don’t put them off! Snuggle with your toddler or a warm cup of tea. Eat some good chocolate as slowly as you can, tasting every bite of it. Put something beautiful in front of you and spend 5 minutes taking it all in. Connect with who you love and what you love in this world, and don’t be afraid to connect with what is lovable in yourself.

Merry Christmas and good luck!

Need more help and ideas for filling your bucket? LDSHE West conference is hosting a full day of classes on how to fill your bucket so that you can keep up with the motherhood marathon. Be sure to join us in May!

If you are looking for more ideas for self-care, check here for an audio library selection you might enjoy.