I’ve been running into a lot of folks lately who are struggling to practice self care. You know, basic things like doing the dishes, taking a shower, staying away from doom scrolling.
And as much as they want to, there just seems to be a force field that deflects them from following through.
In today’s post we’re going to take a look at some reasons why, despite common sense and the desire to practice self care, we still feel incapable of doing so. And then we’ll learn a few ways for you to get back to taking good care of yourself.
Welcome to the blogcast, Unlocking Wellness! I’m Crystal McLain, curator of Crystal McLain Creative, an online resource that empowers people to become confident, proactive, innovators for the care of their mind, body, and mother-lovin’ soul.
And if you enjoy my content, and would like a more personal experience, I’d like to invite you to check out the The Dream Team, an ever-growing community of folks who are becoming self empowered badasses. Memberships through Patreon start at just $3/month. You can find out more all the awesome perks at crystalmclaincreative.com.
Alright. Let's get to it.
So, I think most of us have been here, yeah?
We totally grasp the concept of self care. We understand the importance of doing things like getting enough rest, going for a walk, maybe eating a vegetable instead of another bag of chips, but turning these thoughts into actions feels impossible.
So, what’s going on here?
Well, I wish there was one simple answer, but the reality is, there may be several variables that keep you from following through with your self care, whatever self care means to you in this moment.
But before we get into all that, I want to tell you something that might blow your mind…
You are already practicing self care.
I know. Crazy, but it’s true.
Something we tend to forget is that there’s a W I D E self care spectrum, where on one end you’ve got the folks who are waking up early, getting in some exercise, planning their day, eating balanced meals, and taking time to kick up their feet and maybe spend time with their hobbies and loved ones. Hell, they might even manage to clean their house (let’s try not to hate these people, okay?). But on the other end of the spectrum we’ve got the folks who are curled up fetal-style, in the same pajamas they’ve worn for the past two months, occasionally interrupting their binge eating to play Candy Crush…this may or not have been me at one time.
Anyway, the truth is, all of this is self care.
Yup, you avoiding the world and numbing your feelings is your brain’s backwards way of trying to take care of your ass, whether that’s what you think you should be doing or not.
IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT, IT’S YOUR BRAIN’S FAULT
In a nutshell, the primal, animal part of your brain wants to keep you safe. And sometimes that means avoiding doing something that feels challenging (even if that something is really good for you, EVEN if it’s something that you typically enjoy).
How does that even make sense?
Well, in order to understand this crazy logic, let’s talk about the primal, animal part of the brain (also known as the limbic system).
The limbic system is incapable of rational thinking and decision making, that all happens in something called the frontal lobe. What happens in the limbic system are reactions responsible for survival. This is where your fight or flight response lives. And these reactions are based on sensory input.
A burning building, a swarm of bees, a forgotten Lego under your foot, the frontal lobe, where your rational part of the brain lives, isn’t capable of reacting fast enough to contemplate what to do in these circumstances.
But your limbic system is. But again, the limbic system is reacting on instinct and not logic. So you may not react in ways you necessarily want to.
Like, if you step on a Lego, your rational brain may not want to swear and get angry in front of the kid who left it there. But your limbic system doesn’t give a shit and reacts immediately to the pain in your foot.
Does that make sense?
I hope so.
Let’s keep that bit of information in your pocket for now…
The next pothole along the road to self care is created by the dirty team work of the dynamic duo; negative coping skills and neuroplasticity.
Let’s start with neuroplasticity.
Neuroplasticity is what makes our brains capable of learning stuff. Every single thing you consciously do is a learned behavior. And the more you practice the thing, the better and more efficient you become at doing it. Like walking, reading, and navigating your phone.
In fact, you get SO good at doing these things that you just end up doing them without even really thinking about them.
Okay, so, neruoplasticity - the more you practice an action, behavior, or thought, the deeper you ingrain it into your brain, hence turning it into something as habitual as breathing.
Alright, now let’s talk about negative coping skills.
NEGATIVE COPING SKILLS
So, there’s a lot about life that really sucks. Especially right now. It’s challenging, it’s unpredictable, and it’s full of bad news and shitty intentions.
And news flash, your brain is not a fan of that. So, in order for the brain to to deal with all of the scary, icky stuff in the world so we can do things like got to work in the morning, we learn different types of coping skills.
Now, I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid, I didn’t learn about things like deep breathing and journaling. I didn’t know about the mental and emotional benefits of exercise. Nah, after a hard day I liked to hit a box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. I learned real quick that food make my brain happy.
And as I got older, I learned that things like cigarettes, alcohol, and weed did a pretty good job at distracting me from unwanted feelings as well.
And, of course, I’m like any other person and can be easily swayed into spending hours in front of a screen….and trust me when I say, these were not my only coping tools.
I’m really good at numbing or distracting myself from feeling. …but I think most of us are.
Anyway, all of these mentioned coping skills have been labeled as negative.
But I want to challenge your brain.
What makes them negative? Why do we see them as bad?
Sure, I’m not going to advocate that anyone smokes cigarettes. They’re awful. But what about the rest of this stuff? You know, unless you’re an alcoholic or have diabetes or something.
Honestly, what’s wrong with having a cocktail on a Friday night?
Why shouldn’t we enjoy a few episodes of our favorite show?
Is having a bowl of ice cream really that bad?
Personally, like I said, unless there’s a medical or addiction reason why you really shouldn’t, I see no problem with taking a respite from the world with some of these things.
It’s not necessarily the tools that are the problem, as much as it is our inability to use them in moderation.
It’s when we tap into something SO MUCH that it becomes harmful. When we become codependent on these things, or they keep us from tending to the other things in life that need our attention, that’s when they can become negative coping tools. In fact, there’s lots of “healthy” things we can do in excess that can be just as toxic.
That all said, I am in no way condoning the use of substances. I am, however, saying you should give yourself a pass on the shame and and judgement should you be telling yourself that you’re a bad person if you’re having a cupcake or a glass of wine.
Alright, let’s do a quick recap…
- Your brain reacts faster than it can make rational decisions.
- The more you practice a thought, action or behavior, the more habitual it becomes.
- Coping skills aren’t necessarily good or bad, it’s whether or not we become codependent on them, or allow them to monopolize our time and resources.
Alright, I’ll try to keep the rest of this as short as possible, but honestly, this is such a big topic, that’s gonna be hard to do…so thanks for hanging in there.
I want to lay down a few reality checks, and bear with me because they’re going to feel contradictory.
REALITY CHECK #1
You’re confusing self care with self soothing.
So, an easy way to tell whether you’re engaging in self soothing or practicing self care is the moment when you’re done doing the thing.
If it’s self care, you’ll feel better. You’ll feel empowered, relieved, refreshed, accomplished, relaxed, motivated.
But if it’s self soothing, you’ll only feel good in the moment.
So, yeah…curling up in a blanket with a book all day is delicious, until you get a wave of awareness reminding you that you haven’t gotten your prescriptions filled, paid your bills, or taken out the trash…in a while.
So then, sometimes, there’s shame, and dread, and overwhelm, and so you turn the page and read another chapter. Self soothing.
Whereas self care might look like a few hours with the book, then remembering your responsibilities, fulfilling them because you care about your total wellbeing (and not just your comfort levels), and then being proud of yourself because now you can really enjoy the rest of that book, maybe even with even with a donut. I don’t know, choose your own adventure.
REALITY CHECK #2
We need to allow ourselves to feel ALL of our feelings, even the gross ones. But, we CANNOT feel all of our feelings all the time.
Let’s be honest we’re living in some sketchy times (at least here in the US) where there’s COVID, our rights to body autonomy are being threatened, there’s a disturbing level gun violence, costs are rising for food, housing and fuel, and we haven’t even addressed the concerns in our personal lives yet.
This is a lot to take on day after day. We’re not designed to withstand this amount of stress and it’s causing us severe anxiety and depression. So it’s no wonder why we’re so quick to reach for our coping tools and self soothe.
It’s okay to tap out now and then. I just want to make sure that you don’t put yourself so far behind the eight ball that you end up causing even more unnecessary stress in your life.
REALITY CHECK #3
There may be a lot we can’t control, but there’s also a lot that we can, we’re just choosing not to.
So, I believe that if we dig deep enough, we know the truth, we know what we need to do in order to practice self care. But instead we throw out all sorts of convincing evidence why we can’t.
Hello, negativity bias.
So, this is another one of those features of the brain, that if left unattended, can kind of ruin your life.
Have you ever watched Saturday Night Live, the Debbie Downer skits? That’s kind of what I’m talking about.
Apparently, because our stupid brains are built for survival, that means we’re designed to instinctually look for the problems, and not the solutions. That’s something we have to make a conscious effort to do.
But not only does negativity bias cause us to notice the problems more easily, but it also means negative experiences have a bigger emotional impact on our psyche than positive experiences do.
Anyway, it’s real easy when we’re stressed and tired and generally unmotivated to find excuses to not do the self care things, because just about anything can be an obstacle getting in your way.
ALRIGHT, WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO WITH THIS INFORMATION?
I really want to get into all of that this week, but I just don’t have time. 😭 I'm so sorry!! I really am. The truth is, I’m a real person, with real responsibilities (and self care needs) and I’m going to have to come back to this next time.
So, if you want to continue on with this theme, you can either follow the Unlocking Wellness podcast wherever you like to listen, or you can sign up for my newsletter and I’ll send you a direct link, or if you want to dive in even further, you can join the Dream Team and get bonus content and join our group discussions on all of these topics. Again, Dream Team memberships start at just $3/month and you get a bunch of other perks as well, like an exclusive app I made just for members. It’s really cool.
I’ll leave links to all the things below in the show notes, or you can just visit me at crystalmclaincreative.com
I love you.
I appreciate you.
Thank you so much for being here.
And I’ll see you soon!