Episode 74 Summary
- Defining self-care - self-care is the choices, behaviours and activities that are really going to care for your mind and body now and in the future.
- Defining self-soothing - self-soothing refers to things that are nice to do and make us feel good in the moment, but that don't actually care for us.
- The overlap between self-care and self-soothing - some things we do that are soothing to us are also self-care. However, some of the things that we do to feel good, are not actually self-care.
- There is nothing wrong with self-soothing, but if that's all that you do and you don't also engage in some self-care, then your mind, your body, your health, even your weight will be the worse for it.
- Examples of self-care activities - going to the doctor for a mammogram or a Pap smear, saying no to a job as you're stretched to capacity, exercising even though it's freezing cold and you don't want to, sleeping at least 7 hours, or eating a delicious, nourishing meal.
- Examples of activities that are both self-care and self-soothing - having a nice cup of tea, doing some deep breathing, getting outside and enjoying nature, connecting with another person or a pet, listening to music, or having a bubble bath.
- Examples of things that are promoted as self-care but are actually just self-soothing - these are activities that can flood our brain with dopamine, such as shopping for yourself, eating a block of chocolate, or scrolling on social media. These types of activities can sometimes be harmless, but some of them can in fact be harmful to our self-care, prime examples being gambling and alcohol.
Read our latest blog on self-care vs self-soothing here https://www.rlmedicine.com/blog/self-care-vs-self-soothing
Self-care vs self-soothing
Dr Mary Barson: Hello, my lovely listeners. I'm Dr Mary Barson.
Dr Lucy Burns: And I'm Dr Lucy Burns. Welcome to this episode of Real Health and Weight Loss.
Dr Mary Barson: Hello lovely listeners, Dr Mary Barson here with you today. We have a fabulous topic today on self-care and self-soothing, and I am joined by my amazing colleague Dr Lucy Burns. How are you Dr Lucy?
Dr Lucy Burns: I am super well Mares, super well, having really had the most gorgeous weekend with some self-care practices in, and having a little ponder about this topic because I think it's really important. And you know, we talk a lot about self-care at Real Life Medicine. In fact, you know we would go on to talk about the idea that as you know, even though we spend a lot of time talking about weight loss, the way to be able to lose weight permanently is really about caring for your body and your mind.
Dr Mary Barson: Yes. I think this topic is particularly topical for me because I had a great weekend as well. It was a long weekend, weekend that's just gone past in Victoria and I spent the majority of it on self-care, but it was self-care that kind of sucked at the time. And this is very pertinent to what we're going to discuss, but ultimately was much better for myself. So the self-care that sucked a little bit was clearing out my spare room that had been sort of, we had a little mouse plague about a week ago and I know that there was some mice in the spare room. And basically didn't have time until the weekend to sort it out. I really didn't want to, did not want to do that, but did it and taken off my cognitive load, much, much better. It was a very kind act to current and future Mary. And also dealing with back pain that I've had with pregnancy, going to the physio, which wasn't too bad, but was certainly a bit painful at the time getting my therapy, and making sure that I do my exercises. And the exercises are actually a bit uncomfy, they bring on the pain, but ultimately are going to help solve the problem. So kind of, at the time sucky self-care, but I feel so much better for it.
Dr Lucy Burns: Absolutely. And I think this is, and I guess part of the reason I want to bring this up is because you know, self-care, there's a lot of information out there. There's a lot on social media. There are lots of people promoting self-care, which is wonderful. And part of that is because you know, the world globally and humanity has been suffering with the pandemic, and that looking after ourselves is important. But I think the thing that gets tangled up or entwined in the messaging is that some of the things that are espoused as self-care are not actually self-care. They're things that are nice to do that might make us feel good in the moment, but they don't actually care. It's not a caring thing. And I know you and I were having a chat before we got on about what, well what is the definition of self-care? So Mares I thought maybe you'd like to share with our audience what we think self-care actually is.
Dr Mary Barson: So we think self-care is the choices and the behaviours and activities that are really going to care for your mind and body now and in the future. So if, I could have spent the whole weekend, this is just for example, going back to my mouse plague weekend. I could have spent the whole weekend lying on the couch watching Netflix, and I probably would have enjoyed it. I would have been resting, my back would have been okay, I wouldn't have to deal with the icky reality of you know, clearing out the mice carnage. Apologies to anyone who's got a mice phobia, I should probably stop saying mouse.
Dr Lucy Burns: And also for our listeners to know that Dr Mary lives in the country.
Dr Mary Barson: Yes.
Dr Lucy Burns: And country, country life is full of mice.
Dr Mary Barson: Totally, totally, yeah, absolutely. I'd like to put some context in. It's not that I live a particularly messy life, we were just unlucky. Lots of things with, that's been going on with the rains and, and sort of the local environments. It's happening to us and all our neighbours, so it's around our side of the country. It's a very common problem, so they're not just picking on me specifically. Yeah, so if I had sort of just dived into self-soothing and spent my weekend watching telly, having bubble baths, eating chocolate, I probably wouldn't have drunk wine because I'm pregnant and in fact, I wouldn't have eaten chocolate because I'm low carb, just using that as an example. Actually, it really wouldn't have been self-care, because come Tuesday morning I would still have all of these problems that I hadn't dealt with, and my mind and my body would be in a worse state for not having been cared for over the weekend.
Dr Lucy Burns: Absolutely. So what we're going to talk about over the next, rest of this podcast, is the fact that we have self-care, we have self-soothing, and then there's an overlap. And some things that are soothing to us, that make us feel good, are also self-care. But some of the things that we do to feel good, are not actually self-care. And there are people, companies, influencers, promoters, all sorts of people, dressing up some of the self-soothing as being self-care, and the purpose of this podcast is not to judge, but just to highlight so that people are aware that there is a difference.
Dr Mary Barson: Yes. There's nothing wrong with self-soothing, but if that's all that you do, and that you don't also engage in some self-care, then your mind, your body, your health, even your weight will be the worse for it.
Dr Lucy Burns: Absolutely. So let's play a game Mares. Let's list, we'll take it in turns to list some things that we consider to be self-care.
Dr Mary Barson: Self-care versus self-soothing, got it. All right, self-care: going to the doctor and getting those fasting blood tests, a referral for a mammogram, or a Pap smear.
Dr Lucy Burns: Absolutely. Saying no to somebody who's perhaps asked you to do a job, which you might want to do, but you know that you're at your limit.
Dr Mary Barson: Boundaries, good. Going for that walk that you plan to do, even though it's a bit windy and you don't want to.
Dr Lucy Burns: Resting your body because it's sore.
Dr Mary Barson: Having a lovely nourishing meal.
Dr Lucy Burns: Absolutely. In fact we say this often, eating real food and cooking real food is an act of self-care. Going to bed in a timely manner that actually gives you the opportunity to have, you know somewhere between seven and eight hours of sleep a night.
Dr Mary Barson: Good. Not buying that super-expensive pair of shoes that you can't actually afford.
Dr Lucy Burns: Absolutely. Now here's a list of things that are both self-care and self-soothing, because I think we'd all, we'd all say that none of those things are particularly soothing. You know, going to the doctor for your blood test form, going to the dentist, is not very soothing. Saying no to yourself about the shopping that, you know half of you wants to buy, that's not very soothing. But it is very good care for you and future you. So then some things that are actually soothing and constitute self-care as well, what have you got there for us Mares?
Dr Mary Barson: Having a lovely cup of tea?
Dr Lucy Burns: Absolutely. I would say deep breathing does both.
Dr Mary Barson: Yep. Going out and enjoying nature, even if it's just sitting in your garden looking at the flowers.
Dr Lucy Burns: Beautiful. Connecting with another person or being. So that includes your dog for those of you who of us are dog lovers.
Dr Mary Barson: Totally. Or cat.
Dr Lucy Burns: Yes, definitely connecting.
Dr Mary Barson: Listening to music.
Dr Lucy Burns: Totally. And of course a favourite, a bubble bath.
Dr Mary Barson: Oh, yeah.
Dr Lucy Burns: It is definitely soothing to have a bubble bath and as bathing cleans your skin, it's also self-care.
Dr Mary Barson: That's right, we do need to be, you know bathed or showered. So yes.
Dr Lucy Burns: And now some things that may be promoted as self-care, which are actually not. They're just soothing, and again lovely listeners, there's no judgement here. It's just understanding in your mind or having it clear in your mind, what is soothing that isn't future care. And also to know that I guess participating in some of these behaviours is not, is not necessarily harmful for some people, but it can be for others. So it's really important as you hear us talk often, to know yourself. Know yourself well, so that you know which things are going to be helpful to you and which aren't. So, what sort of examples have you got for us Mares?
Dr Mary Barson: It's all the things that can flood our brain with dopamine, well some of the things that can flood our brain with dopamine, like going shopping?
Dr Lucy Burns: Absolutely. Yeah, every time you buy something, whether it's online, in shop, you get that little buzz, the little high. And for some people that's fine. It's good, it's no problem. You know, I've been buying earrings that, I love them. If I was to buy earrings and not be able to afford my mortgage, then I'm no longer acting in any form of self-care. It's now harmful. I would say, you know drinking wine after work.
Dr Mary Barson: Eating chocolate. Just sitting down having a block of chocolate, to soothe yourself.
Dr Lucy Burns: Yeah. And telling yourself that it's a treat. So the idea again, this “treating yourself” line, it's part of self-soothing, and working out that for some people, it's not actually a treat. In fact, probably most people. Our bodies are such forgiving beings, they you know, the lovely liver deals with many things. But if people are being told that eating donuts is self-care or a treat, they're being misled. And I often use that donut example because, and I think it might even be on our website, I've just got this great picture which is a box of donuts and smacked on the front of it, it says, “You deserve a donut”.
Dr Mary Barson: It's a very pervasive message, yeah.
Dr Lucy Burns: It is.
Dr Mary Barson: I reckon another self-soothing activity that doesn't necessarily come under the auspices of self-care, is scrolling on social media.
Dr Lucy Burns: Absolutely. And I mean, I'm presuming these days that most people know that the algorithms in social media are designed to, you know hook us in to give us that little bit of dopamine hit. That's the whole point, and it certainly has the potential to be harmful, as does playing games on your phone. So you know, ex Candy Crush addict here. It is. You sit down, you go, “Oh, I'm just going to spend a few minutes with myself”. And then you get out the phone and you know, two hours later you're still playing.
Dr Mary Barson: That's right, hunched in some really bad posture, yeah.
Dr Lucy Burns: Yeah. And part of the reason that we do it is we kind of get embroiled in the game, we don't have to think about what's going on in busy life. So it becomes almost, you know it is, there's some sort of soothing and a distraction to whatever else is going on.
Dr Mary Barson: And a little bit of a dopamine hit too. They are designed to do that. Another one that I think is a much bigger problem than perhaps many people realise, and we as GPs, we know this Lucy, is gambling.
Dr Lucy Burns: Yeah, and very much, certainly normalised within young men because of the advertising that goes on. If you ever watch any, we watch, we're quite big AFL fans in our house. So once the footy's on, for our American listeners that's Australian rules football, it's a wonderful game to watch. It's very engaging, and the advertising is heavily around both alcohol and gambling aimed at young men, and completely normalised it.
Dr Mary Barson: Yeah. My partner Patrick's very sporty, both in terms of you know, loving to watch it and play it, and all of the sport that he watches on TV is saturated with gambling. And now you mentioned it, yeah also alcohol ads.
Dr Lucy Burns: Yes. And it is this normalising of this self-soothing, that becomes then problematic. And again there is, please listeners don't think we're judging, it's not. It's really just about working out that engaging in this behaviour may have some harmful effects. And you know, again these sneaky companies, they sort of shirk their responsibility by writing down the bottom in a little, with a tiny, tiny writing, “Gamble responsibly”, “Drinking in moderation”, all of those things. Which basically, it's like, “Oh good, I don't have to deal with that now. We've made a product that hooks you in and makes you feel good in the moment, that is soothing to you. We market it, you know magnificently, and then if you use it too much, well that's your problem because we told you, “Be responsible”.
Dr Mary Barson: Yes. But they also design it to, all of these programs like the poker machines are designed to suck us in, to saturate our brains with dopamine and keep us hooked. Just like food companies make hyperpalatable foods that hit our bliss point, that give us a maximum dopamine hit, that make them much more likely to be addictive. So we've got marketing mischief and tricks from vested interests and industries that want our money and then we've got this self-soothing being dressed up as self-care. And it's nothing like we said, there is absolutely fundamentally nothing wrong or evil about sitting on the couch and having a block of chocolate, if you really want to, and if it's not going to be too damaging to your health goals. However, it isn't self-care and if you really want to care for your mind and body now, and most importantly in the future, because I think the main point of self-care is being kind to future you. I dealt with the thing that I won't talk about again, on the weekend in the spare room because I was being kind to future Mary. I certainly wasn't being kind to present Mary, I did not enjoy that experience. But I was being kind to “future Mary”, and “Tuesday Mary” was so grateful to “Sunday and Monday Mary” for the work that she had put in. And it is about being kind to future you. Being kind to future you, you got to bring it down to the other side of the Venn diagram, which is the self-care side.
Dr Lucy Burns: Absolutely. So lovely listeners, we have a blog post on this which we will link at the bottom of the show notes. And in it, there's a Venn diagram that we've got, it's not an exhaustive list but it does give you the idea that there is two circles and they intersect. One circle is self-care, one circle is self-soothing. The intersection is bits that both soothe and care. We would encourage people to spend their self-soothing in the middle of that Venn diagram, okay. Again, it doesn't have to be perfect. But it is never anybody's fault if they head down the self-soothing path in behaviour that becomes, that is harmful. Because you know, and this is the tricky thing, nobody, nobody starts off with an alcohol problem, okay. Nobody starts off drinking two bottles of wine a night. It never starts like that, it always starts with a little bit. That's where it becomes tricky. So you do, as I said you need to know yourself, you need to understand yourself, and just be really clear on the type of behaviour that you are engaging in. And again, knowing yourself well, you will know whether this is something you can do, whether you can regulate or not. And as I said, I know for me, hyperpalatable junk food, particularly sweet food is not something I can regulate. I just can't, and as much as you know, old Lucy used to sit on the couch, literally eating bags of Maltesers and thinking she was looking after herself, she wasn't. She was soothing and that's okay, but she wasn't caring.
Dr Mary Barson: And I am going through my own self-care versus self-soothing little battle in the mornings when I wake up before everyone else. And I'm a bit more tired than I used to be with being pregnant and not sleeping as well as I'd like. And every morning I have this little battle. Do I sit on the couch with my cup of tea and watch telly, or do I go outside with my cup of tea and do some mindfulness and meditation? And honestly, it's a little tug of war that is happening every morning in my brain, and I probably am doing the telly about twice a week and the rest of the time I'm going outside and doing my mindfulness. And no prizes for guessing you know, which one sets me up for a much better day.
Dr Lucy Burns: I know, and I think, you know the thing is though, that because the telly gives you bigger dopamine hit. So again, we know at the end of the day humans are just trying to feel better. We all, that's our, kind of one of our goals, feel better. And there are things out there that give us bigger dopamine. But what they do is they give us more pleasure in the moment, but they can rob you of your joy for the rest of the day. And so it's no wonder that it's a tug of war. You know it's, sometimes self-care is not easy. That's the whole thing, it isn't just bubble baths and candles. It is actually making those hard decisions that you are looking to care for the you, the present you and the future you. And sometimes we get them right, and sometimes we don't. And again, it's okay.
Dr Mary Barson: Totally okay. It's just about moving forward. Keep going.
Dr Lucy Burns: Good, wonderful. All right lovely listeners, that's it from us for this week. We look forward to joining you in the future. Have a wonderful, wonderful week.
Dr Mary Barson: Bye guys.
Dr Lucy Burns: So my lovely listeners, that ends this episode of Real Health and Weight Loss. I'm Dr Lucy Burns.
Dr Mary Barson: And I'm Dr Mary Barson. We're from Real Life Medicine. To contact us please visit https://www.rlmedicine.com
Dr Lucy Burns: And until next time, thanks for listening. The information shared on the real health and weight loss podcast, including show notes and links provides general information only. It is not a substitute, nor is it intended to provide individualised medical advice, diagnosis or treatment, nor can it be construed as such. Please consult your doctor for any medical concerns.