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Self-care vs self-soothing

behaviour change Mar 28, 2022

Self-care is the buzzword of the moment, and there's a good reason for that. The majority of us feel overworked and overwhelmed. We have so “much on our plate”. The pandemic is beyond our control but has placed inordinate pressure on our lives which were already busy. Often our needs go to the bottom of the list.

Over the past 2 years we have dealt with so many big emotions, both our own and our families. Disappointment, restriction, fear, frustration, anxiety to name a few. Many of us have children that needed homeschooling. This was difficult for both us and them. Many of us have kids that are distressed. Their mental health is suffering and as caregivers, we have to help them. Some of us have elderly parents who need our support. The pandemic caused a lot of fear and isolation amongst our aging population. Not to mention work responsibilities, home responsibilities and the never-ending pile of laundry. We can feel like we are pulled in all directions.


Self-care vs self-soothing

It seems that everyone is an expert on self-care these days but in fact, many of the things that are touted as being self-care are actually self-soothing. There is overlap as demonstrated in this graphic.



What is self-care?

Self-care is often hard. It is not just bubble baths and candles. It is making decisions that address the needs of your body and mind. Those needs are both the immediate needs and those needs into the future. It is looking after “present you” and “future you”.

Going to the dentist is self-care. It may not be pleasant but looking after your teeth now will keep them healthy into the future. Saying “no’ to work when you are already too busy is self-care. It feels hard. You may feel like you are letting people down. You may feel worried that you won't be asked again. None of this feels pleasant but knowing your limits and upholding them is self-care.

Going for that walk when it's cold is self-care. You may not want to, but you know you’ll feel better afterwards.

Resting is also self-care. We often think rest is lazy (hello social conditioning) but getting adequate rest is part of self-care. Getting enough sleep is self-care.


What is self-soothing?

There is nothing wrong with self-soothing. This is not a judgement post. In times of distress, we need to self-soothe. Self-soothing is the way we regulate our emotions and feel better. All humans want to feel better. Sometimes though we are not regulating, we are simply numbing. In times of distress, we often use tools that we have been taught or modeled.


Distinguishing between what self-care is and what self-soothing is

A distinction needs to be made between those self-soothing techniques that are also self-care and those that aren't.

Carving out some time for yourself to sit on the couch and read a book is self-care and self-soothing. Carving out some time for yourself to sit on the couch, read a book and eat a block of chocolate is self-soothing. It’s not self-care. Please don't think we are judging you. We are not.

As adult humans, you are allowed to make whatever choices you want. As we often say, you are the boss of you! But social conditioning, marketing, advertising movies, influencers etc. often muddy the waters around self-care and self-soothing. Drinking wine after work is self-soothing. Scrolling on your phone is self-soothing. We do it because it makes us feel better in the moment. Dopamine, our powerful feel-good hormone is released with these activities.

There may be a point when your self-soothing techniques become harmful. When we start drinking a bottle of wine a night after work… When we start eating a block of chocolate every day on the couch… When we start spending more on online shopping than we can afford…

We need to have self-awareness around self-soothing. This is why we are so passionate about being clear as to what self-care is and what self-soothing is. We need to be honest with ourselves and notice when the soothing moves into self-harm. Having the presence of mind to address this can be hard. For some of us, it’s really hard.

If you find that your self-soothing is no longer helping you, then please consider getting some help to address this. No matter who you are, your contribution to society and to your family is vital. You are a valuable and worthy person and deserve the care you need to fully thrive.

There is no shame in seeking help. We are all part of humanity and require compassion, particularly from ourselves. You are not a failure if you need help. There is strength and courage needed to seek help, but please know, you are not alone. Every single one of us uses various techniques to soothe. Learning to use helpful and unlearning harmful ones can take time. In fact, it is an ongoing process.


Engaging in self-care

Looking after your body is key if you are looking for permanent weight loss. Understanding your mind is critical in the execution of this. This is why we are always saying “permanent weight loss is more than a meal plan. It is a self-development program”.

Just like tending to a garden, self-care is something we need to do all the time. The beautiful blooms, the fruits, or the vegetables that a garden produces are a reflection of the care given to it. So lovelies, it is time to care for your own garden. Give your garden some love, some care, some nourishment. Weed it, water it, and watch yourself thrive.


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