ls it still #selfcare, if it just makes everything worse?

A few months ago, I decided to make some changes in my life to address my problems with anxiety.

I told my husband I was going to do one thing every day just for myself. I called it radical self-care, and I felt very good about it. I have two little kids and don’t get much time to myself, so the idea of doing one thing just for me, every single day, certainly felt radical.

I jumped in with both feet, insisting on taking a walk or spending time doing yoga or even just sitting alone on the porch to read a book every day. Nothing extreme, nothing Instagrammable.

Just 20 minutes of calm every day…

And at the end of the first week, I found myself sitting in the bathroom bawling and trembling and hyperventilating — having a full-on anxiety attack — because it was time for my “radical self-care.”

Needless to say, those were not the results I was expecting. It was just supposed to be a walk, but it sent me spiraling and I couldn’t do it.

For lots of folks with anxiety disorders, this kind of “self-care” just doesn’t work.

Self-care is having a moment

These days, self-care is touted as a balm for everything that ails you: from stress and insomnia, all the way to chronic physical illnesses, or mental illnesses like OCD and depression. Somewhere, someone is saying that self-care is exactly what you need to feel better.

And in many cases, it is.

Taking a break and doing something nice for yourself is good for you. Self-care can be a balm. But it isn’t always.

Sometimes, doing something for yourself just makes it worse, especially if you live with an anxiety disorder.

Roughly 20 percent of U.S. adults live with some sort of anxiety disorder, making it the most prevalent mental illness in the United States. So many people have anxiety, and so many people are finally talking about anxiety, that — for me at least — it feels like the stigma is starting to lift a little.

And with that openness and acceptance comes the prescriptive advice we often see filling up our newsfeeds — from the ever-present wellness articles to wholesome memes, much of which involve some sort of affirmation as self-care.

Self-care is fetishised and has become instagrammable
— Dr. Perpetua Neo

For many people with anxiety disorders, a trip to the spa, a nap, or an hour of people watching in the park might be something they really want to do — or feel like they should do. They try because they think they’re supposed to, or that it will help them get their thoughts under control and stop worrying about everything.

But it doesn’t help them feel better. It doesn’t stop the swirl of worry and anxiety and stress. It doesn’t help them focus or calm down.

For lots of folks with anxiety disorders, this kind of “self-care” just doesn’t work.

According to California therapist, Melinda Haynes, “Taking time to administer a healthy dose of self-care can trigger feelings of guilt (I should be working/cleaning/spending more time with my kids), or stir up unresolved feelings related to self-worth (I don’t deserve this or I’m not good enough for this).”

And this pretty much ruins the idea of self-care being helpful — it moves it over into the trigger category.

Don’t let what you can’t do interfere with what you can do
— Debbie Schneider, Healthline Facebook community member

Haynes explains that people who live with anxiety “typically cannot experience the simplicity or peace of ‘just self..’ There are too many to-dos and what-ifs flooding the mind and body at any given moment. Taking a timeout from the busy pace of life only highlights this irregularity… hence, the guilt or low self-worth.”

#selfcare #obsession

In our increasingly connected lives, social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram have become indispensable. We use them for work, for keeping in touch with friends and family, for shopping, for learning new things. But we also use them to show the world what we’re up to. We document and hashtag everything, even our self-care.

Especially our self-care.

“Self-care is fetishised and has become instagrammable,” Dr. Perpetua Neo explains. “People think there are checkboxes to tick, standards to upkeep, and yet they don’t understand why they do what they do.”

“If you find yourself obsessing over the ‘correct way’ to self-care, and feel like crap consistently after it, then it’s a big sign to stop,” she adds.

We can even search our social media to see what other people are doing to care for themselves — the hashtags are plentiful.

#selflove #selfcare #wellness #wellbeing

Dr. Kelsey Latimer, from the Center for Discovery in Florida, points out that “self-care would most likely not be associated with posting to social media unless it was a spontaneous post, as self-care is focused on being in the moment and tuning out the social pressures.”

And the social pressures around wellness are numerous.

Your self-care doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s.

The wellness industry has created space for improved mental health, yes, but it’s also morphed into just another way to be perfect — “like it’s easy to have the perfect diet, perfect body, and yes — even the perfect self-care routine.”

Latimer explains: “This in itself takes us out of the self-care process and into the pressure zone.”

If you feel strongly about developing a self-care practice, but don’t know how to make it work for you, discuss it with a mental health professional and work together to come up with a plan that helps instead of harms.

If it’s watching TV, watch TV. If it’s a bath, take a bath. If it’s sipping a unicorn latte, doing an hour of hot yoga, then sitting for a reiki session, do it. Your self-care is your business.

My experiment in radical self-care evolved over time. I stopped trying to do self-care,I stopped pushing it. I stopped doing what other people said should make me feel better and started doing what I know makes me feel better.

Your self-care doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s. It doesn’t need to have a hashtag. It just needs to be whatever makes you feel good.

Take care of yourself, even if that means skipping all the bells and whistles and not stressing yourself out. Because that is self-care too.

Kristi is a freelance writer and mother who spends most of her time caring for people other than herself. She’s frequently exhausted and compensates with an intense caffeine addiction. Find her on Twitter.