When Self-Care Isn't Working

. 3 min read

Self-care has become a popular topic of conversation over the last few years, which we can, in part, thank hustle culture for.

After we were told for years that the key to success—in all facets of life—was to burn the candle at both ends, and then found that this advice was not only unsustainable but entirely untrue, many of us leaned into the opposite direction. We began to experiment with slowing down, putting ourselves first, and explored topics like boundaries, energy vampires, sleep hygiene, and meditation.

At the start, it was an exciting time, especially for introverts, exhausted caretakers, and the chronically ill who found their preferences and/or mandated lifestyles reflected in the mass media, without any sassy asides. It was liberating.

…until it wasn’t.

Over time, as the movement grew, so did the industry of self-care. Companies began to crop up that had an incentive to get us hooked on commodified wellness.

This is where things began to get sticky.

NOT because companies popped up. Entrepreneurship and innovation are a beautiful thing when they are done ethically.

The issue is that, of course, not every business is run in this way. And while tons of reputable, wellness companies have come to fruition, tons of, well, snake oil has cropped up, too.

When products or services don’t work, companies have to rely on sketchy means of selling their products. Meaning, they have to manipulate consumers in some which way in order to make a sale, because they cannot rely on genuine forms of marketing, like word-of-mouth, testimonials, etc.

So, today, we’ve ended up in a world where products and services that are not necessarily effective, or that are simply not necessary are constantly pushed down our throats. And the result is that we feel we must do all of these things in order to “successfully take care of ourselves.” As if, if we didn’t, we’d be failing.

Cue the stress, the anxiety, the burnout. All of the feelings we were hoping to heal with self-care in the first place.

We’re smart, educated people. It’s not as if we aren’t aware of all the advertisements that are being curated for and delivered to us via social media. It’s just that intellectual understanding doesn’t always trickle down to our hearts, our emotions, which play a massive role in how we ingest and respond to the world.

So, if you’re engaging in self-care practices and still feeling stressed or burnt out, what’s there to do?

The first thing is to take a step back and assess your self-care practices. Are they bringing you joy? Fulfilment? Growth? What are they adding to your life?

If they’re not contributing anything, can you easily do away with them? If not, why? Have they become a part of your identity? Are they quelling anxiety in a way overworking once did? Dig deep to understand your attachment here.

If they are contributing something, it’s just not enough, that’s fine, keep your practice. But then it’s about determining what’s missing. What is the big goal you are hoping to achieve through self-care? Define it clearly.

Many people are longing for a sense of tranquility and peace. That’s the energy they’re after when it comes to self-care. Achieving that in a deep, sustainable sense requires...

looking at what’s preventing you from feeling this way. Are you a chronic people-pleaser that’s surrounded with toxic people who are leaching your energy? Do you have loving people around you that you haven’t allowed to support you, because you’ve prevented yourself from speaking up? Are you not making enough money to support yourself? Have you lost touch with who you really are and what you truly value, and therefore feeling unfulfilled, or lost?

Transformative self-care starts with raw reflection. It is only when we understand what’s really burdening us that we can understand the first step we need to take unburden ourselves, to live the life we truly we want to lead.

It’s true that cold plunges and bubble baths and other self-care practices can calm our nervous systems, but until we address the root cause, these calming tools will only have temporary effects.

Whereas when we can understand where we’re really at, where we’re off-balance, we can see the inner work we need to do to heal, as well as understand how to move through our days in order to honour our healing. For instance, if you tend to be too docile and need to begin voicing your opinion, you will have ample opportunities to weave self-care throughout your day, by leaning into sharing your voice. Or, if you tend to be too dominant and need to learn how to listen to others, you will, too, have ample opportunities for self-care throughout your day, by leaning into listening.

“Rather than compress self-care into a set of tools you pick up at the beginning or end of your day, try extracting its essence and weaving it into the rhythm of your day.” (Mackenzie Belcastro)

When you can tune out the chatter from the external world and ask yourself how you can bring a sense of self-awareness, -compassion and -respect to all situations, that’s when your life really begins to feel better.