Real Self-Care vs. Faux Self-Care


By Christa Banister

Have you noticed how self-care is having a moment in our culture?

You’ll spot #self-care accompanying a number of social media posts. Maybe it’s someone rocking a bright new hue after a spa pedicure. A wellness enthusiast twisting into a Scorpion Handstand Pose in yoga class. Maybe it’s the spoils of retail therapy or snapshots from a lux vacation.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with treating yourself. Or seeking out a fun distraction when our lives are so stressful and busy. But what happens when these fleeting pleasures don’t actually make us feel better? Why is so much of what’s touted as real self-care causing us to blame ourselves when it’s not working as we had hoped?

What Is Real Self-Care?

To practice self-care, first we need to know what it is. Some imagine a tub full of bubbles or a spa treatment, while others worry it means putting themselves first at the expense of others. Neither are true reflections of what self-care really is.

Real Self-Care author Dr. Pooja Lakshmin shared with NPR a key distinction between real self-care and fake self-care. Unlike real self-care that ultimately leads to meaningful and lasting life changes, fake self-care is more like a Band-Aid than a lifelong strategy.

women and daughter doing yoga

Fake self-care is the juice fast, the Pilates workshop, the splurge meal, and drinks with friends. It’s typically something you can buy — or an activity you sign up for — and spoiler alert, it prioritizes momentary pleasure over personal growth. Which is why it usually rings hollow sooner than we expect.

On the flip side, real self-care aids in healthy development and growth, and there’s no shortcut for it, says Lakshmin in The New York Times. It requires time, introspection, and rethinking of how you take care of yourself. Sometimes that even means kicking activities to the curb, including ones you may have perceived as healthy.

Taking the time you need for self-care is never selfish. If anything, it’s an investment in you and everyone you care about.

Actress Jennifer Aniston who is known for her fit physique recently told TODAY how the workouts she used to do were “exhausting and painful.” She often injured herself from overexertion and had to recalibrate her fitness routine. A crucial part was ditching her “no pain, no gain” mindset. She realized she didn’t have to hurt in order to get results.

Another critical facet of eliminating fake self-care is considering whether something or someone you’re saying yes to — even for something ostensibly good — makes you feel better. Some questions worth asking yourself include:

  • Is the activity just another schedule-filler that doesn’t leave you feeling less stressed overall?
  • Does self-care seem like something you have to check off your list so you chose a particular option without feeling connected to it?
  • Are you only participating to see your “likes” go up on social media?
  • Are you doing something for the purpose of winning or to prove something?
  • Does this purchase or commitment actually bring meaning to your life?
  • Is there another way you’d rather be spending your time?
  • Is your self-care reflective of your values?

Prioritizing Real Self-Care in Addiction Recovery

An important component of addiction recovery is unlearning old habits and behaviors and embracing a new way of living. Whenever someone has struggled with alcohol or substance abuse and used it as a coping mechanism for emotional pain, self-care in recovery actually helps prevent relapse.

Research published by the National Library of Medicine shows how heightened levels of cortisol, the hormone our body releases when we’re stressed, has an impact on how likely relapse will occur. But when there’s a strategy for managing stress through self-care, cortisol levels are lower, which reduces the likelihood of turning back to alcohol and substances for relief.

When trying to avoid and manage addiction triggers, self-care in addiction recovery can be as simple as going to therapy, connecting with others who support you on your journey, and making sure you are eating and sleeping well for optimal mental health. It’s finding activities that have meaning for you, spending quality time with loved ones, and being part of a support group in which you feel comfortable sharing.

By incorporating real self-care into your life during recovery, it allows you to examine what you need and ultimately provides a direction for what the future will look like.

Making an Investment in Yourself

When you take your first steps toward changing your story at The Meadows or any of our facilities, you’re forever part of our family. This is why Onward is such an important resource.

We provide alumni of all Meadows Behavioral Healthcare programs with tools that are tailor-made for your needs and unique opportunities to stay connected in the shared experience of recovery.

Recovery is a lifelong journey, and staying connected with the men and women who’ve been there is absolutely vital. It really makes all of the difference for your long-term commitment to the work you began during treatment. To learn more, don’t hesitate to reach out to our caring team of professionals.