By Katie Marshall

The act of taking care of yourself – either after a long stretch of exhaustion, pain, or stress or on a regular basis – is always a beautiful thing. On the surface, it looks like taking time off from whatever is causing you anxiety and making yourself a priority. Self-care comes in so many different forms because we all have different ways to heal, but each one requires you to ask yourself the question, “What do I want to do now to find peace?” and enacting the answer. When healing, you do what you need to do to get better. You give yourself time, creative room, extra time at the gym, new things or the freedom to sell the old ones. You try new hobbies. You buy yourself art supplies. It is a positive, healthy thing to take care of yourself.

But self-care can also look a lot like self-indulgence, which is to say that sometimes the answers to our question about finding peace look like eating junk food while watching Netflix, having a second or fourth glass of wine on a Wednesday night when you have work the next day, or exercising to the point of obsession. While self-care is a critical part of the journey that is life-long happiness, self-indulgence is an escape.

Self-care can also look a lot like tough love. And when you are ready, the time you spent healing can give you the courage to face whatever scares you about change.

What happens when those little things you did to take it easy on yourself because you needed to evolve into bad habits? When something breaks, you take time to rest. But how long can you rest before you overdo it?

Over-doing self-care creates a real problem. The human brain associates things so quickly: the color red means stop, green means go. I don’t even have to say Traffic Light for you to know what I’m talking about. Bad habits sneak up on us. A relaxing evening of shirking responsibilities to buy new clothes online after a stressful week can be a good thing, but it can also become something that you easily associate with de-stressing and happiness and thus, something that you reach to whenever you feel stressed. Furthermore, we develop tolerances to feeding our impulses. Something that once brought you a jolt of joy will fade after doing it a few times, so the next time you reach for it, you have to increase how much of it you do. Self-indulgence is a wide range of addiction. What you did to help yourself through a rough time can very quickly become a coping mechanism that you hold onto longer than is actually helpful.

Remember that whatever trauma, regardless of size, you are coming back from happened to make you better. You took a break to strengthen and energize yourself for what’s next, not for a long sleep. An important thing to remember about self-care is that healing requires energy. It requires action. And sometimes, it can hurt.

When you are pushed down, it is easy to stay down. It is comfortable. Not getting well can feel easier than getting well because healing is a choice. It requires you to commit to new activities that will feel strenuous. Your brain will associate the strain of the new activity with the same exertion caused by the original stress or pain that brought you to self-care in the first place. Some part of you will immediately beg you to stop. We do not discern between good or bad change in our minds; we only feel the oncoming stress of change. Getting well means changing everything that has become comfortable for us, including our self-image. The process is scary no matter what the familiar has been like because the familiar is comfortable and the process brings in the new and unknown. Bad self-care habits can train us to believe that we deserve a break even if we don’t need one anymore. They can teach us to stay down.

But you are not here to stay down. You are here to rise.

Self-care can look like taking time off. It can look like following your impulses and catering to your every whim. But self-care can also look a lot like tough love. And when you are ready, the time you spent healing can give you the courage to face whatever scares you about change.

Create your own self-care/self-indulgence gauge by asking yourself, will this activity actually make me feel better? Does this move me forward? Or even, Do I really want this?

Taking the time to question your impulses gives you the opportunity to train your instincts rather than enslaving yourself to them.

You are stronger and wiser because of what you have gone through. Use that strength. Take the time to employ that wisdom. Life rafts were not designed to carry you over vast journeys in the ocean. They are temporary tools to carry you when you need them. When you’re ready, take a deep breath and allow yourself to let go of the security of the temporary. The ocean is deep and full of the unknown. But you have rested and now you are ready. So, go on. Swim. You can do this.

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