We do a lot in the name of self care, when in reality what we are doing is self soothing.
I love that self care is all the rage and people are finally embracing the need to recharge their body, mind and soul. I would hazard to guess many of us are taking part in self soothing disguised as self care. Self care is doing an activity that nourishes our body, mind or soul that sets ourselves up for a better future. Often we see it as a way to relieve some stress and relax which builds up our resiliency and allows us to handle more in the future. Think of it as a reset, so our body can handle more challenging things. Check out the blog in our stress bucket to get a better understanding of how stressors can accumulate in our body and how self care acts to drain our bucket.
Self soothing on the other hand is something that helps us feel better in the moment but doesn’t necessarily help us in the future. They are usually pleasurable things that help us deal with a situation in the moment or help us disconnect from what’s going on in our life as a way of coping with it.
The one thing to be aware of with self soothing, is it’s often a way of escape from reality for a brief time. Often it is covering up and burying negative emotions or experiences so we are no longer processing them. For instance if we get in a fight with a colleague and have a couple of glasses of wine to deal with it. We do it to unwind and destress for the day, and in the process we are sweeping the issue under the rug. You are not resolving it or getting to the root of why the interaction was so triggering, simply forgetting that it happened.
There are so many things we label as self care that are actually self soothing in disguise. And there is nothing wrong with that, you just have to be more mindful of the two and make the intention choice between the two.
I find I often tend to ebb and flow between self care and self soothing. Let’s be honest, self soothing is so much easier, we can use it to totally avoid challenging situations and emotions. The only thing is, it doesn't resolve anything. Overtime we usually realize it’s only masking the issue, so we resort to self care, to actually help better us. Certain times I feel like self soothing is needed and sometimes all I feel capable of, while other times I know self care is what is going to get me to the next stage. It’s all about being aware of this pattern and knowing what is needed in that moment.
In my opinion, the occasional self soothing habits are okay. I think it is key to reflect on a few things first to ensure we are not managing , as long we ask ourselves a few things:
Is this self care or self soothing? (Remember key difference self care, benefits future you and makes you more resilient)
Why am I self soothing?
Am I trying to avoid difficult emotions or a difficult situation?
Is there something else I can do to manage how I am feeling or resolve the root cause of these difficult emotions?
In case you still trying to clarify the difference between self care and self soothing, to help you better differentiate between the two, my go-to self care practises are:
Getting out in nature
Going for a run
Baths (add a book, and it’s perfect)
Connect with friends and family
Cleaning my space
Saying no and clarifying boundaries
Where my favourite self soothing practises are:
Ordering take-out (especially kimchi fried rice anyone)
Binging reality TV shows (aka my guilty pleasure)
Bottom line, self soothing can help us survive a challenging situation and self care is more about thriving despite challenging situations. Both are okay, as long as you are aware of your choices and the possible outcomes.
Want to learn more?
Check out this blog on how to figure out what's it your stress bucket.
Check out this blog on how to help your body recover from stress.