Self-Care Guilt (And Why You Should Let It Go)
We’re living in difficult times. There’s COVID itself and the many losses that have come with it. There’s burnout for people working on the frontlines. There’s our own anxiety, plus managing everyone else’s anxiety—especially when the people around us hold different opinions about the pandemic than we do.
And yet, we are expected to show up to our lives every day with a smile on our faces like nothing is wrong. We’re supposed to be exactly as productive as we were before, even as the economy creaks and groans under the weight of pandemic restrictions. How are we supposed to achieve this feat of optimistic productivity?
It’s simple, we’re told. We just need to practice self-care.
Yeah. We’re supposed to take a bath and a deep breath and miraculously push through the material realities of our deeply altered lives. And when we can’t find that smile or can’t get all the work done or push through the bad mood, we start feeling guilty. Because we must not have self-cared enough.
No, You’re Not Doing It Wrong
Self-care is powerful. It matters. Eating healthy food, exercising, spending time with good people, and doing activities we enjoy are incredibly powerful for our health and wellbeing. But having access to these things is dependent on certain other things being in place. We need enough money for healthy food and enough time (or childcare) to exercise. Yes, there’s always something we can do—yoga with your kiddos, for example, or a five-minute meditation. But when things are really not going well, it’s hard to rally enough to want to do any of that. And then we feel guilty.
The problem with self-care is that it implies that your care is 100 percent in your control. It isn’t. We also need other-care and community-care. We need infrastructure care like health services and school for our kids. Yes, Zoom happy hours do help. But they aren’t the same thing as a hug from a friend you love or soaking up the music at a concert with your favorite band. We can’t access all the things we need to take care of ourselves right now.
Dropping Guilt About Self-Care
The lack of access isn’t our fault. We’re all doing our best in a difficult situation, and the last thing we need is to feel guilty for not doing enough self-care.
Our culture has a bit of a pattern of putting the responsibility for whatever is going wrong into the hands of individuals. When we are saddled with enough guilt and anxiety about what’s going on in the world, it deflects attention away from the infrastructure changes that are needed. Our collective mental health really hasn’t been doing that well, but it’s not because we are failing to resist the pressure of the situation we’re in. It’s because we’re living in a complicated time that doesn’t have any cost-free solutions.
So, what if we took a moment to just feel whatever it is we feel about what’s happening in our lives, our hearts, and our bodies? What if we took the pressure off fixing ourselves and just let it be what it is for a moment? Of course, we can return to the things that help us feel better when we can and when we want to. Self-care is valuable, but it has a limit. Feeling guilt about not doing enough of it is something you should go ahead and take off your list of things to worry about.
- by Julie Peters