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5 Things to Know If You Think You’re ‘Failing’ at Self-Care

Originally published at The Mighty by Dorothy Vu

Every so often, I get a surge of motivation to pursue personal growth. It comes after I’m inspired by a story of triumph, usually from someone who excelled at self-care. I imagine what it would be like to achieve true happiness, and I fantasize about a utopia where I’m no longer plagued by anxiety and depression.

In these moments, my type-A personality often kicks me into full-on planner mode. I create lists, set goals and shelve out as much time for myself as possible. I push myself to the next level at weekly yoga classes and begin a daily meditation practice. I read mental health articles so often that Google and Facebook algorithms identify this habit and feed me with more strategies than I can keep up with. I feel like a self-care extraordinaire, riding the gushing waves of hope and positivity.

It’s a beautiful feeling until the waves inevitably crash and pull me under — life gets in the way and I lose momentum faster than the routine sets in. My mind buzzes with 20 thoughts a minute during meditation. My eyes spend more time staring at screens than staring into the back of my eyelids. I feel like a complete failure. Eventually, I quit everything and sink into a state of apathy that only goes away when I receive my next burst of energy, and start the cycle over again.

Romanticizing the journey to transformation often gives me a false sense of hope that disappears the second I don’t feel like I’m succeeding. I fall into a pattern of learned helplessness and expect failure the next time I attempt self-care.

Recognizing my fatal flaws, I hope to break this negative cycle once and for all. To get started, I’ve created a list of five reminders for myself, and for others, to help us push through the hurdles and maintain a healthy self-care regimen.

1. Self-care looks different for everyone.

Many of us fall to the pressures of trying the latest self-care trend, only to find that it doesn’t suit our needs or give us the same results as someone else. While it doesn’t hurt to try new things, keep in mind what works for others may not work for you. There’s nothing wrong with focusing on practices that seem most comfortable and achievable for you and your lifestyle.

2. It doesn’t have to be expensive (or cost any money at all).

Self-care doesn’t have to involve deep-tissue massages, Tibetan singing bowls or overpriced bath bombs. The costs of spa treatments and boutique studio classes will add up, so it’s important to remember you don’t have to break the bank in order to treat yourself better. Sometimes self-care can be as simple as going on a nature walk, turning off your phone or finally reading the book that’s been collecting dust on your shelf.

3. You don’t have to do it alone, but you can if you want!

Time to yourself can be reinvigorating, especially if you’re an introvert like me, but that doesn’t mean you have to do every activity in isolation. Fitness classes are especially fun if you have a motivational workout partner. Plus, with a friend joining you on your self-care journey, you’ll have opportunities to improve together and hold each other accountable.

4. It’s OK if you fall out of a routine.

There will always be competing priorities that will get in the way of your routine. While you should treat time for yourself the same way you would treat the time you set aside for work-related meetings, don’t beat yourself up for missing a day or two. There’s no need to go twice as hard the next time you get back into a routine either. You can’t make up lost time, and that’s OK. Acknowledge the misstep, pick it back up the next week and keep on going.

5. It takes time.

We’ve become a world so obsessed with the idea of self-care and quick-results that we rarely stop and think about how challenging it can all be. We see the before and after photo, but we rarely see the struggle happening somewhere in-between. Focus on progress rather than results. Results won’t happen in a day, but progress happens each and every time you make a conscious decision to care for yourself.

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