What You Think Is Self-Care Might Really Just Be a Distraction

As a homebody, the order to stay inside sounded fine to me at first. But as the pandemic has crept along, my anxiousness and stress levels have manifested in new ways — and how I manage them looks different. Thanks to investing expert Amanda Holden, I learned that watching trashy television and ordering items online is not actually – gasp! – self-care, even though I had been telling myself it was. Who would have thought?

The difference between self-soothing and self-care

There’s nothing wrong with taking a bubble bath or spending money on yourself in healthy moderation. If we're going to indulge in a box of chocolates, purchase flowers to brighten up our space, or buy a pair of silky pajamas, we need to think twice about how it’s actually helping us and what the long-term effect looks like for our minds, bodies, and bank accounts.

MyTherapyNYC explains that self-soothing has a place, and is important. “Self-soothing can help us resist unwanted urges…[it] can look like taking a bubble bath, eating something pleasurable, or watching a television show. Self-soothing should cause pleasure or joy that counteracts extreme distress. It is important to give yourself permission to self-soothe.”

Modern Therapy further clarifies, “Self-soothing is helpful when we need to move past something distressing in the moment,” but the key is realizing that self-care — which is likely going to involve some work — makes our lives better overall.

“Self-care involves changing habits," the article continues, "which may not feel comfortable in the moment. However, the discomfort is followed by long-term benefits in areas of our personal and professional lives.”

According to Holden, “Real self-care... is about confronting difficult realities in life and asking if there is some material way to change the worst of them, instead of constantly treating the symptoms of unhappiness like we’re battleground triage nurses. It’s about creating a life that doesn’t make us feel broken, as hard as that may be. While a splurge may make us feel temporarily lifted, let’s be careful not to conflate distractions and solutions.”

Instead of turning on the TV, consider taking a nap. Instead of scrolling on your phone, go on a run or meditate. Instead of crying on the elliptical, see a therapist. Numbing yourself is not the same as loving yourself. When you find a balance between self-care and self-soothing, your mind and your wallet will benefit.