Self-Care, Not Selfishness, for Better Mental Health

Selfishness and self-seeking hold us back from personal growth. Self-compassion and self-care, on the other hand, have the power to heal.

What’s the difference and how is self-care not inherently selfish?

When you’re selfish and self-seeking, you only make room for your own needs and desires, not those of others. Selfish people obsess over their achievements and failures, wallow in despair and self-pity, and only do things for others when it furthers their own goals.

Self-care involves putting yourself first. However, self-care is a practice, not a state of being; it’s something you do, not something you are. While the act of self-care may be self-centered, the purpose isn’t. When we practice self-care, we do it so we can become a greater asset to the world, not to bend the world to our will.

Self-care is essential for emotional and mental health, but when you’ve been stuck in patterns of unhealthy emotional behavior, it can be hard to know what healthy self-care looks like.

6 Self-Care Practices for Emotional Wellness

1. Care for your physical health

Your mental health doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Your physical health is directly tied to the way you feel emotionally. Poor physical health increases your risk of developing mental health problems, and poor mental health makes it harder to care for your body.

Sleeping well is the simplest thing you can do to improve physical health. When you don’t sleep well, it’s harder to think clearly and regulate your emotions. If you have sleep problems — 50 to 80 percent of people with psychiatric problems do — cut back on caffeine and alcohol, practice relaxation techniques, stick to a sleep schedule, and get more exercise.

In addition to helping you sleep, exercise is a natural mood lifter and promotes long-term mental health. Three 45- to 60-minute workouts per week is ideal, but any amount of exercise is better than none.

2. Breathe cleaner air at home

Many people don’t realize that the air in their home has more allergens and pollutants than the air outdoors. To improve your home’s air quality, make sure to clean and vacuum regularly and let in fresh air when the weather permits.

3. Practice good hygiene

When you’re struggling emotionally, it’s hard to keep up with basic tasks such as brushing your hair and teeth, doing laundry, and cleaning your house. However, self-neglect only makes you feel worse. Do your best to wash up, get dressed and comb your hair. If you’re a woman, find an easy-to-manage hairstyle and consider a haircut every six weeks. For men, keep your facial hair groomed and receive monthly haircuts, or invest in a decent pair of clippers so you can do it yourself. There’s truth in the adage that when you look good, you feel good.

4. Care for your skin

When it comes to caring for your body, skin health is especially important. This is easily accomplished through regular bathing, moisturizing, exfoliating as necessary and always wearing sunscreen. While these are the basic forms of skin self-care, you can do even more by following a daily skincare regimen, having regular treatments at Skin by Tatyana and seeing your dermatologist once a year. And while appearance isn’t everything, taking the time to practice self-care in this manner can be a great way to reduce stress, whether it’s to unwind at the end of the day or to get your day off to a great start.

5. Set goals and priorities

Do you feel like you’re stumbling through day-to-day life, chronically late and overwhelmed? If so, then you need to get mentally organized so you can make time for what’s important instead of letting chaos rule your life. It’s the key to meeting short-term and long-term goals for yourself and making time for the other important people in your life.

Getting mentally organized takes practice. It requires learning to tune out intrusive thoughts, control your emotional reactions, practice patience, and stay focused even when your mind pulls you elsewhere. This can seem difficult (or even impossible) when you have emotional difficulties, which brings us to another way you should be practicing self-care.

6. Speak with a mental health professional

There may come a time when your emotional difficulties and life’s challenges become overwhelming. In this case, don’t put off seeking the services of a mental health professional. With counseling and treatment, you can get back to maintaining good self-care practices without feeling like things are out of your control.

Can Self-Care Ever Be Selfish?

As different as self-care and selfishness are, sometimes the line blurs. Ask yourself these questions to determine if your self-care practices are a positive force in your life:

  1. Do you use self-care to avoid unpleasant situations? Some things are worth avoiding, like serious triggers, but you shouldn’t be using self-care as an excuse to avoid mildly uncomfortable situations.

  2. Are you becoming rigid, rather than assertive? It’s important to set boundaries, especially when it comes to toxic relationships. However, if you find yourself refusing to step outside your comfort zone, you may need to loosen the reins.

  3. Do self-care practices get in the way of your relationships with others? Self-care should enable stronger relationships, not weaken them.

  4. Does your self-care rarely translate into action? Self-care isn’t about momentarily feeling good; it’s about energizing yourself so you can work toward something bigger. Make sure you’re including self-reflection in your self-care.

Did you answer “yes” to any of these questions? If so, it’s time to take a second look at your self-care practices and ask yourself if you’re motivated by self-care or falling back into selfish habits. Caring for yourself puts you on the path to better emotional wellness, but mistaking selfishness for self-care only holds you back.

Image via Unsplash

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