Being a people-pleaser, self-care never felt truly natural to me. Any time that I would stop or slow down or say No to something, I would be overcome with guilt that I wasn’t doing enough. 

Self-care has been marketed as being all about indulgence and superficial “treats.” But what this has led to is an entire generation of women who feel like they must always be on the move, giving, hustling, and achieving. The unfortunate result is that we can end up stressed, burnt out, and riddled with anxiety. 

When learning how to stop feeling guilty about self-care, we must take time to redefine our understanding of self-care. We must approach several of the major stumbling blocks that prevent us from living our best lives.

Read next: A Look at Overcoming Self-Care Guilt

WHAT SELF-CARE REALLY LOOKS LIKE

Arguably the most significant reason that we tend to feel guilty about self-care is that we don’t know what self-care really is. 

It’s not the thing being sold to us by retailers peddling luxury bath bombs or chunky knit blankets (although those things are helpful on occasion.)

Self-care isn’t washing down the stress of the day with a glass of wine and reality TV shows for the sake of “treating yourself.”

And it’s definitely not most of what we are continually being sold on Instagram (which usually comes with an affiliate link attached!)

The reason that we struggle with feeling guilty about self-care is that we don’t even know the true definition of what self-care entails. According to the Oxford Dictionary, the definition of self-care is “the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress.” 

Note that there is no mention of a bubble bath or #treatyoself on there anywhere. 

By gaining a new understanding of the ways we can actively care for ourselves, we can stop feeling guilty about self-care and start living with intention.

Read next: Why Self-Care is Not Self-Indulgence

UNCOVER YOUR WHY

Just like with any other significant life change, self-care needs to come with a really solid “why.” 

We don’t change to our eating habits, begin a workout routine, or establish an earlier wake-up time without an underlying driving force. Why should self-care be any different?

What is your “why” for beginning your self-care practice?

Could it be that you’re ready to put an end to people-pleasing?

You’re tired of feeling burnt out?

You’re overwhelmed day after day?

Developing this why is foundational to maintaining a self-care practice without the added guilt. 

journaling about self care guilt

UNDERSTAND THE COST OF SELF-CARE

(Spoiler Alert: There doesn’t have to be one!)

Self-care can be a lot of things, but it doesn’t have to be expensive. In fact, it doesn’t have to cost anything at all. 

If we were to believe what we are being told that self-care is, we could drop loads of cash on anything from fancy spa days and girl’s weekends away to pricey bags from high-end brands. 

But sometimes the best self-care is the stuff that doesn’t cost anything. The best self-care can be things like:

  • 5 minutes of slow breathing;
  • A power nap before a stressful event;
  • Journaling out a situation to give your mind a rest;
  • Creating a special time to spend with friends or family;
  • Turning down a request for something that you don’t want to do;
  • Taking a walk and doing it slowly enough to notice something beautiful;
  • Choosing to eat mindfully and listen to your body.

Everything listed above contributes to your overall health and well-being, plus they don’t cost a penny!

If you’re ready to stop feeling guilty about the cost of self-care, perhaps it is time to reevaluate your beliefs. Consider your current self-care requirements and look for free alternatives!

ACCEPT YOU MIGHT ALWAYS FEEL GUILT WITH OBLIGATIONS

There’s work, maybe some volunteer commitments, perhaps kids or a husband, and a running list of other obligations requiring your time, energy, and attention. It can feel super selfish to say things like:

“I won’t be able to help you with that at this time”

Or

“I’m afraid that’s not going to work for my schedule right now.”

Or even

“I’m sorry, but you will need to find a way to figure that out without my help.”

But what we forget is that:

  • We are not required to honor every request made of our time, energy, or attention;
  • Saying “no” is not inherently rude;
  • And saying yes to every request stretches our attention thinner and thinner for each obligation.
  • We owe it to ourselves (and the people we DO want to honor the requests of) to say “no” to certain things so that we may give our full attention to those things that we do say “yes” to. 

Sometimes this even means saving the “yes” for ourselves. It means saying “yes” to self-care so that we can recharge our batteries and be our absolute best for when we do switch back to our role of helping others.

woman taking a nap for self care

SELF-CARE IS A NECESSITY, NOT A FRIVOLITY

Hustle. Grind. Tenacity. Ambition.

These are seen as virtues in the social media space right now. Everyone seems to think that they’re sharks and that if they slow down or stop for a moment, that they will certainly perish.

Somehow along the way, it was decided that slowing down on purpose could be equated to being lazy or lacking purpose.

But we aren’t sharks. We need to slow down and pause from time to time. Making a conscious effort to slow down and rest allows us to:

  • Be more creative;
  • Hone our critical thinking;
  • Alleviates stress on our brain;
  • And even boosts our overall productivity

It can definitely feel like a paradox, but practicing self-care through the art of resting is an essential part of our productivity. Understanding this paradox is key to being able to say yes to self-care without feeling guilty. 

WHAT STOPPING SELF-CARE GUILT CREATES

People-pleasing, combined with the current “hustle” mentality, can lead to over-commitment and push self-care to the end of our never-ending to-do list.

We must understand the true meaning and value of self-care for our lives. Once we do, we can adopt practices that help us to get the rest and renewal that we need to live our lives with intention. By having an understanding of self-care, we can finally do this while feeling confident in our choices and leaving the guilt behind.  

Listen in: A Look at Overcoming Self-Care Guilt


ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR, KELSIE BENTLEY

self care guilt from kelsie bentley

Kelsie Bentley is a self-care and personal development blogger at Simply Bentley. She got her start after nearly a decade of meeting struggling, burnt-out women from behind the chair as a hairstylist. Kelsie’s keen sense of observation combined with an insatiable desire to help others led her to the online world to teach women that caring for themselves is the key to living the fulfilled life that they dream of. 

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