Why most self-care tips are missing the point

By Laura @ IWMLB Project | Help! I'm so burnt out

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Jun 29

Why most self-care tips are missing the point

Feeling run down and burnt out? Light a scented candle! Burn some essential oils! That will totally help you get over the fact that your self-esteem is in the toilet, relaxation is a funny joke and you crawl on your knees towards the weekend.

This post actually started out as ’30 self-care tips for when you are burnt out and exhausted’. Self-care as a concept seems to have taken off in a big way recently and after burning out last year in my previous job, I thought it would be a good topic to write about.

As I started to research self-care ideas, however, it dawned on me that a lot of the articles were missing the point. And that their tips were seriously getting on my nerves.



A rant about self-care tips

Okay, I apologise for the rant I am about to go and, the sweary nature of it. I am just getting quite cross and I feel the need to vent!

Okay, here we go……

The thing that makes me the angriest is the idea that purchasing something is a form of self-care or a magic bullet to looking after yourself.

This is total cr*p. And I’ll explain why.

I’ll take my favourite, the scented candle. Grrrrrr.

So many articles are listing ‘light a scented candle’ in their self-care tips and using an affiliate link to encourage you to buy one.

Number one – knowing what is like to be burned out and stressed to the max in a previous job, I could have filled my damn house with scented candles and still not been any happier.

Melted wax in a glass container with a pretty label slapped on the front is NOT the cure to a sh*tty job, burn out, a serious financial situation or life generally punching you in the face.

Number two – Filling people’s lives with more clutter is not going to make them happier.

What hacks me off, is that the reason we need self-care in the first place is partly due to consumerism.

Adverts everywhere and societal norms telling us we need a bigger house, a fancier car, new clothes, branded goods.

The more we think we need, the harder we work to get it. The harder we work to get it, the more stressed and run down we get.

Stress is a serious problem which can lead to awful things such as heart disease strokes and other serious health problems.

Telling someone to buy a scented candle, bath bomb, essential oil or facemask sends them straight back to the treadmill to work for a little longer to pay for it.

This is completely counter-intuitive and entirely missing the point of self-care.

No one should be ‘treating’ themselves to self-care. Or using any kind of external product to tackle something that is about so much more than that.

Ok phew, rant over.

What is self-care really?

If it’s not a spa day or 3 of your favourite chocolate truffles, then what the hell is it?

This is what I believe self-care to be:

  • It’s the act of taking time for yourself to just ‘be’ rather than ‘do’.
  • The belief that your time is as important as everyone else’s.
  • The thought that giving your body and mind time to relax is as important as being productive

When you read most self-care tips, it’s actually irrelevant what they are telling you to do. The point is that you are taking time for yourself, you believe you deserve it and it is an integral part of life.

Doesn’t matter how you do it. It’s just important that you have allocated that time for yourself.

Other terrible self-care tips I have come across (for a laugh)

  1. “Add some of these Calm Soaking Bath Salts, formulated with Himalayan Pink Salt crystals, nutrient-rich Pacific sea salts, floral ylang-ylang and soothing vanilla oil.”

The product in this sentence had a link to purchase from another site. A few paragraphs down in the same article was the tip to ‘declutter your home’.

Which one do you want me to do?! Buy more stuff or declutter my house??

  1. Find A DIY Activity On Pinterest

What? No! I’ll get sidetracked by pictures of other people’s beautiful fake houses and then start to feel crap about myself all over again.

  1. Fly A Kite


The question shouldn’t be ‘how’ it should be ‘why’.

We shouldn’t be trying to work out ‘how’ to practise self-care.

The question we should be asking ourselves is why we’ve got the point where it feels like a life-ring.

Why are we so stressed and burnout that the idea of a scented candle and creating a capsule wardrobe seem like valid ways to take care of ourselves?

Let’s take the example of social media.

Many tips tell us to take time away from it or delete the apps. If self-care is about turning off social media – WHY is this the case?

If you loved yourself and were happy with your life, you wouldn’t need to be scrolling through other people’s #ilovemylife! pics and would just be happy getting on with your own sh*t.

So the self-care tip is not to turn off social media for a day. But to understand why you keep looking at it.

What is it you are missing in your life or don’t like about yourself that is compelling you to bash yourself over the head with it by assaulting your eyeballs with pictures of people who have done it (or say they have).

Using my own example

I find the cinema really relaxing and could easily list it as my ‘self-care’ tip.

The ugly truth though is that I like going as I can’t check my phone in there and so properly concentrate on watching the film and find it really relaxing.

When watching a film at home, I have a really annoying habit of having to check what else the actors have been in or adding something to my calendar or refreshing my email.

I cannot last an entire film or program at home without picking up my phone to do something. To the point where my partner will sometimes confiscate my phone while we are watching something together as he finds it so annoying.

Therefore my self-care should not be ‘go to the cinema’, it should be ‘work out why the F you can’t sit still for 5 minutes’.

If I’m really honest with myself, it’s because I still believe deep down that relaxing or doing something ‘non-productive’ is a form of laziness and that if I want to be successful I don’t have time to ‘do nothing’.

This is, of course, complete rubbish and a belief I am trying to change!

Red flags that you aren’t looking after yourself

  • Not getting enough sleep
  • Exhausted from trying to ‘do it all’
  • Drinking too much
  • Eating badly
  • Saying yes to everyone else
  • Having stress-related health issues

Stop avoiding your problems

Once you’ve worked out why you are devouring the self-care tips in various articles and trying to find a magic solution for your stress, you can work on tackling the problem.

Whether it’s admitting to yourself that the career you choose over a decade ago just isn’t right for you anymore, or you have serious money problems and you don’t know how to manage your money, take the first step to get back on track.

Taking my example, I have just completely re-worked my calendar to allow for at least 2 days a week to be days off. These 2 days are not to be used for any tasks, admin or IWMLBproject work.

This was actually incredibly hard for me to do as my gut instinct is to work until I collapse in a small heap.

That just doesn’t work though as I go through a constant cycle of burnout – recovery – work – burnout – recovery – work.  Not very effective.

I’m hoping by trialling this new way, I will grow this website in a much more consistent and calm manner, by teaching myself that time to de-compress is as important as time to be productive.

How to stop yourself from getting to the point where self-care feels like a reward

I’m not going to pretend I have this nailed, I don’t. It’s a work in progress, some days I am better at it than others.

Actually getting to the bottom of your deepest thoughts, values, and feelings is one scary mother-trucker.

That’s why it’s easier to take the advice of shiny articles telling you to ‘give yourself a manicure!’ or ‘wash your face with crushed organic strawberries!”.

We can distract ourselves with nice things while avoiding the real problem entirely. Which means that it won’t go away, so you’ll need to layer on more and more ‘self-care’ activities to try and bury it further.

Self-care is about believing you are worth making time for. To have the confidence to tackle your problems head-on and understanding that life doesn’t always have to be about ‘doing’ and ‘getting’.

If we incorporated these things into our daily lives, we wouldn’t end up so stressed and exhausted and desperately looking for a solution.

Real self-care tips

  • Feed yourself in a way that fuels your body
  • Work on your self-esteem so you aren’t looking for outside validation
  • Sort out your finances to deal with money worries
  • Deal with whatever is bothering you right now
  • Take the first steps to change something that is making you unhappy
  • Know how much sleep you need, and do what it takes to get it
  • Do what you actually want to do rather than what you think you should
  • Take time for yourself each day without feeling guilty about it
  • Listen to your body, if you are exhausted, clear everything that’s not urgent out of your diary and slow down.
And finally,

If you aren’t used to dealing with your problems or taking time for yourself, it will take time to get used to it. Don’t do everything at once, and don’t beat yourself up if you slip up now and again.

You already know the major things that are bothering you. And you already have a good idea of what you enjoy doing or find relaxing (deep down you know but probably haven’t allowed yourself to think about it).

By all means, use self-care lists to find some new ways to relax or enjoy yourself. But don’t view them as the solution to your problems, those you need to deal with yourself.

Well! I think that is the rant-iest post I have ever written! 

Here are some other useful posts you might want to read. My previous job was a huge source of stress and it’s been a steep learning curve since I quit on how I need to take care of myself and avoid getting burnt out again.

What do you think about self-care? What does it mean to you?


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About the Author

Hi, I am Laura. I set up the 'I Want My Life Back Project' after burning out in a corporate job. I quit in May 2017 and set about getting my life back. I now freelance 2 days a week, run this blog, manage my rental properties and am SO MUCH HAPPIER! All the content on this blog is to help you to get your life back too :-)

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