Why Self-Care Isn’t A Magical Solution To Coping & Healing

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woman practicing self care
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How far does self-care go in a pandemic?

Every blog I've written lately seems to begin with either, "How is it already August?!" or, "What a long year 2020 has become!"

It truly has just been such a challenge. And while each of our storms is slightly different, we have all certainly been in a storm of some kind these days.

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For many of us, we try to cope by using various methods of self-care. 

Things like exercise, sleeping, baking, cooking, hobbies, cleaning, and more can all be considered self-care. 

Some people may be wondering why they're doing all of these things if they don’t seem to have any lasting change — they're not feeling better.

The layers of challenge that we've all been faced with are immense.

Practicing self-care is not a cure-all.

While self-care can help us tolerate, get through, and cope with our situations, it's not going to alleviate all of our suffering, emotional discomfort, or pain during a situation like this.

The truth is that while self-care has been touted as the new "be all, end all" of solutions to help us cope, it's a term that seems to also be synonymous with not feeling upset anymore, not struggling, and not being so darn tired.

Unfortunately, while coping skills and self-care strategies are helpful, they are Band-Aids when the real problem we're dealing with is living lives that are not sustainable for one reason or another.

No amount of self-care will take away the discomfort we feel from living lives that are not sustainable.

The unsustainable status of your life might be because of impossible expectations of yourself or others, the heaviness of our current social and political climate, declining health of yourself or a family member, or living out of alignment  with your core values.

Coping skills and self-care are a Band-Aid meant to reduce the intensity of symptoms so that you're able to do the work that's needed to make real change in your life.

This what many of us get entirely wrong about self-care or coping strategies — they are not the solution in and of themselves.

They are just there to help the pain you're in be less acute so that you can address the root causes of the pain.

You must still do the work in addition to self-care.

If you’ve been trying to fix things and feel less through self-care, you’re not doing it wrong. But you’re not feeling better because you’ve got more work ahead of you.

The work is in the incredibly intense and sometimes painful, but also keenly rewarding work of taking a deep, long look at your life and exploring what is working for you and what is not.

This requires exploring yourself, your patterns, how you cope, what you react to, and what your underlying beliefs, assumptions, expectations, and values are both of yourself and of others.

While this process is intense and difficult, it's no less intense or difficult than repeatedly trying to push away feelings that come up when our lives are out of balance and alignment.

In order to try to figure out what is going on for you, it helps to take some space to either journal, meditate, or maybe take some time for personal reflection through reading personal growth journeys or books.

You could also do this kind of work with a therapist.

Our job is to help our clients communicate and identify their beliefs and values, and hold up a mirror to help them see their life with more clarity.

With that clarity and a judgment-free space like our office, our clients are better able to make changes to help them feel better, long-term.

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If you're wondering how to gain clarity about your values and how they're influencing your choices, try out these 4 tips.

1. Values sort.

This is an exercise where you try to identify your top 10 values from a larger list.

2. Examine your values.

Examine how your values line up with your day-to-day life.

3. Journal.

Write about your values each day and how you lived them.

4. Consciously choose your choices.

Try to remember that you're choosing things all the time, and make those choices more in your awareness: "I am choosing ___, because ____."

The more you learn to connect your day-to-day choices with your values and how you're living your life, the more you notice when you're living consistently with your intentional values and goals, or when you're not.

If you find that your values don't line up with your choices, this consciousness can help you find small ways to make changes.

If you feel frustrated often or that you're being too hard on yourself or your loved ones, try these 2 tips.

1. List expectations.

It also can be helpful to sit down and come up with a list of expectations that you have for yourself and others.

Putting them in writing sometimes helps us realize just what we think we should be capable of and how unrealistic those ideas may be.

2. Re-create a more appropriate list of expectations.

Maybe you can use your other list plus your values list to help yourself create a more realistic version of your goals.

For example, if your expectation is to always be kind to your children, kindness might be a value of yours. With values, you want to just work towards them, rather than expect them of yourself all the time.

So maybe an appropriate expectation is to work on being kind, even when your kids are struggling or not following directions. You could come up with ways to do this that are realistic and something you can accomplish.

I hope this is helpful to you!

It can be difficult to put a lot of effort into trying to cope differently and more effectively, but also not actually feel that it is helpful.

These strategies will, hopefully, be more beneficial in the long run, even though they take more time in the short-term!

RELATED: Why Self-Care Is So Much More Than Nap Time & Bubble Baths

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Erica Wollerman is a licensed clinical psychologist who has held a passion for helping people since beginning her career in psychology in 2006. If you would like to read more about her work, check out Thrive Therapy Studio.

This article was originally published at Thrive Therapy Studio. Reprinted with permission from the author.

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