There’s been a big movement within the self-care revolution that emphasizes “giving yourself grace” and “taking it easy.” I can entirely get behind that sentiment, I understand it, and I’ve preached it numerous times in blog posts concerning depression and my own tips for self-care.
Despite the fact that I think we need to stop being so hard on ourselves and indeed take a break from time to time, I’ve always felt something off about it as well. There’s something about the concept that makes me wonder how much “taking it easy” is too much and in a society that seems to be increasingly triggered by things that are really their own responsibility, how much of this sentiment is just a cop out for putting in hard work and getting uncomfortable.
I’ve gone back and forth on my thoughts on it, I’ve brought it up with my therapist, and I’ve finally come to an understanding that it’s just not something that’s effective for me.
When I give myself too much grace or lenience, I simply don’t do anything. I tell myself that I’ve done as much as I can that day, pat myself on the back, and shut off until the next day. It’s a great sense of relief that “tomorrow is a new day,” until I get there and the cycle repeats. Before I know it, a week has passed with only the absolute essentials getting done on the work front.
I often do this because I’m either feeling afraid or overwhelmed. Growing this business scares me, failing scares me, making a list of everything I want to accomplish in no particular order overwhelms me, and the list goes on. Personally, when these two feelings come up, I tend to avoid, shut down, and deny.
Telling myself “that’s ok, you’ll do better tomorrow” or “hey you did some nonessential things that did nothing to forward your goals so now you can scroll through Instagram for an hour” are my coping mechanisms and ways to use the concept of self-care to actually self-sabotage.
I’m not saying that a) I need to shame and push myself to be productive or b) people who give themselves a break are not working hard enough. I’m saying that for ME to be productive and take care of myself, I need to set concrete goals and work towards them every day. That doesn’t mean staying up all hours of the night (I’m in bed by 10 every night, if not earlier) or not letting myself take a day off, it means that I know myself well enough to know that I need a way to keep myself accountable and that my own internal monologue concerning work is not the most reliable.
Every weekend I take time to plan out my week. At the end of every month I’ve started planning out the following month. I’m someone who needs lists and plans or I will float around in uncertainty trying to figure out what I should be working on at any given moment. Soon, I’ve spent 30 minutes looking at maternity clothes, compulsively checking email, realizing that it’s getting later in the day, and deciding “hey, you did stuff on the computer all day — good job and you’ll be more structured tomorrow.”
I can’t “give myself grace” because I take advantage of all the grace I can get. Working as my own boss means I need to be stricter with myself than I normally would be, so as much as I’d like to sit on the couch and nap because I answered a bunch of emails, it simply doesn’t work for me.
When it comes to things like dealing with depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues, I absolutely believe that things should be taken on a case by case basis. I haven’t had a major depressive episode in about two years, but I still struggle with a diagnosis of dysthymia, a long-term, persistent form of depression, which is basically just a mild depression that just kind of hangs out with me on a daily basis. I’m pretty good at understanding what behaviors are related to that vs. what behaviors are simply because of feelings that make me uncomfortable. It’s a cop out for me to “take it easy” during those because all I’m really doing is avoiding perfectly reasonable behavior.
This may be something unique to me, but I have a strong feeling that it’s not. We live in an online society where we are constantly being told to go easy on ourselves and take a break, and it’s easy to fall into a cycle of allowing others to make us feel like we don’t really have to put in work to deal with things that make us uncomfortable. If this works for you, great, but if you’re like me, you may need to take a step back and ask yourself if you’re actually practicing a form of self-sabotage rather than self-care.