Bubble bath, a glass of something bubbly, candles lighting the scene. When we talk about self-care, I fear this is the idea that pops into many minds first. While this may be self-care for some, I venture it’s actually self-indulgence or self-soothing for most.

What’s the difference?

Self-care is activities and actions that better your long-term well-being. Help to alleviate stress, anxiety, lift the fog of depression if ever so slightly. Self-care helps us recuperate, reinvigorate, and get ready for what’s next.

Self-indulgence grants us a temporary reprieve. Those activities and actions that feel lavish let us feel pampered, if only for a moment. The indulgence comes from giving ourselves more of something that we typically would; more time, more money, more calories. In the words of Donna and Tom, “Treat yo self.”

Self-soothing at its root is numbing, with both a positive and negative connotation, to stop the pain. Binging Netflix for an entire day to avoid dealing with the mountain of anxiety that is work right now? Numbing. Just found out your (now ex) partner was unfaithful, and you need to stem the crying for a bit? Binge Parks and Rec again, take a break from the heartache.

Who gives a shit if it’s self-care, indulgence, or soothing?

Well, you should…

Self-care has been given a bad rap by the soap industry. They’ve turned a much-needed tool into baths, spa days, and smelly candles. By doing so, they’ve skewed the conversation about self-care, and many folks who need to be taking that time aren’t because they don’t like baths or rosé or massages. But self-care is so much bigger than that.

Early on in the pandemic, I’d argue that a bath could be an act of self-care. Slow down, breathe, reset. But a year into this, many of us need more. Our nerves are frayed. We’ve already spent too much time trapped in our own homes. A bath feels good in the moment, and the moment I crawl out of the tub, I’m right back into the anxieties of the unknowns and unendingness of it all.

Before you jump to the comments to argue with me, yes, there is a giant grey area here. What’s indulgent for some may be soothing for others or self-care for you.

My point being we need more nuisance in conversations about self-care. 

Self-soothing, especially of the harmful not-dealing-with-shit kind, can be detrimental to us if we’re neglecting important work, family, or health tasks to do so. It’s easy to decide to take some downtime, self-care if you will, to watch a couple shows, but if that starts to roll into hours of binging, we may have an issue. But if we can’t articulate care vs. numbing, we don’t know when we’ve crossed the line.

What do we do about it?

  1. Know what’s care, soothing, and indulgent to you so you can pick which you want or need.

If bubble baths feel amazing, but as soon as you get out, your dread sets back in, put bubble bath on the indulgent list and enjoy as such. If having your will and living written, signed, and on file brings relief to a part of your anxieties, mark that shit self-care and update that bad boy once a year.

This brings me to:

  1. Bring nuisance to the conversation.

What is self-care for one person isn’t for another. That’s ok. Figure out what works for you, talk to your friends about things that work for them. Look at ideas bigger than journaling, walks in the park, and bubble baths because you’re likely missing some other great options.

Own up to when you’re soothing/numbing or just want a moment of indulgence. Neither makes you a bad person. It’ll do you better, in the long run, to say, “I’m gonna call today a loss, binge NCIS, and ignore the world, but tomorrow I’m back at it.” Instead of letting the day slip one into the next or beating yourself up with guilt for numbing out for a day. And here’s that nuisance again: articulating that you’re choosing to numb for a bit with a set endpoint could be a form of self-care for you.

We don’t need more self-care. We need our personalized right kind of self-care. But we’ll never figure out what does us best if we don’t stop talking about bubble baths.