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  • Writer's pictureJamie Leal

How To Stop Feeling Guilty About Taking Care of Yourself

Updated: Mar 10

Stop feeling guilty

3 common reasons WHY you feel guilty about taking care of yourself and WHAT to do about them so that you can make self-care guilt a thing of the past.

Reason #1 for Feeling Guilty About Self-Care: Your Self-Care Definition

When I ask clients struggling with self-care guilt to define what self-care is, they often have trouble. They start with the obvious (exercise, getting enough sleep and eating well).

But once we drill down, they end up defining it as something that helps them to feel good, be in better physical shape and/or escape from life’s many obligations. The problem with this definition is that it’s simultaneously too narrow and wrong. And it leads many to feel like they’re being overly indulgent (and hence selfish) when trying to set aside time for themselves.

How to Redefine Self-Care (the Right Way) Here’s the deal: self-care isn’t really about feeling good. And it has NOTHING to do with escaping your life. [Side note: If you feel the need to escape your life, it’s a sure-fire sign that you need more self-care in your life].

Does self-care help you to feel good? Of course (it’s a wonderful byproduct). But many things that feel good in the moment aren’t self-care (and can even hurt you in the long-term). Moreover, self-care isn’t about indulging. Many indulgences are unhealthy. And thinking of it as an indulgence will only create more guilt, convincing you that it’s not a necessity (which it is).

Can going to the spa count as self-care? Of course (but doing it every week might be considered an indulgence and beyond what’s needed for self-care). What’s important to understand is that self-care can be much simpler than that. Often, the simplest self-care practices are the most powerful. And you can take impeccable care of yourself without ever stepping foot in a spa (really). Self-care includes things such as: taking a 10-minute walk to clear your head, reading a book and calling your best friend.  

Reason #2 for Feeling Guilty About Taking Care of Yourself: Self-Care As A Zero-Sum Game There’s a common belief that prioritizing something means taking away from something else. That there’s a cost. Although that’s true for many things, it’s not really the case when it comes to self-care.

Why Self-Care Isn’t Zero-Sum If you choose to go to the gym instead of a work happy hour, you’ve chosen to do something at the expense of the other. And so you might believe that zero-sum applies here. But does it really?

Taking good care of yourself:

  • gives you energy to work late when needed,

  • helps you to stay calm under pressure,

  • increases your ability to focus (and hence be most productive at work and at home), and

  • helps you to keep your emotions in check.

You’ll be better equipped to solve that big work problem (that’s been frustrating you for the past week because you’re too depleted to think creatively). And you’ll be less likely to snap at your kids and spouse when you walk through the door each evening due to stress.

Proper self-care is what enables you to serve, do and give more to others (both personally and professionally).

How to Change Your Self-Care Equation By Getting It Off Your To-Do List The problem is that most people tend to think of self-care as yet one more thing that you have to add to your (already large) to-do list. It feels like a chore.

Here’s the equation you’re currently using (in order of priority):

WORK + FAMILY + CHORES + OTHER (including self-care)

Because self-care comes at the bottom, it rarely comes into play. And it’s the FIRST thing you push off when you get busy.

Here’s the truth: self-care must come BEFORE this equation ever comes into play. It should be prioritized above all else, even your to-do list.

Besides, self-care isn’t so much about doing stuff. It’s mostly a mindset thing… a way of living and being. I know that even thinking about putting yourself first can trigger an anxiety attack. After all, we’ve all been taught that it’s selfish to put ourselves before others (that’s especially the case if you’re a parent).

What you need is to start asking yourself how well you can take care of others when you’re not taking care of yourself. Because if you don’t take care of yourself, you’ll become needy.   And needy people are the epitome of selfishness. So, by NOT prioritizing self-care you’re actually being selfish! How about that for a big “aha” moment?  

Reason #3 For Feeling Guilty About Self-Care: Success Is Defined As Achievement

If you’re like most people, you probably have an achievement-based definition of success. It’s primarily about achieving your goals and meeting certain measurables. And that’s problematic because. . .

Success Isn’t Solely Dependent On How Hard You Work (Or The Quality Of Your Plan) Life isn’t fair and there are many things out of your control that affect your success. Although your input affects the outcome, it’s only a piece of the pie. How does all this relate to self-care guilt?

When you define success as primarily achievement-based (and hence focused on your input), you’re focused primarily on those things you can’t control.  Which leads to frustration, working even harder and doing more. To the point where you’re likely to start feeling like you should be doing something more productive than taking time for yourself. You Only Have Control Over You Although most people agree that life isn’t fair, it’s hard not to push back and act as if life should be fair.

The problem is that life isn’t and will never be fair. Society is made up of imperfect, judgmental and biased human beings. And that means that fairness will never truly exist. No matter how hard you work or how badly you want something, you won’t always get it. Other people might work harder or just get lucky. Sometimes people will proactively work against you.

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