Self Care vs. Self-Improvement

by Nicole Morton | Mar 30, 2020

written by Melissa Schleicher-Park

It is safe to say that we all realize the magnitude of what is transpiring across our cities, country and throughout the global community. Our lives have gone from 60 to 6 in a matter of days and this is, truthfully, going to cause shock. Feelings of anxiety, grief, sadness, anger and disbelief are normal for this rapid change of pace and interruption to our communal social routine. Many of us are asking, “What do we do to feel safe? What do we do with our families during this unprecedented time? How do I keep my head on straight!” Balancing the needs of working from home, perhaps homeschooling children and/or adjusting to little to no contact with those we love outside our nuclear family requires a quick turn to radical self-care.

Self-care has been a trendy term in recent years with, I think, good reason. The demands of modern life require a keen sense of boundaries and the ability to say no when we feel full and yes when we have space for new people, ideas or commitments.  Our current position begs the question, “How do we relate to self-care during this time of isolation and rapid change?” I asked myself this question in the last week as I attempted to balance the demands of work from home, school from home and sharing space that began to feel a little claustrophobic. As I humorously failed to achieve said balance, I happened across an article discussing the idea that now is the time for self-care NOT self-improvement. I was curious about the distinction made by the author. Here is what I have understood thus far about the distinction.

Self-care is engaging in behaviors, habits and activities that lessen stress, allow us to feel a bit more balanced, reduce tension and, dare I say it, create a little joy during difficult times. With these practices, we acknowledge the emotions present (not ignore or distract from) and seek self-care to ease the effects of tough emotional states of the mind, body and spirit. Self-care has an element of reduction. Reduction of stress hormones, namely cortisol, and physical effects that long-term stress plays on the body, such as digestive issues, tightness in the chest, affected breathing, headaches, muscle aches, etc. Reducing the amount of pressure or strain we put on our system.

What, you may ask, does self-improvement have to do with this? With the current state of the world, some may find there is more time during the day than usual. Commute times are gone, if you are working from home, and there can be an intriguing sense of guilt associated with having this “free time.” I have heard people say, “Well, I am not on the front lines like the nurses, doctors, etc. So I should use my time wisely.” This guilt is leading some to feel they have to be more productive, learn something new, try something new during this period of isolation. I couldn’t help but notice this increased amount of pressure creeping in and I wonder if it is truly time well spent or adding to the stress of an already taxing time in our collective lives. For example, I can count at least a dozen emails received over the course of the first week of isolation advertising this exact idea. We are all at home! Let’s do something! Buy my class! Master this idea! Truth is, we ARE doing something. We are altering are habits in extreme ways to benefit the greater good. We are caring for our families and ourselves in a way that is new and anxiety provoking. We are socially isolating to keep each other safe. We are grieving a way of life lost to us for the foreseeable future. And, with all this behavioral change, we are experiencing the corresponding emotions. I don’t know about you, but that feels like a lot to do!

All this being said, self-care is about releasing pressure. Turning the valve and letting the steam out in whatever way you know works for you. For some it is meditating, others it is running five miles and for others it is shutting oneself in a room for an hour with a good book. If engaging in self-improvement is your mode of release, GREAT! Full steam ahead. If you find yourself tempted to start a new class or add something more to your plate out of guilt or “not good enough” thinking, I would ask you to use our mindfulness practice. Pause, notice the feelings, take a deep breath, and remember that taking a step back to see the picture clearly is an act of self-love, self-care and guides our way to choosing a course of action that aids our long-term health and well-being. I believe that is time well spent. 

"I first joined Galter LifeCenter because my friend recommended it as a terrific place to workout without the 'gym attitude'." - Willa