When I'm having a particularly bad mental health day, even the smallest things can make me feel better—and, since I'm a stereotypical #broke #millennial, the cheaper the thing, the better. I'm a sucker for a face mask or bath after the kind of long day (or week, or month) that's been riddled with anxiety flares and depressive episodes—or both. But, something often happens when I get out a bath bomb, or when I'm choosing which face mask would be best for my current skin situation: I feel a twinge of shame. This shame stems from many things, but one is that I worry people are judging me, assuming that my self-care routine is trivial and unimportant.
This might sound like I'm just dealing with my own anxiety about my routines, but the shaming of self-care is real—and it's gendered, with everything from typically women-oriented things like skin-care rituals to pumpkin spice lattes coming under attack. But this isn't just about wanting to get a good face mask selfie for Instagram. Self-care is incredibly important, says Katie Krimer, a licensed therapist at the Union Square Practice. "Even the smallest of gestures can help reduce overall stress, make you feel more present amidst anxiety, and remind you that you're worth taking care of." She says that in her practice, she encourages her clients to participate in acts of self-care as often as she can. "Whether it's a difficult experience we're going through, or we're consistently struggling with mental health issues, acts of self-care are our opportunity to take ourselves out of the worries that seem to take hostage of our mental states."
When we don't allow ourselves to participate in acts of self-care that may help us recover from a particularly stressful week, or by ignoring our own needs, she says, we could be permanently damaging our own understanding of our self-worth. "Devaluing the importance of self-care will make it less likely that we will make the choice to engage in these moments where we take time for ourselves outside of our busy and stressful lives," Krimer says. "It can damage our perception of why it is needed and even make us believe that we don't need breaks to recuperate from our struggles." By not allowing ourselves to relax, or by conditioning ourselves to think that we don't need time to relax and recover in the ways we like best, we "may encourage continuing to sit in our negativity, or work too much, or give too much of ourselves on a regular basis."
And, after a while, this idea that we don't need or deserve to indulge in acts of self-care can cause us to think that we need to feel constant stress in order to be our best. "Stigmatizing practices that make us feel better encourages the belief that we may not need nor be deserving of taking time to tend to ourselves," says Krimer, noting the impact that shying away from self-care can have. "This can lead to us prioritizing things in our life that actually lead to stress and mental health issues."
Krimer notes that this is the result of associating shame with our own self-care practices, and that "creating shame around self-care will have negative impacts on us that will either prevent us from partaking in self-care practices, or, if we do, we may try to hide them or feel very guilty about engaging in them." If we allow this shame to work its way into our subconscious understanding of self-care and indulging in acts of kindness for ourselves, she says, "we may start to associate self-care with something that is fundamentally 'bad' or 'wrong' to do, and this can even make us feel as though we're somehow weak or selfish if we choose ourselves sometimes."
Not only that, but, Krimer says, by feminizing and then problematizing acts of self-care, it cuts men off from these sources of pleasure as well. "Self-care can be almost anything you want it to be, as long as the intention is to take time for yourself and detach from the stresses and pains of the day-to-day," Krimer says. "Part of the issue may be that the definition of self-care isn't wide or diverse enough to be more inclusive." This can turn other genders off of the practice of self-care, yes, but it can also prove detrimental to women who find joy in things like splurging on something that will make them feel better in the moment—an act which can have a huge long-term effect, and lead to real burnout.
Taking care of yourself is necessary, no matter what anyone says. Put on a face mask, and let yourself relax, even if only for a little while.