The fine line between self-care and self-harm


Revathi Nair

Mental Health Writer

Self-care in today’s world

We live in a world where we are constantly driven forward by work and responsibilities. We are bombarded continuously by stressors- the global warming crisis, economic instability, politics, and so on. Overwhelmed and overstrained by these, we often forget about ourselves. Therefore, it is no surprise that when the movement towards self-care emerged, we were immediately taken by it. The concept of self-care is quite straightforward and self-explanatory.

In essence, self-care is taking care of oneself, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.

The growth of the self-care trend- for it is a ‘trend’, as indicated by the 32 million hashtags on Instagram- intended to urge people to take a break for themselves, to tend to their needs and, once in a while, prioritise themselves before anything else in the world.

It is a good thing, I believe, that we have a growing understanding of the significance of mental health today, and that it is spreading like wildfire on social media. But while there is a bright side to the self-care movement, there is also an insidious part to it that one can fall victim to if one is not careful. The line lies between what self-care truly is, and ‘self-care’ that media sells us.

From Movement to Trend

The influencer culture has led to people- especially the youth- looking up to certain people who sell a certain lifestyle online. While these influencers may not have had any other intention other than to present their life to their audience, they inevitably became trendsetters, or precedents of what ‘self-care’ should look like.

Building onto this trend, brands and corporations jumped onto the bandwagon, selling teas and candles and cosmetics to, allegedly, aid you in your journey towards self-care. In this way, media has laid down a template of what self-care should look like, and this turns out to be more harmful than one could expect.

With the entry of profit-making companies into the realm of self-care, it has morphed into a trend from the movement it originally was. Self-care has become commercial and ceased to be personal and intuitive.

To each their own

The truth about self-care is that there is no fixed template, no defined layout. No website or influencer can tell you what exactly your self-care should look like- only you can determine it. It’s easy to get carried away by the flood of self-care posts preaching healthy salad bowls, yoga on the beach, unplanned vacations, and on and on. This ‘ideal self-care’ that media preaches is not something everyone can acquire or benefit from it. Often what they portray as self-care may not be feasible to the common person.

Life doesn’t always permit us to take a break in the middle of our work week, to ignore our emails all day or to meditate by the ocean. Even if you were able to do any of that, there is no guarantee that it would benefit you in any way.

When you try to adopt self-care that someone else has planned out for you, you may find that the activities laid out may not be what you personally perceive as calming or relaxing. Not everyone will benefit from journaling, or making smoothie bowls or taking long bubble baths.

When you force yourself to relax in a way that your body doesn’t agree with, it may have an effect opposite to what you originally desired. When you carry out activities that are not self-care for you personally, it can induce anxiety rather than reduce it. Following someone else’s self-care plan may even be harmful to you in the long run.

Decide what self-care is to you

Your self-care does not have to look like anyone else’s. There’s no right or wrong way of doing it, unless you overdo it. While for someone else, self-care may be spending more time with friends, for you it may be spending some time alone. Another might benefit from meditation, while you might find peace in taking a long run. If a spa day is calming for someone, a day without using makeup may be self-care for you.

Self-care is no magic- it’s a process. Take your time, take it slow. Allow yourself to discover what self-care is to you. Start by tuning into the needs of your own body and mind. Let your own being determine what self-care looks like for you. Let your mind and body decide.

View more content by Revathi Nair

Discussion Board

What is your idea of self-care?

My idea of self-care is: 1. Freedom to pursue the work you actually love doing 2. Meditation, pranayam and exercise for good mental and physical health
Akshada Shinde
My idea of self care is: - Giving myself space to feel whatever I am (the good and the bad) without restriction or regulation - Taking care of my body and mind by eating healthy, thinking healthy and surrounding myself with things that help me flourish without creating unnecessary pressure to be someone/something I'm not or force me to prove myself - Doing things that I truly enjoy and activities that give me mental peace. - Regularly staying in touch with nature by going out for short walks, treks, or just sitting in a place surrounded by green, breathing in the fresh air, feeling the cool breeze on my skin and listening to the birds chirping.