Self Care vs. Treat Yo’Self: On Learning What You Really Need

self care
Herbal tea as self care.

My need for self care always hits me hardest during my period. I don’t really experience PMS, but my cycle tends to be long and arduous thanks to my copper IUD. I’m lucky in that my cramps are manageable and generally short-lived, but they definitely get bad enough to ruin my day.

Yesterday was one of those days when my period got the best of me. The ache in my lower back made me grumpy. My uterus wouldn’t stop yelling at me. I felt fatigued and annoyed by my own sense of overwhelm.

All I wanted was chocolate ice cream.

“It’s in the name of self care!” I told myself. “Treat yo’self! I deserve it!”

My inner monologue tends to sound a whole lot like a 5 year old on the verge of a tantrum.

But instead of succumbing to my first craving, I decided to practice metathinking by checking in with my body about what would actually make me feel better.

What I needed was relief from my aches and cramps. Once I realized that, I knew that ice cream would actually make me feel worse in the long run.

I was all out of raspberry leaf tea (which is by the best natural remedy I’ve found for managing menstrual pain), but I did have some lady’s mantle and linden on hand, so I made myself a cup of tea. As I stirred honey and lime juice into my infusion, I imagined the magical healing properties of the plants giving me the gift of relief. As I slowly sipped the delicious elixir, I gave thanks for how quickly my aches disappeared. My cramps were gone within 5 minutes.

Sure, it wasn’t as delicious as that ice cream would’ve been. But it fulfilled me on a physical and emotional level instead of leaving me feeling completely unsatisfied.

I realized then how much my cravings tend to be dictated by endless marketing schemes rather than actual messages from my body. Despite what companies might want me to believe, ice cream doesn’t make me feel better. Chocolate doesn’t do shit for my cramps. In fact, sugar and dairy tend to make my symptoms worse.

Self Care vs. Treat Yo’Self

I’ve been thinking a lot about the ways in which self care has been co-opted as a marketing selling point. So often, we’re told that self care means buying a bath bomb or splurging on new makeup or getting a massage. I call this the treat yo’self mentality and too often, the two are seen as the same thing.self care

While there’s definitely a time and place for treating yourself, these kinds of coping mechanisms often overlook what self care is really about. Which is: Taking care of yourself.

For me, self care looks like slowing down. It looks like taking the time to assess my symptoms, brew a cup of tea that I know will help, and giving myself the time + space to enjoy it.

Sometimes self care means facing my anxiety and making an appointment with a therapist. Sometimes it means forcing myself to drink a glass of water even though I don’t want to because I know my fatigue is due to dehydration. Oftentimes it means meditating or just taking a nap.

Most importantly, self care requires me to hold myself accountable. Real self care is about asking, what can I do that will address the root cause of the issue at hand?

Turns out, ice cream is never the answer.

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