Why is Self-Care So Hard (and What to Do About It)?

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Humans are like cars. We need regular maintenance to stay in good working condition.

Enter, self-care.

With 69,000 people in the US searching Google for the term “self-care” each month, it’s safe to say it’s a hot topic.

A little physical tune-up here, some emotional calibration there. Easy, right?


Just because we recognize the value of self-care, doesn’t mean practicing it comes easy.

Like the check engine light, we may ignore self-care and create avoidable problems for ourselves.

But why is self-care so hard, and what can we do about it?  

Consequences of No Self-Care

  • Lack of energy
  • Conflict in personal relationships
  • Exhaustion and burnout
  • Low motivation
  • Hopelessness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Stress
  • Health problems
  • Poor mental health

Lack of Dedication

Even if we’re motivated to take care of ourselves, we may lack dedication. But what’s the difference?

Motivation is our eagerness to achieve a goal. It can come from within us (intrinsic) or from outside factors (extrinsic). It’s simply a feeling of desire, not an action.

Dedication is the commitment to the pursuit of goals. It requires action and hard work to make them a reality.

Perhaps we admire how fit and strong our favorite social media fitness influencer is. This may motivate us to be more active and fit.  

However, if we don’t dedicate ourselves to exercising, we’ll never meet our goals.

Dedication requires personal accountability. Here’s how to develop it:

  • Find the “why” (the personal reasons that keep us committed, even when things get tough).
  • Set attainable goals. Write them in a journal to track progress.
  • Ensure goals contain milestones (aka mini goals). This gives us a set path to follow. When we successfully reach each one, it fuels us to keep going.
  • Develop a reward system to celebrate each milestone.
  • Join a group of likeminded people who keep each other accountable.
  • Seek feedback from a trusted source for encouragement and constructive advice.

No Self-Compassion

Sometimes, we might actively reject self-care because we believe we’re unworthy of it.

This may be caused by low self-esteem or previous experiences.

We may also think that self-care is for the weak. When we’re not feeling our best (a certainty if we neglect self-care), we may tell ourselves to “get over it”.  

Our lack of self-compassion may arise from feelings of shame about our needs and flaws.

Steps to build self-compassion:

  1. Be kind. When we recognize our need for self care, we should be gentle with ourselves. We can reminder ourselves that needing care is okay, and our difficulties are valid.
  2. Recognize common humanity. It can be easy to believe that other people have everything figured out, and don’t need self care. But the human experience means that we’ll all struggle if we don’t practice it. Everyone needs self care.
  3. Acknowledge thoughts without over-identifying with them. We shouldn’t suppress our feelings/beliefs. If we think self care equals weakness, we should make peace with that thought. However, we shouldn’t tell ourselves that we’re weak. We aren’t our thoughts; we don’t need to identify with each one.

Unhealthy Habits

Sometimes, we use unhealthy methods to meet our needs. If we incorporate them into our lives, they become habitual. This leaves little room for healthier self-care habits.

Maybe we binge on chips and candy when we have a difficult day. Once in a while, this is fine.

However, if we turn to junk food for comfort each time the going gets tough, it becomes routine.

This provides short-term reward but may pose health risks long-term.

Unlearning these habits and practicing good self-care can be hard, even when we want to.

Research suggests it takes anywhere from 18 to 254 days to break a habit.

To break unhealthy habits and build better self-care skills:

  • Find a replacement habit. Ex. instead of overindulging on junk food on a hard day, go for a walk until the difficult feelings pass. Choose an enjoyable replacement habit. This increases the likelihood of sticking to it.
  • Don’t expect immediate change. Slip-ups will happen, and we shouldn’t beat ourselves up about it. Instead, we can consider what led to it and how we felt afterwards. Learn from mistakes and keep trying.
  • Consider the future. Imagine what an ideal future with healthy self care habits looks like. How will they improve our health and life satisfaction? This helps us delay short-term reward for long-term success.
  • Start slow. We may have multiple habits we’d like to improve. However, we don’t have to do everything at once. We should focus on building one healthy self care habit at a time. This way, we don’t become overwhelmed and quit.

Simple Self Care Ideas to Get Started

Self-care doesn’t always feel good in the short term.

Understanding our needs, building healthy habits, and following through can be challenging and unfamiliar.

But to stay emotionally and physically healthy, self-care is necessary.

Stay dedicated, have self-compassion, and build healthy self-care habits.

Curious about the basics of self-care? Check out this post for a deep dive into what self-care actually means.





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