June 22, 2017

Is it Self-Care or Self-Absorption?

Dawn is coming, and as the sunlight transforms its pale, yellow rays into darker nuances of orange, I leave my warm, cozy bed, the floors still cold from the fading night.

I make myself some warm lemon water before sitting down in front of the panoramic windows overlooking a peacefully blue ocean, waves crashing quietly on the shore below. I meditate for about 20 minutes, my relaxed, rhythmic breath constantly anchoring me to the present moment whenever my mind starts to wander.

After meditation, I blink my eyes open and grab my notebook and pen. Taking my time, I proceed to write a list of gratitude, set my intentions for the day, and plan my daily to-dos.

I hesitate to leave the comfort of my meditation pillow and the beautiful view, but after an inner pep talk I put on my running gear and go for a HIIT-run on the beach. I usually run mindfully. I am aware of the sound of the waves, the wind pulling at my hair, and the sound of my bare feet hitting the sand.

When I come back home, I practice yoga, after which I make myself a green smoothie brimming with veggies for breakfast. I usually add a super food or potent powder such as matcha, spirulina, or chlorella too. I then continue my morning routine with journaling, visualizations, and reading.

Morning Routines and Self-Care Hacks

Does your morning routine resemble this one?

At times, mine looks similar. I didn’t come up with all of these self-care activities on my own; over the past years, my morning routine has been gradually extended, the list growing continually longer whenever I’d get new, exciting, and seemingly equally important tips from friends or from articles in magazines and online.

The wellness community seems to have built itself on a foundation of self-care principles and health hacks, and we are so often reminded of the importance of integrating these elements into our daily activities if we want to feel truly healthy, spiritual and accomplished.

When Self-Care Becomes Overwhelming

Aside from the beautiful benefits relating to each act of self-care on my ever-growing list, I did, however, notice some less desirable side effects of this all-encompassing focus on self-care and health hacks.

Personally, I would sometimes feel overwhelmed with my extensive morning routine, which could take up to three hours to complete.

At times, I found it becoming a list of “shoulds,” where not ticking all the boxes could leave me feeling of inadequate or unaccomplished. This isn’t exactly the desired outcome of a self-care routine, which is supposed to make for a happier and healthier me and not be a tool to hit myself over the head with.

Self-Focus and the Me-Mindset

I noticed that reading all of those articles about self-care and health optimization left me with a huge focus on me. It became all about enhancing, improving, balancing, and nurturing myself—no other people necessary. I did all of these things for me, so I could feel great and become the greatest version of myself, but other people and the world at large were sorely lacking from the equation.

This enlarged self-focus became even clearer to me when one afternoon, I was listening to a podcast on self-development. For the duration of the hour-long episode, a health and wellness influencer revealed his extensive lifestyle hacks, all of them beneficial to his health in some way. It sounded like basically every action he took during the course of a day was based on the incentive of improving himself and his physique. Even acts of kindness were encouraged for their ability to stimulate dopamine release in the human brain; thus the motivating factor seemed to be what one could get out of such acts, not simply being kind for kindness itself.

Is Self-Focus Turning into Self-Absorption?

As I was listening to the podcast, I found myself a little stressed and questioning the effectiveness of my own self-care routine, which all of a sudden seemed flatly lacking infrared saunas, liquid IVs, and LED light therapy. The health expert had basically extended his morning routine to last the entire day and my own healthy to-do list paled in comparison.

I hadn’t listened to the podcast episode for long before the source of my stress became clear to me. I realized this self-focus felt like it was starting to border on self-absorption, and the “Optimize! Fix! Improve!” perspective rendered little room for openness and letting life flow freely.

I realized there was something unsatisfying about such an intense self-focus, where interacting with fellow human beings and acts of altruism were seen merely as health hacks with the intention of personal benefit.

Shifting Perspectives: The World Is Waiting

The me-mindset was telling me I needed fixing and that I wouldn’t be “right” unless I had ticked all the boxes on that to-do list. I came to realize I wasn’t being true to my human nature or myself, and I had to shift my perspective. After all, as humans we are born social and compassionate, and it’s in our nature to connect with and be there for one another.

I felt inspired to quit thinking too much about whether or not I had hand-picked the spinach in my smoothie myself, or if I should buy collagen powder or raspberry ketones, and instead, I started opening my eyes more to the world around me. I focused more on my relationships. And I figured out how I could actively be of service to other people. There was a relief in moving my attention away from self-improvement and instead directing my energy toward being there for others.

As humans, a need for connection and compassion is embedded in our DNA, and it’s innate in us to serve each other through love and kindness.

Often, we end up feeling lost when we delve too deeply into the me-mindset. We lose focus and a sense of belonging, and sometimes we only seem to find more so-called flaws to fix. We are all so beautiful and magnificent the way we are. We don’t need fixing.

There is a definite self-focus in the wellness world based on the notion that you have to put the oxygen mask on yourself, before trying to help anybody else with theirs. In other words you have to take care of yourself first; otherwise, you won’t be able to be there for others. I subscribe to this point of view and my self-care routine has helped me grow in ways I forever will appreciate.

Adding to that, maybe it’s time to be more mindful of when this self-focus might be bordering on self-absorption.

The pursuit of self-optimization and the wish to lead a healthy life is absolutely commendable, important, and beautiful. And opening our eyes to the world around us and giving back to our families and communities by serving others is very important, needed, and beautiful too.

At the end of the day, it’s all about achieving balance. The balance between self-focus and the outer world.

Author: Luca Sofia 
Image: Rachel.Adams/Flickr 
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Copy Editor: Danielle Beutell
Social Editor: Lieselle Davidson

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