Self-Care vs. Self-Indulgence: What’s the Difference?

Woman in red knit sweater sitting on bed sipping out of a mug
Image by Allison Christine

I’ll be honest. I don’t like to work.

Given the choice between attending a meeting with my boss and sleeping until noon, I would pick the latter every time.

So when the self-care craze began a few years ago, I was thrilled. I kept seeing posts and articles about how I should take a day off and get my nails done. It’s good for you, they said. Go ahead, you deserve it!

Here’s the thing. It can be hard to remain disciplined and exercise self-control, especially if you work from home. I’ve spent so much time letting myself take the easy way out in the name of self-care. And I soon found myself asking the question: Am I practicing self-care or am I just being self-indulgent?

What is self-care?

Some people have this idea that self-care means shirking your responsibilities and having a spa day instead. But that’s not what it’s about, at least not completely. It took a lot of thinking for me to realize it, but the real definition of self-care is simple — it’s caring for yourself. Let’s look at what that really means…

It’s about moderation and balance.

Self-care doesn’t mean giving in to your every desire whenever you want to. Sometimes, that’s the very opposite of self-care. If you eat half of that cake, you’ll satisfy your mind. But how will your body react? Soon, you’ll likely have a stomach ache. You probably won’t feel nourished spiritually, either. Self-care needs to be holistic. Consider not only your mind but your body and spirit as well. Try to keep them all balanced.

It’s about short-term vs. long-term joy.

Splurging on that handbag might feel good at the moment, but is it something that will bring you joy for years to come? Or will it sit in the back of your closet untouched? Even worse, will you feel guilty every time you see it?

Sometimes self-care is having a spa day when you’re overworked and need a break. Sometimes it’s staying in bed with your favorite book when you’re having a bad day and really can’t bring yourself to do anything else.

But sometimes it’s organizing your room when the clutter is causing you stress. Sometimes it’s pulling yourself out of bed when you know that sleeping too much will only make you feel sluggish.

Do the things that will make it easier for the future you to feel good. Depending on your situation, that may mean doing something pleasant or doing something a little less fun.

Self-indulgence is okay every now and then.

If you never let yourself do what you want, it could backfire. It’s the same idea as a cheat day in the diet world. If you’re never allowed to eat your favorite food, you’ll start to crave it so much that you’ll break. You’ll eat ten times more than what you would have if you had let yourself have a treat once in a while.

So allow yourself that extra slice of pie on Thanksgiving, even if you know you don’t need it. Cancel your plans and stay in, even if your only excuse is “I just don’t feel like going.” Buy that V.I.P concert ticket to see your favorite band, even if you have to dip into your savings a bit.

Happiness can be achieved in many ways. Life is too short to deny yourself happiness when the opportunity comes. You deserve to get that instant gratification rush every once in a while.

Stick to what you need to do most of the time, but occasionally, do what you want because life is meant to be enjoyed.

The takeaway…

Ask yourself why you’re feeling bad. From there, figure out what you really need. What will nourish your mind, body, and soul? What will bring you closer to the person you want to be?

It can be a challenge to get right at first. I’m still learning. But I have a feeling that once I do, I’ll notice a big difference in the way I feel.

Originally published at https://kaylynyee.com on October 4, 2020.

Writer, travel enthusiast, and human being (not in that order). I help people succeed with engaging, relatable articles about travel and wellness.