Self-Care Doesn’t Always Feel Good

By: Rochelle Perper, Ph.D. | June 10, 2022

Self-care has shifted in recent mainstream dialogue from a specific definition to anything that loosely relates to feeling good. Admittedly, I am guilty of using this watered-down, overly generalized definition at times. When I think about self-care, the things that pop into my head are getting a massage, going to the beach, or cuddling on the couch with a good movie. Don’t get me wrong: It is necessary at times to take time off when working long hours, allow for quiet reflective time, and reduce physiological stress through relaxation and mindfulness exercise. Still, it might surprise you to know that there’s more to self-care than taking time to unplug, relax, and pamper.

Not all self-care inherently feels good. In fact, self-care might even feel awful at times. A more helpful definition of self-care exists as anything that “stretches” you as a person or that challenges you to live your life aligned with your values.

Bettering yourself is hard. Looking after yourself can prove difficult.

Become a Self-Care Master

First, think about what really matters to you in life. Clarifying your values using active therapy techniques helps you to prioritize your activities and work toward more meaningful, yet possibly longer-term goals. When your actions align with your values, you feel better about yourself, show more confidence, and find more fulfillment.

Because true self-care requires a tremendous amount of effort and doesn’t always feel good, remember why you’re doing it in the first place. Psychological research tells us that our thinking about self-care (or wellness) makes a significant difference in our experience with that activity and why we participate in it. In other words, thinking realistically about self-care helps you to stay on-track. For example, eating healthy supports mental health and gives you more energy. Remembering this will help you say ‘no’ to an ice-cream treat despite that the ice cream makes you feel good in the moment.

Keep in mind the larger goal and remind yourself that it’s worth it in the end!

Examples of self-care that don’t feel good in the moment but reward in the end:

  • Set (and stick to!) a budget to save money for something that really matters to you
  • Confront a long-standing issue with a friend
  • Advocate for yourself at work
  • Say ‘no’ to an enticing invitation when you’ve already committed to something else
  • Move your body in a healthy way, even if you don’t want to
  • Make an appointment with your medical doctor and go to the dentist
  • Start therapy to address underlying concerns
  • Join a support group
  • Go to bed early (which may require interrupting a binge-watching session of your favorite show)
  • Speak up on an issue about which you feel passionately
  • Set a boundary with a friend, family member, or coworker
  • Choose a balanced, nutritious meal (instead of a chips-and-salsa dinner)

What I share in this article includes acts of self-care that might not feel good while you’re engaged in them. When self-care feels especially hard, you will likely find benefit from the guidance of a compassionate and skilled San Diego Psychologist. A good example of that occurs when you decide to remove a toxic person from your life. Ending an unhealthy relationship never comes easily. You may love this person deeply and want to be with them even though you know it’s not healthy. Another example of when self-care feels especially hard is when, to overcome a fear, you must confront the very thing you are afraid of. Psychologists refer to this as exposure.

It doesn’t sound soothing or fun to motivate yourself out of your comfort zone while feeling anxious and awkward. And that’s okay. We must have the will to move through the discomfort in order to break through to the other side.

Be Patient With Yourself

As you take the necessary steps to live in alignment with your values, you’ll inevitably make mistakes and experience blunders. You have chosen to challenge yourself with something new, and it’s hard to be a beginner. The aim is not perfection since you’ll still have chips-and-salsa for dinner sometimes and stay up too late. Remember: Be gentle with yourself, which doesn’t mean giving yourself a “get out of jail free” card, but rather offering yourself compassion, understanding, and motivation to keep going.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering….yes, it’s okay to give yourself permission to take a bubble bath once in a while as a pampering part of your self-care!



Photo by Juan Jose on Unsplash

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