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Self Care vs Escape Activities & How They Impact Your Mental Health

Updated: Aug 3, 2022

Self-care is a pretty popular buzzword right now. With so many people experiencing anxiety and difficult situations over the past year, the need for self-care has become more apparent than ever. But some of the activities that many people think are self-care are actually escape activities that can do more damage than good. This is why it's very important to understand what self-care is and how to incorporate it into your life.

What are escape behaviors?

Escape behaviors are things that you might think are making you feel better because they're helping you mentally “escape” whatever the difficult situation is that you're facing.

Some of the most popular examples of escape behaviors include:

  • Shopping

  • Watching TV

  • Video games

  • Gambling

  • Drinking

  • Pornography

There are many people who use one or more of the activities above when they are dealing with stress and anxiety in their life. That activity may help them to feel a short-term sense of relief from the difficulty that they're facing. However, in the long run, it’s doing nothing to help their situation and it's often only adding to it.

Why escape behaviors are so tricky

Escape behaviors can be really tricky because they can provide a little bit of that feeling that a self-care behavior gives you as well. You feel like you're finding relief from the stress that you're dealing with.

For example, after a long hard day at work, a person may decide to start drinking in order to relieve a little stress. But for some people, one drink turns into many drinks, and they may find themselves struggling with a substance use disorder. Now the thing that they were turning to for help, has only caused them more problems.

There are similar examples for every type of escape behavior. And the last thing that you want when you're already struggling with stress and anxiety is to cause yourself to feel even more stress and anxiety.

Self-care is all about doing the things that help you feel good and enjoy your life. It helps keep you mentally, emotionally, and even physically healthy. Escape behaviors can try to disguise themselves as self-care but they're not delivering the same results.

You may feel like getting lost in an all-day Netflix marathon every weekend is helping you feel better after the week, but it's not doing anything to help you improve your situation long-term. You would be much better off finding real self-care activities to incorporate into your schedule.

So, what is self-care?

Self-care includes the activities and things that you do to help yourself feel better. Some of these things may help you feel better in the short term, but overall, these activities are helping you build healthy habits in your life.

Examples of common self-care activities include:

  • Meditation

  • Mindfulness techniques

  • Eating healthy foods

  • Regular exercise

  • Journaling

  • Playing an instrument

  • Painting a picture

  • Laughing with friends

  • Getting enough sleep each night

You may be starting to see that self-care activities can differ from one person to another. The activities that help you to relax, recharge, and feel your best may be different than the things that help me to feel my best. While there are some things like eating right, getting enough sleep, and exercising, that apply to everyone. There are other things like painting, writing, dancing, boxing, going for a run, or writing in your journal that may help you feel your best even if another person doesn't get the same benefit from that activity. That's perfectly okay.

When you build a self-care routine for your life, or you find self-care activities to add to your day, it doesn't matter what works for everyone. It only matters what works for you. Self-care is all about “self”. It's about helping you feel your best.

Is self-care selfish?

As you're reading this, you may be wondering if you start adding all these self-care activities into your day, aren't you going to seem a little selfish to those around you. You're going to be doing all of these things for yourself. And while you may be tempted to think that, you don't need to feel that way.

If you’re always giving your time and energy to other people, you’re going to run yourself down and leave yourself feeling exhausted. This could be doing things for your co-workers, boss, clients, children, or friends. It's easy to focus our time and energy on trying to make sure that everyone else has what they need. And that can be a wonderful quality to have and shows that you like caring for people.

But it's still important that you take the time to care for yourself. If not, you're going to end up feeling run down and it's going to be difficult for you to help anyone or do anything. This is why it's so important that you find ways to take care of yourself. And that doesn't just mean your physical health. It also means your mental health.

How to tell the difference between self-care and escapism

One of the best ways to tell the difference between true self-care versus escapism is to see if the behavior is helping you improve your life in the long run.

Escape behaviors may make you feel better in the moment, but they do little to nothing for you overall. And if you see that the activity actually has a negative impact on your life overall, it's definitely not a form of self-care.

Are you ready to focus on your self-care?

If you're ready to start adding good self-care habits into your life, it's pretty easy to get started.

Many experts recommend starting by just choosing one activity you enjoy that you can add to your day on a regular basis. Once you successfully include this in your schedule regularly, then you work on adding another activity to your life.

Your self-care routine should not be something that feels overwhelming to you. If you find yourself stressed and anxious because you're not crossing off all the self-care activities that you want to do, then it's not serving its purpose. Your self-care activity should help you feel your best.

If you're struggling with stress and anxiety from everyday life, or you're dealing with trauma in your life, it can feel overwhelming to try to figure out how to practice self-care. If you're feeling like that, we encourage you to reach out to meet with one of the therapists at The NEST Clinic.

Our experienced and caring mental health professionals will work with you to personalize treatment for your specific situation. They can help you learn how to incorporate self-care into your life and teach you other strategies that can help you improve your mental health and emotional wellness. You deserve to feel your best and we're ready to help you get there.

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