sadness and self-careI’ve been really stressed out lately about work and friends (and the election!), so a friend of mine suggested I reserve a whole weekend for self-care. I spent the weekend doing everything I wanted to – stayed on my couch, surfed the internet, watched everything I wanted to on Netflix, and ate my favorite (albeit, not-so-healthy) foods. But by Monday morning, I felt even WORSE! How did self-care end up making me feel even more drained?

For many of us, hearing the words “self-care” equates to “do whatever I feel like doing.” This is true to an extent, but it’s important to consider that self-care involves relaxation as an intentional state of being, along with behaviors that take care of our basic needs. None of the activities you mentioned are “bad” or unhealthy on their own! But we can likely all agree that a 12-hour Grey’s Anatomy marathon and three pints of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream are not going to fully re-energize us in one sitting.

Additionally, doing what we feel like doing – or avoiding what we don’t feel like doing – may not be helpful, like intentional self-care can be, in times of high stress. Avoiding social contact, changes in eating habits, or feelings of irritability and sadness can also be symptoms of depression. Feeling guilty about caring for yourself may be a learned message from your family or partner. Numbing anxiety or emotional pain through food or mindless screen time may only exacerbate those feelings when we re-surface from distraction.

Intentionally taking care of our social, emotional, physical, and spiritual needs through self-care helps us build resilience against the triggers that may lead us to unravel over time. When was the last time you engaged intentionally in an activity that truly made you feel physically and mentally rejuvenated? Perhaps taking time to organize a closet, cook a healthy meal, take a walk in nature, or other self-care activities do not on the surface seem like ideal ways to spend a Saturday, but they could lessen our buildup of stress throughout the rest of the week or season.

If you are having difficulty changing your behaviors, or are persistently feeling worse, we hope you seek help from a mental health professional. Individual therapy can help you to identify new and more productive ways of managing stress, correct unhelpful thoughts and behaviors to alleviate feelings of depression or anxiety, and learn to more fully enjoy intentional self-care.

This post was written by Colleen McCarron, LCPC, an individual counselor and eating disorder specialist at Emily Cook Therapy in Bethesda, MD.