When self-care becomes self-destructive

When self-care becomes self-destructive

Self-care is pretty self-explanatory: a deliberate activity that aims to improve your own wellbeing. From indulging in a long bath (candles and bath bombs included, of course), to watching an entire Netflix series – participating in “self-care” is something that we should all practice regularly. Helping your mental and physical wellbeing, self-care refreshes and restores us when we need it most. We all deserve a break, right?

Wrong. Using self-care as excuse can be damaging, and do more harm than good. Sadly, accidentally eating a tub of ice-cream at 2am isn’t self-care. Cancelling plans with friends to slob around at home isn’t self-care either. And avoiding replying to a really-super-very important email because you need some ‘me time,’ isn’t self-care. Yet, these things have, unfortunately, become socially accepted as being “self-care.” This needs to change­­­.

So, when does self-care become self-destructive? The following tips will help you shape up your routine, so you can trust you’re doing it right.



Self-care is about making time for yourself, not putting yourself first. Nicky Lidbetter is the Chief Executive of Anxiety UK, a charity dedicated to helping support those with anxiety and stress. She told Lemon that self-care isn’t about being selfish.

“It’s the opposite. Self-care keeps you healthy, so – in turn – you can better support your family and friends.”

Making excuses is easy: so stop telling yourself you need some ‘me time’ and avoiding your loved-ones. If you’re burnt out, instead of skipping dinner with your parents, invite them over and order-in. Know the difference between ‘self-care‘ and ‘self-ish’.


Proper self-care doesn’t just happen. It’s deliberate, self-initiated, and intentional. You can’t call skipping work to spend the whole day inside watching reality TV “self-care” – because that’s when it becomes harmful.

Dr. Agnes Wainman, psychologist and self-care activist, is acclaimed for defining self-care as “something that refuels us, rather than takes from us.” Nicky Lidbetter agrees: “Self-care is a choice.” Being mindful of what, and more importantly why, we’re taking time for ourselves, is the key to doing it right.


Anxiety UK’s Nicky believes having time to yourself, and doing things you enjoy, shouldn’t be an excuse to avoid tackling your to-do list. “Self-care isn’t a strategy for avoidance.”

As Tami Forman wrote for Forbes: “Self-care is not an indulgence. Self-care is a discipline.” Prioritising attacking those jobs you’ve been putting off is, in itself, self-care. Freeing your mental health from stressors – like your ever-growing list of errands – can act as a relief.


Self-care can be as little as getting enough sleep or fitting exercise into your routine. Knowing how your body reacts to different self-care techniques is vital for not wasting your valuable time.

As Anxiety UK’s Nicky told Lemon: “Making time for hobbies, buying yourself a treat or spending time with friends are examples of self-care. These are deliberate ways we improve our emotional, mental and physical health.”

Mental health charity Mind recognises self-care as simply looking after yourself. They recommend staying aware of your mental health: “Getting out into a green environment is especially good for you. Also practising mindfulness, a therapeutic technique, can help you become more aware of your own moods and reactions.”


Set time aside to deliberately look after yourself – the right way – and help rejuvenate your wellbeing. Even if you’re convinced you’ll be fine without it, we really do all need some ‘me time.’ Just make sure you aren’t doing more harm than good.

As Stephen Covey analogises, in his renowned book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” you can’t chop down a tree without sharpening your saw. This goes for your mental and physical health too: you can’t run if you don’t rest.


Emily Smith

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