Los Angeles Chapter — California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists
Los Angeles Chapter — CAMFT
Self-care, Carrots and Chocolate Cake:Making the Hard Decision to Do What's Best for You
Self-care is pretty self-explanatory. The simplest definition is the act of taking care of yourself. It sounds simple, but the reality is it’s pretty tough. Taking care of yourself is a foundational exercise that includes the basics: Are you eating well? Are you getting enough sleep? Do you exercise? Are you engaging in positive emotional connections? Is your level of stress reasonable? Self-care is not necessarily something that's going to make you feel good in the moment; it's almost the opposite. When you’re engaging in self-care it's often something that you don't really want to do, but you know it's good for you. Exercising: who really wants to go exercise? Meditating: even if it's just for a few minutes a day, can be challenging to commit to. Good self-care is easier said than done. It can be hard to find the time to make it happen or to get yourself to actually do it.
What about massage, nails, a blow out at Dry Bar? Does that count as self-care? Sometimes it’s self-care but more often it’s self-indulgence. Actions like that are easy and often don’t have lasting effects, but they feel great! There's a huge misunderstanding of self-care and self-indulgence. Self-indulgence, is about going out with friends or getting your nails done or going shopping, eating out or drinking, watching TV, going to the movies, eating junk food. These are all things that people confuse with “I'm taking care of myself because I’m allowing myself to do things that I don’t usually get to do, and it feels good. It re-energizes me.” That’s all true, but when you think about it, isn’t that like what you hear an addict say? “Oh it just really helps me out in that moment. It relaxes me. I have it under control. It's not a big deal.” Participating in self-indulgence is not quite as drastic as doing cocaine, but too much of it is not good for you. It’s all about balance. I'm not trying to say that going out and drinking or having dinner is a terrible thing and you should never do that. What I'm saying is if that’s the only kind of self-care that you’re doing you're not actually taking care of yourself.
I like to explain self-care by imagining there is a plate of yummy carrots sitting in front of you and right next to them is a plate of chocolate cake. And by the way, it’s the most delicious chocolate cake you've ever seen in your life. If you’re not thinking about it, which one of these plates are you going for? I think most of you are going to say, ‘Chocolate Cake’ (unless you have a thing for carrots). Most people go for the chocolate cake and that is self-indulgence. It's saying “I deserve that chocolate cake because I've been working hard. It's going to taste good and I'm going to feel good and it will be all right.” Now technically, although the reason for the cake makes complete sense, the carrots are the better thing for you. Eating carrots is self-care. It’s about making the hard decision to do what's best for you. Doing what’s right could mean going to bed early instead of staying up late to watch an extra show on Netflix. It could mean waking up early so you can exercise or meditate instead of getting that extra 30 minutes of sleep. If you think about all the choices that you make in your life, there are a lot of times when you’re going to be caught between “Do I choose carrots or do I choose chocolate cake?” I'm not saying you should only eat carrots. What I'm saying is we’ve got to have some kind of a balance. You're not taking care of yourself if you're never eating carrots.
As therapists, it’s important to maintain a balanced life with plenty of self-care. It’s tough to give more than you have to give. Refuel yourself and set an example for your clients and your family. And remember, choosing chocolate cake too often leads to weight gain, diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and an overall unhealthy you. Go for the carrots!
Tracy Kovacs Bevington, LMFT, is owner and founder of Pacific Marriage & Family Therapy Network, a group psychotherapy practice with 15 clinicians and offices in Santa Monica, Sherman Oaks, and Manhattan Beach. Tracy enjoys working with Adolescents, Families, Couples, and people of all ages struggling with anxiety. As a supervisor, Tracy works with Associate MFTs, and enjoys mentoring these clinicians and others by helping develop their careers. Learn more about Tracy and Pacific MFT Network at www.pacificmft.com.
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California Association of Marriage & Family Therapists
Los Angeles Chapter