Why I’m Pumping the Brakes on “Self-Care”
What really happens when you have too much of a good thing.
As the co-founder of the clean beauty spa tenoverten with locations in New York, Austin, and L.A., I’m often asked what “self-care” means to me. To be honest: an annoyingly overused term that, when in full practice, can distract from the priorities in my life.
But this wasn’t always the case. I used to relish a moment to myself. And self-care provided the nourishment I needed to accomplish things in other areas of my life. There were equations I could count on, such as one hour in an intense exercise class equaling eight hours of focused work. The same way I could rely on a large cup of coffee in the morning to keep me perky until 3:00 PM.
Then I became somewhat obsessed, jumping from one thing to the next in an effort to keep up with the newest health fad that promised to help me live my most optimal life. Where I used to practice moderation and common sense (avoiding taking too much medicine and exposing myself to toxic chemicals found in household goods), I suddenly started worrying about all the potentially harmful things I’m being exposed to in my everyday life. What about all the unknown toxins in food, beauty products, or cleaning supplies? What about the air quality in my New York City home?
I am always on the lookout for experts to teach me about new practices, bloggers to introduce and validate my own practices, and I find myself in constant conversation with friends, comparing the nuances on how a modern woman applies all these practices in daily life. But now it has gotten to the point where I feel distracted by too much information, rather than empowered to make good choices.
I’ve always craved a life of simplicity, and this current movement toward self-care, coupled with my career in the beauty space, has seemed to pull me unexpectedly into a more complicated life. You can make the argument that life is generally more complicated today, and I admit there are other elements to consider, however, if I take an honest look at my “self-care routine,” I should admit that it comes with a lot of unwelcome complexities.
For example, I have found myself drowning in rituals. Rituals were once a way for me to connect to myself and feel nourished—the heart of self-care. But I have realized I have a morning ritual, exercise ritual, workplace ritual, detox ritual, bath time ritual, and an evening ritual. And too much ritual makes these things feel like chore rather than a treasure. Where does my actual work, family, friends, and real priorities fit in when I’m giving all that attention to myself? I’d wake up on a weekday and realize my preoccupation with having the right warm lemon-and-turmeric-infused drink to wash down my probiotics, followed by the perfect green smoothie, was taking away from the morning rhythm with my two young kids. I used to be healthy to create simplicity in life—I’d chug water to get rid of a headache—now I’ve got supplements and other “wellness” tactics that are time-consuming and don’t always work.
All these new self-care trends also unleashed a consumer in me that did not exist before. I pride myself on only buying things that have a function in my life. I am a total minimalist, yet now my bathroom cabinets are filled with 1⁄4-used products I’ve jumped ship on. I’m on to the next product before finishing the one I’m using, unable to realize the benefits that come with prolonged use.
Then this winter, I reached my self-care breaking point. I got hit with that terrible flu. I was sort of riding the wave, getting through it, and trying to remind myself that the fever was a good thing, my body fighting back. My approach was to take medicine conservatively and give myself loads of rest. After two days of being sick, I had not eaten much because my appetite had completely disappeared. I decided to take a Dr. Singha’s Mustard Bath, which is a highly detoxifying bath that I love and typically indulge in once a week—my body normally responds really well to it. However, I took this bath as though I was my healthy self and not depleted from two days of high fever and the flu. In short, it left me even more depleted and unable to move from the bathroom floor after just a 10-minute soak. I crawled out onto the bath mat and could barely lift my arms. I felt nauseous, hot and cold at the same time, and completely limp. My vision was blurred too, and I was scared out of my mind. Thankfully, I wasn’t home alone. After a few minutes, I started to see my vision coming back, and after about 10 minutes I felt I could stand up and get back into bed. While I can actually laugh about it now, this was a moment of self-care gone too far. I realized I cannot be so committed to my rituals that I lose sight of listening to my body and its needs.
My vow to myself now is to tune into the things that actually make me feel my best and to spend my spare time focused on those few things. Self-absorption and making sure I have just the right drink/tonic every time I sit at my desk will hopefully be a thing of the past. I want to home in on the things that energize me to create and innovate in my life and work, and let go of the rest.