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  • Writer's picturePatricia Afonso

When Does Self-Care Become Procrastination?

Like it or not, self-care has been one of 2020's buzzwords. Commercialized to death, perhaps. Essential practice, definitely.

Illustration: Lena Yokoyama

A self-care practice ensures we have the internal resources to deal with life and work demands. And as the saying goes "You can't pour from an empty cup". Self-care is a daily practice, small things we can do throughout the day to care for our mental, emotional and physical health. It's not only hot baths and meditation. Not working during our lunch break, stepping outside for fresh air, seeing our dentist, taking the evening off digital screens, going to bed early – these are all acts of self-care that can have a positive long-lasting effect on our wellbeing and energy level.

Self-care also helps us avoid burnout. While a certain level of stress is beneficial to drive us to take action (moving, working, creating, etc to fulfill our needs), when we reach our tipping point and the balance tips over, stress becomes distress. Cultivating a self-care practice helps us manage our resources and nourish ourselves to avoid feeling depleted. Being aware of signals informing us we are getting closer to the edge and responding to them with acts of self-care is a sustainable strategy that supports our balance and resilience.

How to pick up on stress signals? We can start by being more conscious of the physical signals our body sends us to manage and plan pockets of self-care to nourish ourselves. We can also be informed by observing our different layers - as thought in some yoga practices, checking-in on how we are feeling physically, mentally, emotionally, and even spiritually.

With self-reflection and practice, we can gain greater awareness of stress signals that are particularly true to us - from physical to behavioural ones. By reflecting on a past experience that caused us stress, we can pick up on our "signature signals", for example, emotional or behavioural changes it triggered in us: perhaps we started experiencing greater racing thoughts in our mind, snapping at our partner more often, skipping work-outs repeatedly, losing our patience more quickly, or even started avoiding friends and family.

In the same way, we will benefit from being aware of what our nourishing activities are. Some self-reflection on what we turn to when we feel depleted is likely to bring answers, while a more pragmatic approach can include paying more attention to the times when we feel energized and take note of what activities brought us such nourishment. On the other hand, being aware of activities that deplete us can help us better manage our energy - for example by scheduling them when we are most likely to be in better form or by postponing them altogether if we need to. Give yourself permission to take care of yourself (perhaps the ultimate act of self-care). However, when does self-care actually become self-indulgence? What is investing in ourselves and what is procrastination?

"Self-care is a conscious act, something we chose to do. Something we chose to do every day or as regularly as we can." – Monica Ross, Leadership Coaching Supervisor.

The difference between procrastination and self-care is that procrastination is not conscious. Self-care is a conscious commitment and a daily recognition that if we do something in that area, we’re tipping our balance in the right direction. It is in service to ourselves and to our work – and to our relationships too. It's not all about self-respect and self-love, people around us will feel the difference too!


Patricia is an exec at CB and Planty, and a Leadership & Personal Development Coach accredited at Practitioner level by the European Mentoring & Coaching Council. She helps individuals and business leaders achieve their personal and professional goals – and get greater life satisfaction – through tailored coaching programmes (amongst other neat things you can read about here).


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