Updated: Apr 26
The popularity of the phrase “self care” has flashed attention on the need to take care of oneself; it’s become a famous buzzword for people to use in social media/Internet, therapy, and everyday language. One study found that the phrase “#selfcare” was used in more than 24 million posts on Instagram. Searches for self care and self care products on Google increased by 250% since 2017. With the ASD MarketWeek reporting that 88% of Americans actively practice self care, you would think the popularity of self care would result in improved health outcomes for people. But this simply is not the case. In 2022, the rates of people with multiple chronic conditions increased (with higher rates of cancer, arthritis, and depression in the population) and the rate of frequent mental distress was at a national high in America. Life’s Essential 8TM concluded from their research that 20% or 1 in 5 people in the US have appropriate heart health. According to a poll, most US adults say they only felt relaxed for 40 minutes during a typical day.
Why are these trends happening if most Americans are practicing and talking about self care? Well, most of the content nowadays about self care is based on the modern perspective of self care, which is surface level and superficial. This perspective mainly focuses on the leisure and happiness parts of self care, not the parts that require effort, work, and intentionality. The modern perspective of self care comes with quite a few costs, some you may be unaware of.
Modern self care costs:
● Actual money. Surface level/superficial self care is expensive; it’s driven by consumerism and overspending. It encourages us to buy and get more stuff. The average American spends about $200 a month (22% of their disposable income) on self care related expenses and $143,280 in their lifetime to “treat themselves.” On average Americans spend $110 each month on beauty, wellness, and fitness, with most of it going to beauty. The global wellness industry is worth $450 billion with many offerings of practices and products promising to improve your health and wellness and is expected to grow even larger in the future. But health data is showing Americans are going in the opposite direction; we’re spending more on health & wellness products but are getting sicker. What could you do if you had an extra $200 in your pocket each month?
● Loneliness & isolation. Modern self care has turned self care into a lonely experience. Modern self care puts the focus on always putting your needs ahead and putting others’ needs last; this can unintentionally turn us into more selfish people, no longer seeing the value in selflessness. Relationships need some degree of selflessness. Most of the time when I’m talking with people about self care, they almost always mention the things they are doing by themselves. Although we are responsible for ourselves, it doesn’t mean we have to do our self care journey by ourselves. We benefit from doing self care related activities or exercises with others. We need more than self help. We need things like guidance, support, mutual sharing of information, and encouragement when we are taking care of ourselves. We have to stop putting pressure on ourselves to figure out everything on our own.
● Productivity: The modern perspective of self care has turned self care into a quick and easy fix. With the increase of immediate gratification, we expect results right away or think one act of self care will solve all our problems. Self care is most beneficial when it is consistent and covers a multitude of needs. It won’t solve all of your problems, especially problems from unfair systems/institutions. When we don’t see quick results, we become disappointed and eventually stop. The disappointments add up over time and knock out any motivations we had. Disappointments lead to discouragement, hopelessness, helplessness, fear, and avoidance if we allow it. As a result, we become less productive in truly taking care of ourselves. The development of health problems further decreases daily productivity.
● Knowledge: Many people have the wrong or inaccurate ideas about what self care is due to the messages deriving from the modern perspective of self care. How can you practice something if you don’t truly know what it is? You can’t. The inaccurate thoughts we have about self care fool us into thinking we are doing self care when we aren’t.
● Our health. Did it ever occur to you that some of the self care products you use could be damaging your health? Many personal care products marketed as self care products have harmful chemicals. If used continuously over long periods of time, they can cause many health problems. On the other hand, the increase of chronic health conditions is costing the country and you are most certainly helping to pay the costs. The total cost of chronic disease in the US is $3.7 trillion each year, and health spending per person in the U.S. was $12, 914 in 2021. The direct cost for a person with chronic disease is $6,032 in a year, mainly including costs of hospitalizations, prescriptions, and ER visits. The indirect costs are even greater; chronic disease costs relationships/social connections, work and educational opportunities, peace of mind, your mobility, your time, your hopes, and even your actual life.
● Stress. The modern perspective of self care can cause stress for many because it turns self care into another chore or task on your to-do list. I totally identify with this one; the thing that was supposed to be relieving my stress was giving me stress. One of the main reasons it became stressful was because I subscribed to the modern idea of self care being a single activity in my day. Self care went right to the bottom of my to-do list. I would reserve self care for the end of my day, but I would rarely do it because I was too tired by the time I got to it. Then the guilty feelings and negative self talk would come. True self care needs to be included in our whole day, meaning finding ways self care can show up in the things you already do in your life. You can have designated times for specific self care related activities, but remember self care is not just one more thing to check off your list.
We have to start asking ourselves are we willing to continue to pay the price for modern self care or are we going to make changes to our mindset about self care. I am partnering with Radect Health in our Self Care & Functional Health Patterns Summit (https://www.radectwellness.com/event-details/self-care-summit-baltimore-md) to free us of the modern perspective of self care and have sustainable ways of engaging in self care that will help you and have sustainable ways of engaging in self care that can improve your healthcare, wellness, and put you in a better position to have better outcomes.
Hayes, T.O. & Gillian, S. (2021). Chronic Disease in the United States: A Worsening Health and Economic Crisis. American Action Forum. https://www.americanactionforum.org/research/chronic-disease-in-the-united-states-a-worsening-health-and-economic-crisis/#:~:text=When%20including%20indirect%20costs%20associated,the%20country's%20gross%20domestic%20product.
McGough, M., Telesford, I., Rakshit, S., Wagner, E., Amin, K., & Cox, C. (2023). How does health spending in the U.S. compare to other countries? Peterson-KFF Health System Tracker. https://www.healthsystemtracker.org/chart-collection/health-spending-u-s-compare-countries/#Per%20capita%20health%20consumption%20expenditures,%20U.S.%20dollars,%20PPP%20adjusted,%202020%20and%202021
Mullis, C., Nguyen, L., & Pappas, C. (2021). #self care on Instagram: Proactive Mental Health Has Its Moment. Pandion: The Osprey Journal of Research & Ideas. 2(1), Article 11. https://digitalcommons.unf.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1026&context=pandion_unf
Newsroom of American Heart Association (2022). Only 1 in 5 people in the U.S. has optimal heart health: Circulation Journal Report: New Life’s Essential 8™ score reveals concerning data. American Heart Association. https://newsroom.heart.org/news/only-1-in-5-people-in-the-u-s-has-optimal-heart-health
Sparks, H. (2022). Self-care isn’t working: Americans only feel relaxed for minutes per day. New York Post. https://nypost.com/2022/06/15/self-care-fail-americans-only-feel-relaxed-minutes-per-day/
Wright, M. (2022). What Self-Care Trends Means for Retailers for 2023. ASD MarketWeek. https://asdonline.com/blog/retail-news/what-self-care-trends-mean-for-retailers-in-2020/