Mental Health

The Difference Between Self-Care and Self-Soothing

self-care self-soothe
Self-care is there to help the pain dissolve when it’s still small; self-soothing is used to mop up the leftovers after you’ve blown up.

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Do you know the difference between self-care and self-soothing?

We’ve all heard the phrase self-care. It seems to be the buzzword of 2019 and appears on the tip of every blogger’s tongue. Honestly, it’s no wonder it’s become so popular as it encourages us to start taking better care of our mental, emotional and physical health.

Self-care is a crucial part of keeping your cup at a safe, operational level. When we feel ourselves running low on physical, emotional and mental energy, it allows us to step aside and begin to recharge. How you practice self-care is an individual preference and it can range from simply reading a book to going on vacation.

But what happens when we don’t allow ourselves to recharge?

If you recognize that your cup is beginning to dry up and you act on it, good for you. You’ve successfully avoided a burnout. But if you notice the signs and continue moving forward at full speed, something has to give eventually.

Self-care is there to help the pain dissolve when it’s still small; self-soothing is used to mop up the leftovers after you’ve blown up.

Self-soothing appears when you spend all your free hours napping, or treat yourself to a bottle of wine every night on the couch. If drinking a bottle a night or taking expensive shopping trips become the only ways for you to feel some sort of joy in life, then your ‘self-care’ is moving into a danger zone. You’re officially walking the fine line between treating a paper cut (the mild pain) and treating a gunshot (the blow-up).

But I thought self-care and self-soothing were all the same thing?

In the months leading up to my breakdown, I was on autopilot mode. I had never heard of the phrase self-care, nor had I ever heard of self-soothing. There was no such thing as me sitting down to read a book, or ‘winding down‘ by playing video games (despite this being one of my favourite past times).

For months I would come home from work anxious and on edge, weigh myself and go straight to bed. There were only 3 things I would remove myself from my duvet cocoon for; A smoke, a cup of tea or to use the bathroom. That was it. Although napping is good, this was too much and left no room for the habits and hobbies needed in order to properly refill my cup.

By December 2018 my cup was well and truly dry.

I was partaking in self-soothing or comfort behaviours. When I came home feeling a little worse for wear, my go-to was the scales. Since I wasn’t eating much my weight was guaranteed to drop by a few grams. Looking at the lower number gave me comfort. There was no recharging or refilling, therefore this was a purely self-soothing behaviour. It didn’t serve me in the slightest other than giving me a temporary peace of mind.

Likewise for the excessive napping. I was seeking escape, so I slept it off.

My batteries never recharged because I was mentally and emotionally exhausted, so sleeping only served as an avoidance technique.

Although I was sleeping after work, I rarely slept through the night and spent a lot of time staring at the ceiling wishing it would all just go away. My mind was perpetually turning like a turbine, even while sleeping, to the point where I would awake from nightmares, panic attacks, and general uneasiness nightly.

Although these behaviours aren’t always necessarily bad, they aren’t doing anything to help you recharge your emotional and mental energies.

If you’re physically exhausted then a nap can be very refreshing, but if you’re mentally or emotionally exhausted a nap only serves as an escape from reality.

Comfort vs. Care

When you come home from a bad day at work, or you’ve had a fight with your partner, you’ll naturally crave comfort. This is usually in the form of warmth or pleasure such as;

  • Shopping
  • Sex
  • Alcohol
  • Food
  • A hot bath
  • Napping

As I mentioned, there is nothing wrong with these things, however, it’s the power behind them and what you’re trying to do for yourself that holds the power. Some of these can be overindulged and act as an escape from reality.

When you seek the care you’re in need of self-respect, self-connection, and realignment.

  • Write in your journal or on your blog
  • Chat with a friend
  • Be creative
  • Dance
  • Do Yoga
  • Go for a walk

These are just some of the things you can practice as self-care, and act as a way to realign yourself when most needed.

Self-care and self-soothing fall very closely together and both are necessary, but in different ways.

Often they become entangled and confused, as do some of their key elements.

The key things to take away from this post are:

  1. When caring for yourself becomes about distraction and avoidance, then it’s time to rethink your ‘self-care’ plan.
  2. If you’re reaching for another glass of gin every night of the week under the illusion of ‘self-care’, ask yourself; What am I really seeking?
  3. There is a distinct difference between craving care and craving comfort. Listen to yourself, know what you need to recharge and stay true to it.

Have you any further thoughts on this? Where you aware that there was a difference between self-care and self-soothing? I would love to hear from you in the comments below!


self-care self-soothe

My name is Chloe. I write about eating disorders and mental health (among other topics) over on my blog. I've suffered from anorexia for over 13 years and spent about 7 of those in quasi-recovery. It was only after a recent burnout in December of 2018 that I relapsed and decided, once and for all, to get the help I needed. I believe that each and every sufferer has it inside them to reach that point where food is no longer the enemy, and that full recovery is an obtainable goal.

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