How often do you feel guilty about taking care of yourself? It might be more often than you think.
Self-care guilt shows up in various ways. . .by apologizing for taking time for yourself, feeling like you’re being selfish, or pushing it off because you have more productive things to do.
Whatever the reason, there’s this nagging voice in the back of your mind reminding you of all the things you should be doing that makes you feel guilty about taking care of yourself (even selfish).
Unfortunately, self-care guilt is a common problem. That’s why I’m breaking down 5 common reasons WHY you feel guilty about taking care of yourself and WHAT to do about them so that you can make self-care guilt a thing of the past.
And to help you ditch the self-care guilt, I have a resource for you. Grab your copy of the Essential Self-Care Toolkit to start taking better care of yourself guilt-free.
Table of Contents
Why Do You Feel Guilty About Taking Care of Yourself?
Although it’s common to feel guilty about taking care of yourself, it’s not mandatory. You can ditch the self-care guilt.
The problem is that self-care guilt is complicated. And there’s more than one common cause for it.
That means that if you want to ditch the self-care guilt, you need to gain better insight behind why you feel guilty (or selfish, or as if you need to apologize) any time you try to devote time to self-care.
Let’s break down the five most common causes of self-care guilt so that you can finally prioritize self-care without apology or shame.
Reason #1 for Feeling Guilty About Self-Care: How Self-Care Is Defined
When I ask clients struggling with self-care guilt to define what self-care is, they often have trouble. They start with the obvious (exercise, getting enough sleep and eating well). But once we drill down, they end up defining it as something that helps them to feel good, be in better physical shape and/or escape from life’s many obligations.
But that’s simultaneously too narrow and wrong. And it leads many to feel like they’re being overly indulgent (and hence selfish) when trying to set aside time for themselves.
How to Redefine Self-Care (the Right Way)
Here’s the deal: self-care isn’t really about feeling good. And it has NOTHING to do with escaping your life.
[Side note: If you feel the need to escape your life, it’s a sure-fire sign that you need more self-care in your life].
No matter what you call it (self-care, self-love or just plain taking care of yourself), self-care isn’t just about feeling good. Does self-care help you to feel good? Of course (it’s a wonderful byproduct).
But many things that feel good in the moment aren’t self-care (and can even hurt you in the long-term). Moreover, self-care isn’t about indulging. What exactly is self-care?
Self-care is about taking care of your own well-being. . . physically, mentally, and spiritually. And there’s nothing indulgent about that.
Can going to the spa count as self-care? Of course (and yes, that can be considered an indulgence). But most acts of self-care (and often the ones that are most powerful) are simpler than that. You can take impeccable care of yourself without ever stepping foot in a spa (really).
For some great (and simple) ideas on how to take better care of yourself, be sure you download the Essential Self-Care Toolkit. It includes 50 easy self-care ideas for body, mind and soul.
Reason #2 for Feeling Guilty About Taking Care of Yourself: Treating Self-Care As A Zero-Sum Game
There’s a common belief that prioritizing something means taking away from something else. That there’s a cost.
Although that’s true for many things, it’s not really the case when it comes to self-care.
Why Self-Care Isn’t Zero-Sum
If you choose to go to the gym instead of a work happy hour, you’ve chosen to do something at the expense of the other. And so you might believe that zero-sum applies here.
But does it really?
Taking good care of yourself:
- gives you energy to work late when needed,
- helps you to stay calm under pressure,
- increases your ability to focus (and hence be most productive at work and at home), and
- helps you to keep your emotions in check.
You’ll be better equipped to solve that big work problem (that’s been frustrating you for the past week because you’re too depleted to think creatively). And you’ll be less likely to snap at your kids and spouse when you walk through the door each evening due to stress.
Proper self-care is what enables you to serve, do and give more to others (both personally and professionally).
How to Change Your Self-Care Equation By Getting It Off Your To-Do List
The problem is that most people tend to think of self-care as yet one more thing that you have to add to your (already large) to-do list. It feels like a chore.
Here’s the equation you’re currently using (in order of priority):
WORK + FAMILY + CHORES + OTHER (including self-care)
Because self-care comes at the bottom, it rarely comes into play. And it’s the FIRST thing you push off when you get busy.
Here’s the truth: self-care must come BEFORE this equation ever comes into play. It should be prioritized above all else, even your to-do list.
Besides, self-care isn’t so much about doing stuff. It’s mostly a mindset thing… a way of living and being.
I know that even thinking about putting yourself first can trigger an anxiety attack. After all, we’ve all been taught that it’s selfish to put ourselves before others (that’s especially the case if you’re a parent).
What you need is to start asking yourself how well you can take care of others when you’re not taking care of yourself. Because if you don’t take care of yourself, you’ll become needy. And needy people are the epitome of selfishness.
So, by NOT prioritizing self-care you’re actually being selfish! How about that for a big “aha” moment?
Self-Care Guilt Reason #3: Success Is Defined As Achievement
If you’re like most people, you probably have an achievement-based definition of success. It’s primarily about achieving your goals and meeting certain measurables.
And that’s problematic for several reasons, the first of which is that. . .
Success Isn’t Solely Dependent On How Hard You Work (Or The Quality Of Your Plan)
Life isn’t fair and there are many things out of your control that affect your success. Although your input affects the outcome, it’s only a piece of the pie.
How does all this relate to self-care guilt?
When you define success as primarily achievement-based (and hence focused on your input), you’re focused primarily on those things you can’t control. Which leads to frustration, working even harder and doing more. To the point where you’re likely to start feeling like you should be doing something more productive than taking time for yourself.
What You Have Control Over: You (and Only You)
Although most people agree that life isn’t fair, as a society we like to push back against that. And so we often act as if life should be fair.
The problem is that life isn’t and will never be fair. Society is made up of imperfect, judgmental and biased human beings. And that means that fairness will never truly exist.
No matter how hard you work or how badly you want something, you won’t always get it. Other people might work harder or just get lucky. Sometimes people will proactively work against you.
That’s why success shouldn’t be based on outcome but instead on input (i.e., how you behave, how hard you work, how you treat yourself and how you treat others).
Please note: I’m not saying that you should never try to be more fair (or make life better for others), just that focusing on fairness isn’t the right way to go about it.
Focusing on input will have better results and will also allow you to redefine success in a way where you’re able to be happy working towards something better (even though the outcome may not be guaranteed or you might fail). And this new definition of success will also allow you to include self-care as part of the success equation (because your input will be better if you take good care of yourself).
For more about how to redefine success in this way, read Want to Be Successful? Stop Working So Hard and Rethink How You Define Success.
And this leads us to the second reason why you’ll want to redefine success (and how it all relates to self-care). . .
How You View Success Affects How You View Yourself (and Hence Your Self-Worth)
If you have an achievement-based definition of success, your self-worth will also be primarily about your outcome. And you’re less likely to feel that you’re worthy of self-care.
Here’s the thing: self-care is about self-respect.
If you respect yourself then you’ll take care of yourself. There’s a positive ripple effect from taking good care of yourself. It builds your self-worth, self-esteem and self-confidence levels.
And it helps you to be more mentally present, which is a huge issue with many high-achievers and impacts how you feel about yourself because it makes you feel less productive and ashamed for being so disrespectful.
Proper self-care leads to better self-worth and a more positive outlook on life.
Achievement-Based Success Makes Things Too Hard
When achievement focused, self-care becomes too much work because you end up obsessing over metrics. And that leads to counting every single calorie you put into your body, obsessing over how many steps you took in a day and/or weighing yourself every morning.
Not only is all that overkill, but this approach has the feel of a chore that you don’t like doing yet still have to do.
Wouldn’t you rather regard self-care as something that you naturally weave into your day for your well-being?
Reason #4 for Self-Care Guilt: You Feel Obligated to Say Yes (To Everyone Except Yourself)
This one is a biggie for many of my clients. They feel obligated to say yes – especially if being asked to use a skill or talent that they’re good at. And especially when people lay it on thick.
Here’s the thing: you don’t have to commit to something just because you’d do it well (or even better than someone else). Sometimes the best thing you can do for someone is to say no so that they can learn how to do it themselves.
It’s Time To Create and Enforce Your Boundaries By Saying No
I know that boundaries can make the best of us nervous. It’s easy to identify where you want them yet difficult to follow through because it involves saying no.
But remember that saying no isn’t about the no. The purpose of boundaries is to uphold your priorities and ensure your well-being. And there’s nothing wrong with that (or bad about the no for those reasons).
When you set and uphold strong boundaries, you’re respecting yourself.
Remember this: when you say no to someone, you’re also saying yes to yourself and those you love most. So that you can be your best and serve others to the best of your ability.
To learn how to start saying no respectfully and with kindness, go read How To Say No Without Feeling Guilt (Step-By-Step Instructions).
Reason #5 for Feeling Guilty About Taking Care of Yourself: Your Time Isn’t Your Own
Your time is yours. You own it (no one – and I mean no one – else does).
Stop giving your time away as though it’s endless. Because it isn’t. You won’t ever get it back once spent.
Take Control of Your Time by Logging It
When clients tell me they’re have zero time, I make them log their time for a week. They write down everything they do and the time it takes (including when scrolling on social media for 2-3 minutes, checking emails when at the dinner table, and getting up from their desk to get coffee).
Although they hate this exercise (it’s tedious), they’re always amazed at how much time they waste, how much time they’re spending with loved ones (that they didn’t give themselves credit for) and what they say yes to that they shouldn’t.
This simple exercise empowers them to change how they treat time, spend their time, and what they say yes to.
I want you to do the same. For a full week, pay attention to what you’re doing and how long you spend doing EVERYTHING. Keep a running log. At the end of the week, go back and review how you’re spending your time (warning: it will shock you).
Quick note: many people focus on things that are known time-wasting activities, such as scrolling through social media. Although those are important time-wasters to diminish, there are other (less obvious) ones, such as interruptions from co-workers and time spent going through unimportant emails.
Use your time wisely, guard it, and treat it as the precious commodity it truly is.
How to Start Prioritizing Self-Care (Without Feeling Guilty About Taking Care of Yourself)
Self-care has been hijacked by a bunch of #selfcare social media soothsayers that are big on syrupy sweet quotes and memes that have little guidance on HOW to take care of yourself without feeling guilty about it.
Ditching self-care guilt requires three things:
- A good definition of self-care (so that you understand what it is – and isn’t).
- Knowing HOW to start prioritizing it.
- A good support system (that you can go to for help, guidance and accountability).
This article covers much of items #1 (and even some of #2). And the Essential Self-Care Toolkit will help you even more with both (which you can grab here):
How to Start Taking Care of Yourself Without Feeling Guilty
But how do you take all this and get started? What do you actually do?
To start simplifying and prioritizing self-care (without guilt), take the following 4 steps:
Step #1: Self-Assess What You Need
It’s difficult to know where to focus your attention if you’re not sure where you are right now. The simple fact is that you’re stronger in some areas than others.
Perhaps you love working out, yet your mind is often racing (rarely focused). That means that you’re doing well in the physical self-care arena, but not so good when it comes to your mental self-care.
You need to identify where you are on the self-care spectrum for each area of self-care so that you know where to focus. And please note that this isn’t one-and-done. What you need changes from day-to-day, depending on your circumstances and what’s going on around you (even within the world).
It’s important to check in with yourself often to reassess what you most need.
Want help with self-assessing? Be sure to download the Essential Self-Care Toolkit (one of the tools is a self-care assessment).
Step #2: Identify What Works (and What Doesn’t)
It’s amazing how many people do things in the name of self-care that they don’t enjoy doing (because they believe they’re supposed to). If you don’t like to run, then don’t. Or if you’re like me and you get bored easily, utilize a mix of different routines like strength training, walking, HIIT training, and yoga.
The key is to understand what you enjoy doing that constitutes self-care. I call this understanding your self-care style. Try new things. Experiment.
Be sure to consider daily activities that could count as self-care (that you might not be thinking of in that way) and to identify ways to incorporate self-care easily into your daily activities.
For example, I’ve learned that my boys are more open to talking (about real things) when in the car. So, I take them to/from school and baseball as much as possible. You might not consider this as self-care… but it is. It keeps me mentally and spiritually well.
For help with determining your self-care style, be sure to grab the Essential Self-Care Toolkit (it’s Tool #2).
Step #3: Create Simple, Flexible Routines and Habits
It’s time to put the knowledge you’ve gained through steps #1 and #2 together. Get started by creating a few simple routines aimed at helping you where you need it most. I recommend starting with:
- a morning routine designed to help you get motivated and energized for the day ahead; and
- an evening routine that helps you relax and ready to sleep.
Make your routines simple and flexible.
For example, let’s say that your morning routine consists of exercise and meditation. How long you spend doing those 2 things can vary, depending on the day. You might spend 10 minutes stretching on especially busy days or an hour doing strength training on days when time – and energy – is plentiful.
And your meditation could vary between 3 and 15 minutes. Once you get comfortable with your new routines, go further by creating additional habits at work and at home. And be sure that you’re covering all aspects of self-care (mental, physical, and spiritual). Think outside the box!
Remember, talking to my boys when in the car is an act of self-care for me. This is about a way of living (not necessarily about adding a bunch of stuff to your day). To help you out, here are a few things that I do as part of my self-care routine (that you might not think of as self-care):
- Going for a walk or run with my boys (they usually ride their bikes while I run and/or walk);
- Playing soccer outside with my boys;
- Having a regular game night (this keeps you mentally fit, is fun, and allows you for time with loved ones where you can talk and enjoy one another); and
- Cooking healthy meals as a family.
Step #4: Create a Support System
You’ll need a mix of people and tools (such as a calendar system and/or apps) to help keep you on task and going. When it comes to people, think about who you trust that will be lovingly honest with you (and who you’ll listen to). DON’T include anyone who triggers you into an emotional reaction or who’s invested in your outcome.
And consider how to weave a natural support system into your daily self-care habits and routines. For example, my youngest son LOVES riding his bike while I walk/run alongside. Once we started, I made the promise that we’d keep this up (and set some rules on when we’d do it regularly). Of course, he reminds me when it’s time for our walk.
Don’t over-think the support you need, but also don’t ignore this step.
Your Next Steps
Self-care doesn’t have to be hard or complicated. And it shouldn’t create guilt or feelings of selfishness. Apply the knowledge above to rethink and redefine self-care so that you can stop feeling guilty about taking care of yourself and instead start prioritizing YOU.
To help you get started, be sure to download your copy of the Essential Self-Care Toolkit. It has 3 tools to help you quickly assess your needs, determine your unique self-care style and create 2 flexible routines so that you can prioritize (and simplify) self-care and start feeling better NOW.
Grab your copy here: