For years, social media platforms such as TikTok and Instagram have been at the forefront of the self-care movement. This is spearheaded by influencers who are sipping a green smoothie after a morning jog or workout at the gym, and of course there is time for morning meditation in there too. Or reworded… “nothing beats a #greensmoothie after my #dailymorningjog and #dailymorningworkout, and let’s not forget my #morningmeditation!” Or there is the opposite – the influencers who somehow have the endless money to always travel to exotic destinations to dine on the local foods, indulge in the wines, and take in vermilion sunsets with the hashtags “#justbreathe” or “#enjoylife” as if they think the average person can do so whenever they please. At times, I feel happy and inspired by what gets posted, but more often I feel just annoyed. Jealousy? Nope. It’s for a different reason altogether.

self-care social media

I have been employed in the mental health field since 2014, serving as a licensed social worker since 2020. During that time, I have had the honor of working with people with persistent, severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, caregivers of those with terminal disease, people battling debilitating conditions, and adults who have suffered from complex trauma. For some of us, the “Instagram/Tiktok-worthy” type of self-help is not enough – or even doable. Social media can preach about self-help all day (hell, what even is self-help?), but the associated culture is judgmental and privileged, even toxic.

Let me share with you this wisdom:

You are not failing yourself if you have more cookies than intended, can’t find the motivation to go to the gym today, or forgot to do your hot yoga. You are human. Some days, weeks, and months are simply harder than others.

The true pathway to self-help is self-compassion and self-forgiveness.

Genuine self-care does not need to meet the standards for social media. Even though I appear quite glamorous in my professional photographs and my clients always see me with my make-up done, that is not me every day. On days off, I do indeed wear an oversized tee shirt with sweatpants, bare-faced and with unbrushed hair, and that’s okay.


It's the little things...

I live with chronic medical conditions. Sometimes my self-care requires me to stretch my neck so far to the right I look like a freakish creature in a Stephen King film, which I learned after physical therapy is the most natural way to treat my radiculopathy and cervical disc degeneration. I also have hypothyroidism and anemia, so my self-care consists of blood draws, levothyroxine, and iron supplements.

Self-care in practice

Self-care means to force myself to step away from my desk to get in a stretch when I can feel pain or numbness beginning to radiate through my spine, the indicator that I have been sitting in place for too long. And yes, this can mean my break is spent caring for myself, not necessarily replying to text messages and emails right away (although I will say I’m good at that). Self-care means I let myself have dinner at an appropriate hour on some weeknights, a simple pleasure I neglected for years as a therapist because that is “prime time” for therapy clients. Self-care requires I set down boundaries with my loved ones, letting them know that I cannot stop everything I’m doing to satisfy their needs and wants no matter what.

Do you!

So stop being hard on yourself. It is okay to mess up. Embrace being perfectly imperfect. Listen to your intuition to guide you in what defines “self-help” for you. Who cares if it isn’t sexy? If you need help identifying ways to take care of you, setting boundaries with others so you can take care of you or asking others for support- we would love to help you on that journey. Contact our office today.

-Valerie Smith, LMSW

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