What You’re Missing If You Think Self-Care Is Just Candles And Bubble Baths

Womens Health

By Marissa GainsburgApr 2, 2019

Pampering yourself is great, but challenging yourself? Way better. 

I can’t believe I did that.

The words flashed through my head over and over like a GIF as I walked alongside thousands of exhausted runners to exit Central Park. I’d just crossed the finish line of the TCS New York City Marathon—my first 26.2—and my cheeks, wrinkled up to my eyes, ached almost as much as my legs. When a photographer snapped a picture, I broke out in happy tears until a weird but powerful calm came over me. I can’t. Believe. I did that.

It’s a sentiment I’d chased several times over the past year, the first on a rock-climbing trip in Joshua Tree National Park, then during an intensive hike up two “14ers” (mountain slang for Colorado’s multiple peaks exceeding 14,000 feet). I’d spent months training for each of the three events, dedicating weekdays and Saturdays to workouts and Sundays to recovery—or self-care, as we call it: I foam-rolled, pretzeled my limbs in candlelit yoga, read novels in bed, splurged on $11 smoothies, slathered my skin and hair in masks…you know, the works. Yet even on my most Zen days, nothing came close to the perfect peace I felt after pushing my body to a point it had never been.

At first, the fitness editor in me chalked up the bliss to endorphins. But as I melted into the massage table at Connecticut’s serene Mayflower Inn & Spa one day post-marathon, oh-so-sore but—for the first time since the Colorado hike six weeks prior—completely stress-free, I suspected there was a much deeper force at play. 

I was right. “Self-care isn’t just about treating yourself—it’s about improving yourself, which is what truly makes us feel good about who we are,” says mind-body expert Joseph Cardillo, author of Body Intelligence. “Tackling a serious physical challenge, especially one that involves consistent training, is one of the best steps you can take to increase your pride.” (P.S. “Serious” doesn’t have to mean mountains and marathons; it might be a 10-K or a yogi headstand.) 

“Self-care isn’t just about treating yourself—it’s about improving yourself…”

Why the big impact? Partly because you can literally see yourself improve. I remember the euphoric satisfaction I felt when I finally hit 18 miles, my “scary mileage” (much like a “scary age”), then surpassed it three times during my marathon training. But it’s also because the greater the challenge, the greater the reward. Trekking the first 14er was incredible—a cardio feat I wasn’t sure my sea level–accustomed body could manage. But summiting the second one left me feeling unstoppable, capable of anything. 

At first, the fitness editor in me chalked up the bliss to endorphins. But as I melted into the massage table at Connecticut’s serene Mayflower Inn & Spa one day post-marathon, oh-so-sore but—for the first time since the Colorado hike six weeks prior—completely stress-free, I suspected there was a much deeper force at play. 

I was right. “Self-care isn’t just about treating yourself—it’s about improving yourself, which is what truly makes us feel good about who we are,” says mind-body expert Joseph Cardillo, author of Body Intelligence. “Tackling a serious physical challenge, especially one that involves consistent training, is one of the best steps you can take to increase your pride.” (P.S. “Serious” doesn’t have to mean mountains and marathons; it might be a 10-K or a yogi headstand.) 

“Self-care isn’t just about treating yourself—it’s about improving yourself…”

Why the big impact? Partly because you can literally see yourself improve. I remember the euphoric satisfaction I felt when I finally hit 18 miles, my “scary mileage” (much like a “scary age”), then surpassed it three times during my marathon training. But it’s also because the greater the challenge, the greater the reward. Trekking the first 14er was incredible—a cardio feat I wasn’t sure my sea level–accustomed body could manage. But summiting the second one left me feeling unstoppable, capable of anything. 

While I’m not sure what my next proverbial finish line will be, I am certain of this: I will believe I did that. Because I’ve finally learned what it means to not just care for myself, but to care aboutmyself. And there’s no room for “can’t” in that picture.

1 Comment »

  1. I completely agree! It’s one thing to “treat yo’ self” it’s another to actually take action on self improvement. That’s why I say, exercise, eating right, taking meds, going to therapy, learning and practicing coping skills, and self reflecting are all consider self care. They all have to coexist together and work as a team for not only a better life, but a better you. Thanks for sharing! Great read.

    Liked by 1 person

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