Self-care, self-help, self-improvement – are subjects that has been experiencing ongoing popularity on social media in particular. Self-help accounts on TikTok, Instagram, and Twitter gained a tonne of followers as people flocked to anything that seemed even vaguely wholesome during and following some gloomy times in recent years.
This has also led to the development of more ‘toxic self-care’, in which self-help influencers provide unsupported, unqualified and unsubstantiated mental health advice or inaccurate information about mental health conditions.
Some self-care influencers refrain from making statements that are unsupported by quality research or evidence-base or those that should only be made by qualified mental health professionals.
However, some don’t, and sometimes they almost seem like blatant attempts to simply keep social media users – some of whom are genuinely motivated to feel better – trapped in cycles of fear, dependency and self-loathing.
It is important to realise that it can be easy to get sucked into a self-help cycle of books, clips, and videos without actually addressing the problems in your life or applying anything of any real value to your development. It can even turn into an independent addiction. Finding self-help material is sometimes more of a symptom than a cure.
Here are multiple tips and strategies for improving yourself without self-help having a toxic effect upon you.
Acknowledge that not all self-help is created equal
In general, the self-help industry offers many promising quick fixes for many of your mental health issues. In actuality, this is what maintains their high levels of interest. But consider this: if these assurances were all accurate, why do so many people seek the assistance of their doctor, qualified therapists and mental health professionals for their mental health problems?
Why is there a persistent increase in demand for mental health professionals despite the fact that millions of self-help gurus offer their seemingly magical solutions and cures online?
This is due to the fact that credibility is crucial when it comes to aiding those who are dealing with a serious problem like mental health. Unfortunately, a sizable portion of self-help gurus are unqualified to speak on the subjects they pick.
According to a classic study in The American Psychologist, since self-help is frequently provided by laypeople helping other laypeople, the solutions outlined in self-help books may not take into account a person’s complex symptoms, which a quality psychotherapist is trained to interpret.
The study, which examined more than a hundred studies and case studies, also discovered that self-help treatment plans were frequently difficult to follow and were probably misunderstood by the target audience.
Genuine resources for self-help are available. These are the ones whose mission statements aren’t overstated. Be on the lookout for these sources. Before beginning a self-help treatment programme, always get a professional opinion from a mental health professional or examine the evidence base that supports the approach – is there quality research that supports the position?
Understand the importance of setting goals and taking Actionable steps
Many self-help gurus’ business models are based on two related concepts:
Sell uplifting materials to a broad audience
Gain loyal customers
They frequently discuss their exclusive newsletter, ebook, video, or seminar because of this. They have developed a clientele that is devoted to their solutions’ framework.
It’s crucial to think independently if you want to stay on course. Be specific with your self-improvement objectives. In a study that was published in Current Directions in Psychological Science, it was discussed how setting goals can enhance motivation, autonomy, self-esteem, and self-confidence. And as we all know, having a challenging and clearly defined goal increases your chances of success.
Use reputable self-help resources once you’ve decided what you want to work on. Don’t get distracted by the next issue at hand; instead, take the advice that you can use right away and put it into action. Note that the success of self-help material depends on its own merits, not on your allegiance to the guru who produced it.
Think Before You Procrastinate or Cancel Plans
It’s enticing to justify delaying something, especially if it’s a task you loathe, until tomorrow. Self-care advice frequently advises taking a day to “unwind” when you ought to be motivating yourself instead. Before acting on general advice from self-care sources, take into account your personal situation; taking a personal day to recover is distinct from skipping work simply because you feel like it. Additionally, speaking with a therapist has been shown to be effective if procrastination is a persistent problem for you.
We’ve all changed our plans and provided convenient justifications for why we couldn’t attend an engagement that we had already committed to.
But unless we actually need to recharge our batteries, we probably shouldn’t encourage ourselves to cancel our plans too frequently, just like with procrastinating. It can be extremely difficult for introverts and people with general anxiety to follow through on their promises, but when we do the thing – especially if it involves socialising – as with exposure processes used in many therapy approaches, it can gradually lessen and desensitise the overwhelming anxiety we are currently experiencing.
Consider whether delaying the task will make you more anxious:
No matter what an Instagram post or a TikTok video claims, only you can determine what constitutes self-care and what qualifies as procrastination. To stop overanalysing exactly what you ought to be doing with your time, you can benefit from choosing to be honest with yourself about your priorities.
Take into account your procrastination’s wider effects:
Some self-help advice frequently forewarns us about the negative aspects of the modern workplace and the risks of scheduling too much social time. Sometimes, despite having promised to go out for a drink, we have a bad day or don’t feel like it.
Determine the causes of your desire to change your plans:
Be truthful with yourself about the real reason you don’t want to go if you feel like abandoning the arrangements you’ve made with others. Determine whether you should face your fears or give in to them by comparing the two. If a post or video is giving you advice, first determine whether it applies to you. In the end, self-care is about putting your needs first.
Running After Perfection isn’t Self Care
Many self-help influencers try to show us that perfection is something we can achieve if we can keep up with every new post or video. Loads of them take videos from locations designed to give the impression that they are thriving and doing well. When I stopped endurance running and took up weightlifting a few years ago, I began watching several Youtubers who put an emphasis on self-care and weightlifting.
I worked professionally with and spoke with many individuals who looked fantastic but were a complete mess on the inside. Over the course of the first couple of years, I came to the conclusion that some were only lifting weights for aesthetic reasons rather than to maintain health.
Some also became narcissistic and were still very self-conscious of their appearance. Of course there are benefits to looking good, but if psychological well-being is our primary aim, then becoming obsessive about our appearance and heightening concern about it, is not necessarily beneficial for mental health.
Our mental health shouldn’t be harmed by exercise. Exercise can greatly contribute to mental well-being.
Here’s a couple of key takeaways for avoiding toxic self-care workout advice:
Your exercise regimen may be difficult, but it shouldn’t make you feel discouraged:
There’s nothing wrong with a difficult workout, but it’s okay if you don’t really have the time or energy to push yourself each time you work out. It’s more practical, to simply be thankful that you have the drive and willpower to exercise in the first place. Don’t beat yourself up over what seems impossible; instead, celebrate what your body is capable of.
It’s acceptable to select an unconventional exercise method:
Find exercises that suit your personality, interests, and physical capabilities. Compared to weightlifting or running, this might look different. Yoga, biking, rowing, hiking, or swimming are activities that many people find satisfying (and have health benefits).
Make sure that your overall fitness objective is to be healthy rather than to appear flawless:
It is perfectly acceptable to desire to appear attractive and to feel attractive. But we can’t just rely on how we look to feel confident. We experience pain when our thin shell breaks. Our fitness objectives should be based on enhancing our body’s physical performance first and foremost.
Self-Help Tips can’t supplement Mental Health Services
Do you recall the inspirational video where Shia LeBeouf yelled “JUST DO IT” into the camera?
There are instances where we truly “can’t.” There is nothing improper about that. Studies actually demonstrate that there are things that we can’t do, especially when we have a mental health condition. But it’s not our fault; being ill prevents us from functioning to our full potential whether we are physically or mentally ill.
It’s better to logically consider your limitations than to carelessly follow online instructions if you want to avoid any kind of harmful self-care behaviours. There is no one more qualified to assist you with this than an experienced, evidence-based therapist if you’re really trying to identify your mental strengths and weaknesses and want to position yourself for success in your personal life.
In light of this, the following advice is provided for developing a real self-care routine with a therapist:
Together, you can determine your unique strengths and weaknesses. You can get assistance from a mental health professional in identifying potential pitfalls and problem areas that are making you feel distressed.
With their assistance, establish personal objectives (even if you have none yet):
In addition to assisting you in developing individualised goals to work towards, therapists can help you learn how to manage and cope with mental health conditions and challenges; how to build psychological skills and build resilience. This type of self-care can be very effective because it allows you to achieve your goals in a healthy way with support and expert guidance from the professional.
Don’t be shy during sessions; therapists are trained to listen, and the more information you share with them, the more likely they are to be able to assist you. Your therapist will process the topics you bring up from fresh angles, which may lessen the impact of painful past and present experiences. One of the best self-care practises is attending therapy because it is often very difficult to practise quality self-care without good mental health.
Not All Self-Care Advice Should Be Followed
When your social media connections start attempting to sell you multi-level marketing products, that’s potentially a red flag whereby sales and the singular product become more important than your individual needs. They are not likely to give you a well-balanced perspective. It’s possible that the person offering the products or approach is doing so with good intentions and thinks what they’re promoting will benefit you. But whether or not their Kool-aid is worthwhile drinking is entirely up to you.
Self-help books can be a valuable tool for personal development. The risks of unregulated advice, quick fixes, and one-size-fits-all solutions must be understood, though. Self-help books and resources can be an invaluable tool on your path to personal development if used with caution and critical thought. For self-help influencers, the same holds true. If we’re not careful, toxic content related to self-care could worsen our mental health, make us avoid our obligations, or ruin our self-image. Although self-care is important, we shouldn’t let influencers’ self-care advice be our only source of inspiration.
Some people see all the ‘success stories’ and testimonials for the approach that has no other evidence to support it. They invest and find that they do not derive the same benefit and can think they are beyond help, or fundamentally flawed in some way. It creates more of a problem.
Knowing yourself, your own priorities, and the state of your mental health will help you determine whether a self-help influencer’s advice is valid or not. However, we aren’t actually caring for ourselves when toxic self-care gives us the confidence to support our bad habits. We’re just being destructive to ourselves.
The adage “you can never have too much of a good thing” applies to many aspects of life. If you let it, the aim of improving yourself can become harmful self-help. You typically know what you need to do to improve your life. It’s not necessary to work too hard or to always be happy. You are engaged in a toxic process when you read self-help books more frequently than you engage in the activities you enjoy. This cycle will only lead to stress and anxiety. Hopefully, the tips we summarised in this article, help you avoid toxic self-help tips.
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