When Self-Care Doesn’t Work

Five things to try if you don’t feel better.

Posted May 25, 2020

CheshireCat / Canva Pro
Source: CheshireCat / Canva Pro

If you’ve been feeling unhappy or emotionally “blah,” and self-care hasn’t worked for you, here are five possible solutions.

1. Get treatment for trauma. Self-care is absolutely necessary for all adults to master, but trauma survivors usually need more than that to heal.

If you experienced abuse as a child or survived a traumatic incident such as assault or a life-threatening accident, your symptoms may not get better, no matter how diligently you apply self-care.

Read about acute PTSD and/or complex trauma. Check the symptoms against your own. If appropriate, seek help from a trauma specialist. 

Please note: Therapists who “specialize” in more than two or three areas are not specialists. Go for the expert, not the generalist. Trauma specialists often treat substance abuse as an adjunct to trauma therapy, because trauma and substance use so often go together.

2. See your doctor. Your brain is attached to your body, which means that emotional difficulties can have a basis in physical problems. 

All the self-care in the world won’t necessarily have an impact on a vitamin deficiency, low thyroid function, or drug side-effects, for example. A medical checkup can help you rule out causes of poor mental health that might be readily corrected.

3. Listen to your needs. Self-care means different things to different people. Taking bubble baths and eating chocolate are stereotypical self-care activities. But they don’t work for everyone. 
Self-care for you might involve taking yourself out for a hard run or volunteering for a cause that’s close to your heart. Spending time with animals, or in nature, may be worth 100 bubble baths to you.

Get quiet and think about what makes you feel soothed and wonderful. It could be anything, and it might not be something that others would see as self-care.

Avoid using drugs to feel better. Although it may feel good in the moment, using substances too often for stress relief is destructive to your well-being in the long run.

4. Take responsibility. Is there a part of you that’s still waiting for someone else to take care of you and make you feel better? We all share that need to be loved and cherished by important others. But as adults, we are responsible for our own welfare.

If there isn’t someone in your life who treats you like gold, you must take the reins and be the first to do that. Why deprive yourself of the love and care you deserve, just because others aren’t loving or caring for you?

It’s an interesting paradox: The more you take responsibility for your own care, the more likely you will be treated well by others. Go first.

5. Practice constructive wallowing. True self-care includes allowing yourself to know how you feel and letting yourself feel exactly as you do. Without judgment or suppression.

Of course, you’ll want to control your behavior. But there’s no need to control how you feel on the inside. The most important act of emotional self-care is to accept all your emotions.
See my book, Constructive Wallowing, for step-by-step instructions on how to do this.

In summary…

If self-care hasn’t been working for you, you may need trauma treatment, medical intervention, a different form of self-care, more self-responsibility, or greater acceptance of your own emotions through constructive wallowing.

To find a therapist, please visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.