The difference between self-comfort and self-care and why it matters

The Pulse Podcast includes interviews, weekly biblical studies, and also featured talks. This episode falls into that later category.

I wrote an article with therapist Sarah Joy Covey which was published in The Toronto Star on June 27, 2022. Sarah has her master’s in counselling psychology and is the clinical director of the Covey Wellness Centre.

The piece is called “The difference between self-comfort and self-care and why it matters.”

Here it is as a podcast so you can access it in a listening format as well. Remember that you can access some links that may be of interest in the text version of this episode.

Here it is:

Text version:

There’s a lot of talk about “self-care.” The timing couldn’t be better. After two and a half years of a pandemic, people are mentally and emotionally exhausted. For some, COVID-19 has added insult to injury, compounding what they had been feeling before. Add to the mix the invasion of Ukraine, fear or uncertainty about the future, the frenzy of non-stop news cycles, and deep division about how and when to lessen restrictions and mandates, and the result is a populace gasping for some T.L.C.

That’s why it’s important to understand what self-care is — and what it isn’t. What a lot of people think of as self-care is actually self-comfort. They’re not the same. If you think you’re caring for yourself when you’re really just comforting yourself, you may be investing in a cheap knock-off that ends up giving you more grief than gain. If you want to be well, knowing the difference matters.

Self-care is engaging in practices that are truly restorative to mind, body, and spirit. Self-comfort on the other hand — sometimes called self-soothing — is different. It’s doing something that makes you feel good in the short term, but doesn’t fundamentally refresh you. Think binge-watching Netflix or gorging on your favourite snack or drink.

The true test of whether a practice is self-care is the outcome: does this activity — or lack of activity — provide genuine rejuvenation? Self-care will lower stress levels and give back energy, focus, productivity, and emotional reserves.

In contrast, many self-comfort activities don’t get you any further ahead. In fact, they sometimes have a kind of numbing effect. Think blissful avoidance. It’s not always bad to “zone out,” but you will continue to feel stuck or depleted if you think you’re going to a spring for a refreshing drink but are actually just sipping on bathwater.

Let’s get more specific. What does self-care look like? It’s a rhythm of healthy eating, getting enough sleep (at least seven hours per night for adults), and moving your body. Those are basic needs. There is also time in nature, journaling, making meaningful connections with others, creative and artistic pursuits, and also spiritual practices like prayer or mediation. Did someone say massage? At first you make your habits, and then your habits make you.

Therapy can also be an integral part of a self-care rhythm. It allows space for supported emotional processing and thoughtful reflection. Psychotherapy nurtures healthy neurochemical connections in the brain and can alleviate the effects of stress and trauma. Living well isn’t just about what you’re doing, but how you’re doing.

While there is definitely a place for self-comfort (who doesn’t need a few episodes of “Downton Abbey,” a sports-watching weekend, or a face full of Haagen-Dazs once in a while!) it is self-care that lifts you to victory.

Final thought: self-care isn’t just about you. You’re not the only person in your life who matters. A healthier, refreshed you is in a better position to support, strengthen, encourage and care for the people around you.


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