Self-care vs. self-indulgence: When is it okay to actually treat ourselves


Elle Love

Graphic by Mars Nevada/the Gateway

Self-care is very important for us to maintain good health and wellness while going through college, year after year. Tough assignments, tight deadlines and unexpected life events can push an average person to their breaking point.

Speaking from experience, it’s not easy for me to pull myself out of bed every morning after constantly pulling all-nighters to finish assignments that would have been easier to finish earlier with ample time.

During my all-nighters, I am always tempted to glance at my phone for Twitter and Facebook updates or watch random YouTube videos. Other times, I feel like taking a small nap before getting finished.

Taking breaks lessens the time I have to finish my assignments. I end up with two choices: not meeting the deadline and earning less points for a late turn in, even with a full-credit quality paper, or turning the assignment in with less effort than if I had used my time wisely.

I thought giving myself breaks in the middle of nearly completing what needed to be done was treating myself for doing tough work that felt draining to me.

However, true self-care is not the same as “me time” and has little to do with “treating ourselves,” according to The Fullest article, “Differentiating Self-Care From Self-Indulgence.”

“The true definition of self-care is along the lines of wellness more than self-indulgence because it means ‘I’m going to do the things I need to do to take care of myself’ which includes getting enough rest, eating healthy consistently and adding in some type of physical activity every day,” said Cheryl Campbell, UNO Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) licensed mental health practitioner.

“Self-involvement is based on ‘what could make me happy,’ and if you don’t put limits on it, it moves to ‘well, I will do everything that makes me happy’ because I should pay more attention to my want rather than what I need,” Campbell said. “That’s different than self-care.”

When we self-indulge, we obtain the object of our desire up front. Whether it’s really good cheesecake or a reckless splurge at a department store, self-indulgence enables us to experience a roller-coaster type thrill, according to the Psychology Today article, “From Self-Indulgence to Self-Nurturing.”

Indulgence is fine once and a while, but we should think about self-care as benefiting our long-term health and well-being, according to The Fullest article.

Our self-indulgent habits can have repercussions: These actions can directly injure important relationships; temporary fixes like alcohol or nicotine can damage our liver or lungs; binge-eating and poor food choices can develop into health issues like diabetes and heart disease; or the debts from shopping and gambling can become overdue and unpayable, according to the Psychology Today Article.

These are all the eventual “costs” of self-indulgence—where our desperate attempts to fill the empty voids in our lives create consequences we’ll regret.

“If our daily pursuits don’t allow us to express something deep within our personality, we end up feeling empty, depressed or deprived,” said Dr. Leon Seltzer of Psychology Today.

Campbell said temporary fixes should be an affirmation when one did what they needed to do. You will feel more relaxed without a cloud hovering over you that says there is still something left to do.

“It’s okay to take a nap. It’s okay to go out and celebrate, but it should be done after completing what you need to do,” Campbell said.

When I would take a break, I had a hard time sleeping because I thought about the assignments that I continued to push off until the last minute before the deadline. Spending more time on my “break” and trying to force myself to sleep made me more restless than I was before.

Campbell said students often underestimate the time they have to complete assignments.

“Many students pull an all-nighter every now and then. The issue is that it should not be a weekly habit,” Campbell said.

The lesson I learned was to plan my assignments ahead of time and get them done before they are due, making it was easier to do the things I enjoy.

Campbell said it’s better to get the thing out of the way so that it’s easy to enjoy fun activities. “Why not come up with a realistic plan to reduce procrastination and reward yourself for it?” Campbell said.

Self-care is not an excuse to do what we want to do, rather it is a decision to do what we need to do, making a choice that will benefit us in the long run. Campbell explained self-care should include what works for you.

“What works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for the other,” Campbell said.

Self-care is a regular investment in our wellness and overall being. There is always a time to “treat yourself,” but we should focus on creating habits that can benefit our overall health and wellness.