The High Cost of the "Treat Yourself" Mindset

By Sarah Winfrey on 5 May 2016 0 comments

Are you stressed? Tired? Depressed? Is daily life getting you down? Maybe you need a treat!

Except that treating yourself can be expensive, and it doesn't actually make anything better. We are trained to believe that it will, though, and that the money we spend is justified in the name of self-care.

Just recently, my family went through a very stressful time with my husband's job. Since he makes the majority of our income right now, that was hard on me, too. As we processed the situation and dealt with the stress, I found myself spending money. I'm a pretty frugal person, so it wasn't anything obscene, just a $20 workout top here and a lunch out with the kids there.

Over the course of a month, though, it added up, and I realized what was happening. I was buying these things to make myself feel better or to try and make my life easier, but they weren't helping because they didn't actually address the stressful situation. I had fallen prey to the "treat yo self" mindset (made famous by Donna Meagle from Parks and Recreation), like up to a third of all Americans, especially women, do when they're stressed out.

Fortunately, I caught myself before I did us any real financial damage, and I was able to stop. But that whole situation made me think about spending money on self-care and what it has come to mean for us.

Self-Care Can Be Pricey

Self-care can cost us quite a bit of money. Many people don't even realize that they are spending to soothe themselves until they get a credit card bill and, by then, the damage has already been done! Even folks who really don't have extra money to spend get sucked in by advertising messages and other spending pressures that permeate our culture, and make poor financial decisions in the name of alleviating stress and pressure, even just for a little bit.

However, the costs of treating ourselves when distressed go beyond the financial. Too often, we end up confusing self-care with coping. Coping isn't always a bad thing, and we need coping strategies to get through really bad times, but they aren't something that should stay around. They aren't something that we normally think of as good.

When we let ourselves continually care for ourselves with coping strategies — like spending a lot of money on ourselves — we never learn to actually address and overcome our problems. We risk not being aware of our own feelings, and numbing ourselves rather than telling ourselves the truth and dealing with that truth. And I don't think that's what we set out to do.

Interested in addressing your stress without excessive spending? Here are some strategies I've found helpful.

Pursue True Self-Care

The idea that we need to take care of ourselves is actually true, but that doesn't need to involve spending lots of money. Instead, when in stressful situations, we need to focus on a few key things.

First, look to your diet, exercise, and sleep. It's hard to be disciplined about these things when facing major stressors, but addressing them will help you stay strong and avoid adding personal illness to your list of difficulties.

You don't have to do anything hugely out of the ordinary here. Make sure that you are eating vegetables and not filling up on sugar or other processed junk foods. Even if you have to eat out a lot, some choices are better than others. And take a walk every day. Even 20 or 30 minutes of exercise can change your whole mindset. Finally, do whatever you can to get at least seven hours of sleep. Even if you get by on less than that normally, being stressed usually means you need more sleep than usual.

When you're under stress, you probably won't be able to be consistent with all of these, all the time. Still, making them priorities will help you focus on them when you can and hit your goals more than you would otherwise.

Pick and Choose Your Treats

It's not always a bad idea to spend money on something when you're under stress, as long as that thing will truly make you feel better. If you can get intentional about your treats and know which of your needs they are meeting, you won't feel like you need so many.

For instance, a bright pedicure might actually make you feel better in a dreary hospital room. Or a steak dinner might be just what you need after living a couple of weeks on convenience food in order to hit a big deadline. Paying someone else to clean your house might actually relieve some of your stress if you are injured and can't do it yourself.

But pick one or two things to spend your money on, rather than choosing everything that comes to mind. And know, ahead of time, why you're spending your money in that particular way by listing, out loud or on paper, which need you're addressing. This can help you focus on buying essential things, or at least things that will actually help, rather than spending willy-nilly.

Focus on People

Many times, when we are in stressful situations, what we really want is for someone to hear us, to listen to us talk about the situation, and sit with us in it. That can be hard to find, especially if you are under stress away from home or your family and/or close friends are involved in the stress, too.

If you can, call that person up. Ask them for a coffee date, or even just a few minutes on the phone, and be yourself. Pour your heart out if you need to. This will make you feel better than any purchase you could possibly make, and it will lighten the load you're bearing so you may no longer feel the need to purchase anything at all.

How do you deal with stress? How effective are your strategies? Share with us in the comments!

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