Self-Care vs Self-Soothing:
The Hijacking of Science by the Marketing Industry

           The term self-care is everywhere these days. It’s the headline on magazines, touted as the solution to tumultuous politics and economic struggles due to the pandemic. Unfortunately, on Internet sites self-care is naively defined as the act of caring for oneself through indulgence, relaxation, or simply unwinding from a long day. Bubble baths and meditation to the rescue!

           The behaviors advocated on the Internet are not self-care but self-soothing. Self-care is far more complex, involving behaviors that maintain health in addition to the routine monitoring of signs and symptoms and the management of symptoms when they occur. Self-soothing involve activities that provide distraction and comfort in difficult times. We human beings are masters of self-soothing, having learned how to self-soothe when we were newborns. Self-soothing is good for stress and anxiety but stress reduction is only one element of self-care. That is, self-care and self-soothing are not the same.

How did we get here? In October of 2020, ASD (Affordable Shopping Destination) noted that between 2019 and 2020, Google Search Trends showed a 250% increase in self-care related searches. This marketing group defines self-care as health and wellness behaviors performed to sustain a healthy life – not entirely wrong but definitely not a full description of self-care. ASD reported that in 2014, the self-care industry had an estimated value of $10 billion that has increased now to $450 billion in 2021. Nearly nine out of 10 Americans actively practice self-care, which is why the marketing industry has hijacked the science of self-care.
          What do we need to do about it? Use terms precisely. When you are talking about ways to deal with stress, the best term is “self-soothing”. When talking about self-care, think conceptually about the term (i.e., self-care maintenance, self-care monitoring, and self-care management). Clarify to anyone who will listen to you that self-soothing is a behavior specific to stress reduction, one of many specific and useful self-care maintenance behaviors.

          Maybe, just maybe, if we distinguish between self-soothing and self-care we’ll be able to recapture the science of self-care…