Over the past few years, self-care has shifted from expensive, instant-satisfaction indulgences such as manicures and massages toward consistently nourishing pursuits such as prioritizing sleep, developing a regular meditation practice, and spending time with loved ones. It’s an evolution, driven by a much-needed awareness for better mental health, that makes self-care more accessible and, as a breadth of research suggests, supports true, long-term well-being.
But even as outdated notions of self-care fade from our social media feeds, a new trend is cropping up: #selfhealers. Its followers posit that Western medicine isn’t the holy grail of healing, that an individual — as opposed to a physician, therapist, or health practitioner —already has the tools within themselves to recover from unhealed trauma, unhealthy relationships, mental health conditions such as anxiety, and even genetic diseases.
In pastel Instagram quotes adorned with inspiring captions (some examples: “Let shit go,” “Repeat positive affirmations,” and “Identify emotions”), the notion feels encouraging. Similarly promising is the advice of self-healers to find relief through tools such as shadow work (exploring the negative emotions and impulses of the self), Reiki and acupuncture (both of which can be used to treat mental as well as physical health), diet, yoga, Ayurveda, and unlearning codependency patterns. After all, there is plenty of evidence that many of these practices can improve mental wellness and overall well-being.
The potential dangers: The self-healing movement is vague and involves a defiance of research-backed science, medicine, and Western treatments that have been proven helpful to many people. Any message that discourages people from feeling like they can include treatments that could help them has the potential to do harm, says Nancy Zucker, PhD, an associate professor of psychiatry and director of the Center for Eating Disorders at Duke University.
For example, if someone is suffering from anxiety and depression and feels that their current psychiatrist or medication isn’t working for them, they might interpret social media self-healing messages as needing to eschew psychiatry or medication altogether, instead of switching providers or drugs and combining those therapies with other self-care practices such as exercise and meditation.
Health care isn’t black or white and sometimes multiple approaches are needed. But every option should be on the table when you’re trying to work your way back to feeling balanced and whole, as we are in yoga, says Rebecca Butler, a yoga instructor in Fort Worth, Texas.
THE APPEAL OF DIY HEALING
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