How To Tell if Your Self-Care Practice Is Really a Pseudo-Regulator

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Self care looks different for different people. “For one person, taking a bath may give them the opportunity to be present and to show care toward their body, and for another, looking at their body in the bath may prompt self-criticism, or they may stress about all the things they could be doing instead,” says licensed marriage and family therapist, Saba Harouni Lurie, LMFT. Likewise, seeing friends and family could bring joy for some, while it could be painful for others. It all comes down to whether the activities in question are functioning as self care or pseudo-regulators.

First time hearing the term pseudo-regulator? “[They’re] habits that we develop to help us deal with the stressors in our lives,” psychologist Cicely Horsham-Brathwaite, PhD, explained recently in an Instagram post. “They’re also meant to help us cope with emotions and needs that have gone unmet. The thing with pseudo-regulators is that they rarely help us feel better. What they do often is make the problem worse because the need that we have isn’t actually being met. That need could be a desire to be nurtured, a desire to rest, a desire to feed ourselves in a way that feels good for our bodies.”

Mistaking pseudo-regulators for self-care practices is more common than you may think. “Many times we fall into habits that may feel good in the moment, but ultimately are self-sabotaging behaviors that affect your physical, mental, and emotional health in the long run,” says Kruti Quazi, LPC, licensed therapist and clinical director of Sesh. Examples of this could be retail therapy that’s gone awry, habitually decompressing with a glass or two of wine at the end of the day, over exercising, or going to extremes, in either direction, with your diet and nutrition. It’s just a matter of knowing which activities are pseudo-regulators.

Experts In This Article

Once you’re aware, the next step is replacing them with a healthier self-care behavior that can address the underlying desire that’s not being met, according to Dr. Horsham-Brathwaite. She also notes that all—or at least many of us—have pseudo regulators, so you’re def not alone if this is resonating with you.

“Many of the things I suggest around self care seem so simple,” she says. “I want to assure you though that they are based in research about what helps people to be well, what helps people to take care of themselves, to feed their bodies, their minds—and to support their emotions.”

Journaling your feelings, meditating, practicing breathwork, spending time with people you enjoy and feel connected to, volunteering, and moving your body in ways that feel good to you are the self-care practices Dr. Horsham-Brathwaite suggests swapping in for your pseudo-regulators.

If you’re not sure whether any of your current self-care practices are pseudo-regulators in disguise, try keeping a log for a few days or weeks. Write down what you’re doing for self care and how you felt afterward. If it’s not ultimately helping to support your well-being, perhaps it’s time to swap it out for a new practice. It’s also a good idea to evaluate your self-care habits on a regular basis because some activities can be helpful at some points in your life, but not forever.

“What may be a beneficial self-care activity on one day, or in one moment, may not work the next—we may need different types of care at different times in our lives, and it's useful to consider the purpose of our self-care activities and how they leave us feeling afterwards,” says Harouni Lurie.

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