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Are You Tending to Your Pain with Unhealthy Habits?

Courtney Carver spent many, many hours shopping and many, many dollars to relieve different types of pain—everything from the pain of boredom to the pain of fatigue to the pain of frustration to the pain of worry.

Her pain lingered, seeping into the everyday.

As she writes in her book, Soulful Simplicity: How Living with Less Can Lead to So Much More, “The pain wasn’t acute or based on one traumatic event, but instead it built slowly with every compromise I made, each time I said yes when I wanted to say no, every time I overcommitted, overspent, said ‘just a sec’ to my daughter and made her wait an hour, made my phone my priority, did things because I thought I was supposed to, and each time I tried to prove my worth to someone else by what I accomplished, owned, or said.”

Carver thought her body was telling her: Let’s go shopping. Let’s buy nice, new things. But really it was saying, “Please take care of me.” Please listen to me. Please tend to me with compassion and kindness. Please really tend to me. Please soothe me with something that genuinely soothes me, not something that prolongs the pain. Please be gentle and understanding and patient with me. 

Maybe your body is telling you the same—but you’re misinterpreting the signals, or you’re turning to unhealthy habits, simply because that’s been the default for years. You turn to several glasses of wine. You go out all the time. You work longer and longer hours and throw coffee down your throat. You, too, shop till you drop (or max out your credit cards).

In other words, you’re likely doing the best you can, hoping that the behaviors that once (sorta) soothed your pain will again. But these behaviors aren’t helping. They’re no longer serving or supporting you. Maybe they even sharpen the pain.

Thankfully, you can break the cycle by doing things differently. So the next time the pain arises, instead of wine, you take a walk. Instead of working more hours, you spend more time with loved ones. Instead of belittling your pain, you acknowledge it and journal about it. Instead of going out every night, and dismissing and numbing, you make an appointment with a therapist to talk about your struggles. Instead of spending money on something lavish or really spending any money at all, you watch a movie at home, you meditate, you create something, you come up with solutions for your problems. You give yourself permission to relax and unwind. You say ‘no’ to things that don’t matter to you, so you can say ‘yes’ to what does.

Today, Carver, who pens the blog Be More with Less, has replaced shopping with self-care. Today, when she’s feeling pain, she takes a walk; goes to yoga class; calls a friend; gets a massage; sleeps an extra hour; writes; meditates; and sends thank-you cards.

“Those simple things provide more motivation, energy, and love than shopping ever did,” she writes in Soulful Simplicity. She’s also removed a lot of stress and clutter from her life—debt, excess possessions, unsatisfying career, hustle and busyness—which has been especially vital since her multiple sclerosis diagnosis in 2006.

We experience pain in different ways because of different reasons. The pain of sadness or exhaustion or boredom. The pain of anxiety or anger.

The key in tending to our pain is to actually tend to it. That is, the key is to practice compassionate self-care. It’s to pause and listen to ourselves, to reconnect to ourselves, to identify exactly what we need so we can respond. It is being honest with ourselves. Because self-care doesn’t reside at the bottom of a wine glass. It doesn’t reside at the office, where you compromise your sleep and rarely rest. It doesn’t reside in running up your credit card.

Instead, self-care resides in respecting your emotions, in honoring yourself with habits that genuinely nurture and support you physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

What is your body telling you? What is your heart telling you? How can you respond with understanding, kindness and care?

Photo by Tanalee Youngblood on Unsplash.
Are You Tending to Your Pain with Unhealthy Habits?

Margarita Tartakovsky, MS

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APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2018). Are You Tending to Your Pain with Unhealthy Habits?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 23, 2018, from


Last updated: 10 Jan 2018
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 10 Jan 2018
Published on All rights reserved.