7 signs you’re not taking care of yourself

One thing’s for sure: life in the digital age doesn’t let up. Our lives are so fast-paced that we barely have the time to take a breath. 

Between zoom calls, deadlines, family commitments, cooking, keeping the house clean—not to mention endless errands—we’re lucky if we can squeeze in a couple of hours a week to go out with friends. 

It’s easy to lose ourselves in the chaos. The rat race makes it much too easy to let our health and well-being fall by the wayside. 

Maybe you’re so used to being on autopilot, that you might not even realize how much you’re avoiding your own needs. 

Here are seven signs you’re not taking care of yourself. 

1) You’re binging on Baskin Robbins, barbecue chips, and the like

Like a lot of people during the first part of the pandemic, I prided myself on being something of a domestic goddess. I was baking between zoom calls and cooking comforting curries for dinner. 

But a couple of months in, it became challenging to juggle my home jobs together with my actual job.  Ordering in or throwing a frozen pizza in the oven became a lot more tempting than making a pizza from scratch, for instance.  

When it came to snacks, sugar snuck up and turned into a staple: cookies and hot tea in the winter, ice cream in the summer. Let’s just say that Netflix nights nursed a lot of sugar.

Your regular food habits are a huge indication of how well you’re taking care of yourself

Poor eating habits can also include under or overeating, not having enough of the healthy foods we need every day, or consuming too many types of food and drink which are low-fiber or high-fat, salt or sugar. 

Poor nutrition can impair our daily health and wellbeing and reduce our ability to lead an enjoyable and active life, states the Government of South Australia website

“In the short term, poor nutrition can contribute to stress, tiredness and our capacity to work, and over time, it can contribute to the risk of developing some illnesses and other health problems such as:

“being overweight or obese, tooth decay, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease and stroke, Type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, some cancers, depression, and eating disorders.”

When it comes to food, forethought is key. This could be weekly meal and snack planning that are nutrient-dense and consist of enough protein, fruits, vegetables, and the right amount of carbohydrates. 

Fueling your body with the right food will help your system better fight off any stress and illness. 

2) Brain fog is becoming a burden 

This one could have a lot to do with the above. As we talked about, a less-than-par diet can definitely have you feeling “off.”

A deficiency in several nutrients could potentially contribute to brain fog, including vitamin D, vitamin B12, iron, and omega-3 fatty acids, according to registered dietitian and health writer, Rachael Ajmera. “Low levels of magnesium, vitamin C, and choline may also cause brain fog,” she says. 

Another big reason for brain fog is not getting enough sleep. So if you’re streaming HBO shows or scrolling social media when you should be getting some serious shut eye, you’re not doing yourself any favors. 

If you believe you’re getting enough sleep but think your brain fog might be related to getting older, don’t just chalk up forgetfulness to aging, says Martin G. Bloom, MD, a cardiologist and functional medicine expert. Brain fog can certainly be linked to poor sleep and stress but it can also be a sign of more serious issues such as a hormonal imbalance, for example. 

Make your health a priority and see your healthcare provider to rule out any potentially serious issues. 

Related: If you’ve stopped growing as a person, say goodbye to these 14 behaviors

3) Mood swings have become a thing 

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A lack of self-care can lead to increased irritability in adults, says James Killian who specializes in writing about personal growth, stress, and anxiety. 

“Even adults can have temper tantrums—and often do. [This is true] especially when they don’t feel heard, understood, and respected,” he says. “If you don’t feel this way during your interactions in your close relationships, this is a sure warning sign you need more self-care.”

It could also be a wise idea to take a look at any habits you have. Dependence on sugar, caffeine, cigarettes, and alcohol can certainly exacerbate your mood before you get to your next fix. 

Self-care is about working on your dependence to these kinds of habits.

Of course, if you suspect your mood swings could be from something more serious, call your doctor. 

4) You can’t quite exit out of that “empty” feeling 

Do you have an empty feeling in your chest that seems like it’s been there forever? Sometimes it feels like boredom, other times like melancholy? Sometimes it goes away, but it always returns?

For some people, taking care of others might come first. This could lead them to put their own needs aside for a long time. This, in turn, may lead to feeling empty.

While there could be a number of reasons you’re feeling this way, one could be not taking care of yourself.

“Abandoning yourself, not listening to your own hopes and desires, could make you feel empty,” says Kaitlyn Slight, a family therapist based in Durham, North Carolina.

Ideapod’s Justin Brown believes that tapping into your hopes and desires and actually living them in the present—as opposed to thinking of them as something you’ll figure out and live in some distant future—is the key to fulfillment. 

In this Purpose MasterClass, Justin shares the lesson he learned from shaman Rudá Iandê.

“Purpose isn’t something to be conceived of in the future,” Justin says. “Rather, our purpose has always existed inside us.

He’s discovered that our purpose isn’t something to “invent” but it’s actually something to “discover”.

“Purpose is found in our actions,” he says. 

“Not taking care of your needs can lead to anxiety, guilt, and shame. These symptoms might be what you call feeling empty,” adds Slight. 

Even if you feel like making others happy in turn makes you happy too, Slight stresses that even if this is the case, that it’s important to consider that supporting other people should not mean that you don’t support yourself. 

“Everyone needs support and care, including you. Often, when your needs are fulfilled, you become better equipped to help and support others, too,” says Slight. 

Slight points out that how much time you spend on social media might also affect how you feel and could fuel the feelings of emptiness.

“In many instances, accounts you follow on social media might portray a lifestyle that’s not realistic or a perfect life or appearance. This could lead you to compare yourself and inevitably underscore your life.”

Remember, what you see on social media is not reflective of the real story. It is a snapshot in time. 

Taking care of yourself could mean taking a break from social media and focusing on your own self care. During the process, you’ll find that there are many things in your life to be grateful for. 

5) Those luxurious locks of hair don’t feel so luxurious anymore 

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Does a lot of your hair seem to be going down the drain? Does brushing your hair out also result in a handful of runaway strands?

If you’re not taking care of both your body and mind properly, you may notice your hair is dry and brittle, shedding more or thinning, according to Tashara Lester, a dermatology nurse practitioner at U.S. Dermatology Partners in Carrollton, Texas. 

“If your shirt is covered in hair after you’re done styling, you’re clogging the drain on wash days or you’re experiencing hair loss, change the way you treat your body to step up your hair game.”

Your body gives you clues about what it needs. If you’re not paying attention, adds Vivian Jones, M.D., a family medicine physician at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Plano and Texas Health Physicians Group.

“If you’re too busy and not listening, you miss the opportunity to make changes that can improve your life,” she says.  “And that—being too busy to tune in to your body—is another sign you need to do better.”

Talk to your healthcare provider. They may recommend getting a blood test to rule out any underlying issues and point to nutrient deficiencies in your diet. 

If stress is the cause—something that certainly causes hair thinning and hair loss—a condition called alopecia—then you’ll definitely need to get treatment. 

Also find ways to de-stress. These could include getting massages, going for long walks and spending time in nature, hot baths, and of course, eating foods that combat stress. 

Self-care can also mean having boundaries and not stretching yourself too thin. Decline that invitation for a night in or refuse to pick up the phone after 8:00 pm. 

Related: If you really want to change your life, say goodbye to these 12 habits

6) You’re living in your own world

While it can be wonderful to have regular alone time, make sure you aren’t deliberately cutting yourself off from the world—especially those you love—either. 

“When you feel that you don’t deserve to care for yourself, you naturally feel unworthy of joy in other aspects of life, like socializing and a true connection to friends and family,” says Killian. 

This mindset can lead to detachment from others and a sense of isolation, he adds. 

For example, if you find yourself feeling lonely more often than not and going out of your way to avoid being with other people, this could be an indication that something isn’t right and you need to reevaluate things.

Psychologists say if you’re struggling with loneliness, that it might be a good idea to be proactive about it. You could schedule time each day to stay in touch with family, friends, and neighbors. This could be in person, via email and social media, or by telephone, text or FaceTime.  

When I went for long walks during the pandemic—something I hadn’t done in years—I met so many people along the neighborhood trails in my area. The regular routine allowed for some socialization and it did wonders for my emotional well-being during a very isolating time.

7) It’s gotta be five o’clock somewhere… 

If you’re having more than seven or eight drinks a week to unwind, celebrate, or console yourself after a rough day, it may be worth asking yourself if that chardonnay has become a crutch. 

Health experts say that relying on alcohol to relax could be a sign that you aren’t managing your stress very well. 

Try doing something in place of pouring yourself a glass of wine for a change. This could be taking a bath, going out for a walk, or sipping on some lemon grass (known for its soothing and calming properties) tea instead. 

Remember the seven pillars of self-care:

We’ve talked about seven signs that mean you aren’t taking care of yourself as well as you could be. 

Macy Burkett from the University of Kansas points to the seven pillars of self-care that are essential to living a well-balanced and nurturing life. 

These are: mental, emotional, physical, environmental, spiritual, recreational, and social. 

Mental well-being could involve things like journaling but also refraining from things such as too much social media and television.

Taking care of yourself emotionally could mean listening to music, working on your self-concept and self-love, creating boundaries, and asking for help when you need it. 

Physical well-being of course means getting adequate exercise, a healthy diet, and enough water—not to mention enough sleep. 

Environmental well-being could be making sure your office and living spaces are free from clutter, and appreciating nature through walks and hikes. 

Spiritual well-being could involve meditation and keeping company with those with whom you share a value system. Even being out in nature is considered spiritual. 

Recreational could mean travel, pursuing hobbies, and even taking the time to relax and doing, says Burkett. 

And finally, social well-being involves building relationships, connecting with friends and family, finding a support group, or even being part of an online community. 

Burkett emphasizes: “A well-balanced self-care routine involves each of these, so avoid restricting yourself to just one or two pillars.” 




Picture of Wendy Kaur

Wendy Kaur

Wendy Kaur is a Toronto-based journalist whose work has been published by The Globe & Mail, ELLE USA, ELLE Canada, British Vogue, Town & Country, and others.

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