When is it self-care and when is just more buffering?

I recently joined Scholars and have chosen as my focus learning to feel and process my feelings. I’m also working on being more intentional around my scheduling habits.  Here’s my question: Is it possible that sometimes healthy activities which might seem like self-care could in fact be buffering?

Example – I love swimming and believe this is a positive healthy activity. Due to COVID, I can only go if I book in advance in 2 hour time slots.  This morning I was sitting with some painful feelings when I had to make the choice of whether to go swim, or miss the swim to stay with feelings.  I chose the swim for the following reasons: commitment to my schedule & health and the fact that I’d paid for it in advance.  I think I was also worried that if i didn’t pick the swim, I would use it as another thing to beat myself up for, i.e. ‘You are just wallowing in feelings and not taking care of your health’.

I had another thought that maybe the swim would make me feel better, although I did work with that thought and got to a thought that, “I will swim, as this is my commitment to me, regardless of how I might feel afterwards”.

Now: post-swim I’m still feeling the same strong, painful emotions and wondering whether it would have made more sense to just stay with the emotions in the first place and whether what felt like a ‘self-care’ activity was in fact just another way to put off processing emotion.

Situations like this present themselves to me multiple times per day where I could choose a healthy activity, i.e. swimming, making a nutritious meal, focusing on work, seeing a close friend etc. instead of just sitting alone with my feelings. I have massively cut down on my ‘unhealthy’ buffering e.g. smoking, over-eating, numbing out with TV, obligatory socializing etc and that feels great, but I am still not able to really feel, process and move through my emotions. Could it be because I am instead still avoiding them with ‘healthy’ actions, or is it important to keep these ‘self-care’ activities in the schedule and process somehow around these activities?

I have found so much really helpful and practical advice here re: feeling and processing feelings (this is something I’ve actually been working with for many years, but love the actual practical advice given here), but since joining 3 weeks ago, I don’t really feel that I have successfully processed any of the uncomfortable feelings that have revealed themselves through my daily thought downloads and Models.  I still seem to be ‘swimming’ around in painful feelings, rather than feeling/processing them and moving on.  I have been doing the Unintentional Models then working on staying with those painful feelings rather than jumping straight to the Intentional Models – this feels right for now, but wondering if I should be working harder at moving on to IM’s?

I would like my result to be ‘I learn to feel and process my emotions and am able to respond to the circumstances in my life with more ease’.