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Question – do you look after yourself?
Most people will say yes – of course I do. What a bizarre question? What has that got to do with self-care?
Next question – how do you look after yourself?
That is a question that is harder. It takes thought. You start to think…erm…well…I did this one time…and our mind usually reverts to something like “well last Friday I had a trip to the spa and then I watched 18 hours of Netflix in a row while consuming the entirety of the junk food aisle”. Whilst that sounds like an evening I would partake in most definitely when I needed a good treat, it isn’t looking after our mental well-being if that activity becomes the norm.
Self-care is not what we see online…
If you look up #selfcare on Instagram or self-care on Pinterest, you would be forgiven for thinking that all we need to do to take care of ourselves is fill a bath full of bubbles, make a green tea, and read a magazine…all the while photographing the moment, sharing it with the world, hashtagging it with self-care and if you are really on the ball, tag the brand so they know you are using them. It’s a world gone mad when we think that taking care of ourselves daily is something so beautiful it must be photographed, or so saleable it must be commercialised into oblivion.
I am ALL about us taking indulgent time for ourselves to do just what I described, and advertise all you want, because fair play to you for trying to earn money on your own terms. However, the belief that this is what equates to self-care is sad and I believe dangerous to our mental wellbeing.
So, I will ask you to think again – how do you look after yourself?
Self-care is not what we perceive to be beautiful. It is brushing your teeth, changing your socks, asking for help for your debt, turning your phone off so you get some sleep, changing your sheets, remembering to breathe. Not what we usually see on social media. But the thing is, those lists we see on Pinterest, those stories and photos we see on Instagram…they are a band-aid for the actual things we need to deal with every single day. They are a distraction, a way to justify a break to ourselves from our lives that have us so exhausted from trying to have it all.
Self-care is ultimately about taking back control of your life from many different things. The things you try to distract yourself from. It is about letting you be you. It really is okay when things go wrong, when your house is a mess, when your kids are noisy, when you don’t have time to go to the gym or post your latest picture online. Social media and #selfcare can really add pressure to our lives, even unconsciously to live in a certain way and have a certain thing and look after ourselves in a certain way. How many times do we watch someone’s stories or like a photograph of a corner of their desk and think “I wish I had that” or “I wish I looked like that” or “I wish my life was like theirs”?
The things we don’t talk about…
The development of advertising online particularly through influencers who are much more connected to our daily lives, has ultimately commercialised self-care acts into a picture that ignores the less pretty elements, the things we don’t talk about. It is another thing we compete in. Another thing we pressurise ourselves over. Another thing that others judge us on and we measure ourselves against. Treating ourselves is normal, is encouraged and is a way to enjoy our lives, but if we truly want to practice self-care and look after ourselves, we need to prioritise our day-to-day mental wellbeing, physical wellbeing, and the things that aren’t “insta-worthy”.
Stop trying to fix or change ourselves and start to look after ourselves properly. Self-care can’t be purchased or done once a week from a Pinterest list. That is treating yourself. Self-care is what we do every single day to be a functional human. Because of the pressures we see online, we tend to forget to check with ourselves if those things we are doing for self-care are actually making us feel good…which seems so simple when we talk about it, but it is hard when we are surrounded constantly by a capitalistic sense of what self-care means.
There is no standard for self-care
It is individual and only we know what makes each of us feel good or how we need to look after ourselves. If we try too hard to add in things to our lives that just aren’t for us, we can make worse the very problems we are trying to solve in our lives through practising true self-care. Can you imagine during a period of anxiety, having to worry about going to a fitness class that you don’t want to do to? Or having a bath with a bath bomb when you don’t like baths, or bath bombs…or don’t have a bath…? Just because the Internet told you to? It would make anxiety worse!
Each of us knows what makes us feel better, and what we feel we need mentally and physically – it is the conscious decision to do those things daily, to make them an integrative part of our lives that is the difficult but most important part. Not adding things into our lives that stress us out. The intention we bring to each boring action we do daily as we try to function – That is self-care. We need to feel comfortable doing the boring things, the painful things, the difficult things that will be beneficial for our mental and physical wellbeing…and then learn to love treating ourselves to the occasional Netflix binge.
Every day is different for self-care
Self-care is also different every day, and it might even change during the day! We are humans. Not robots. Whilst I do think routines are great, some days we just do not fancy doing the things we had planned, and some days things happen that change what we need to do to take care of ourselves. Learning to accept that self-care is boring, is ugly, is difficult, and may change will help ease some of the pressures we feel around it. It shouldn’t be another worry.
#Selfcare can be useful!
I have said that each of us knows what we need to do to look after ourselves, but sometimes that can be a more general feeling rather than knowing a specific action to take. This is where I think that some lists and some #selfcare can be useful. If we are feeling lethargic every day, or we have this sense that we would feel better if we did some exercise…but we don’t know what to do. Pinterest or Instagram can be a place of inspiration for those ideas.
Not everyone will have had access to Yoga, or indeed felt comfortable going to a class. Not everyone will have tried aromatherapy or reflexology. Nor will everyone have gone for a run outdoors. Not everyone will have tried mindfulness breathing techniques. Not everyone will have tried adult colouring in. It is these actions that are meeting our needs for daily self-care such as movement, nutrition, stress relief etc. We can get ideas, but we must first accept and know that self-care isn’t just doing these things especially if they aren’t working for us. It is the intention of meeting one of our needs that we have acknowledged requires some attention and trying to work on it when we can – that is self-care, and it should feel natural, without pressure and be a positive thing in our lives.
How do I get started?
The only challenge I would leave with each of you, is to sit down and answer that question – how do I look after myself?