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“Just do some self care!” is advice you might hear a lot, but we would never give – and here’s why. There are so many misconceptions about self care. In the US, we so often glorify busy-ness and it can be hard to fit in something we perceive as self-indulgent to that schedule. Self care can be viewed as selfish – as if the time should be used on something more productive or worthwhile or focused on someone else. Plus, as self care has been commoditized by the wellness industry, it has received a reputation for being both luxury, expensive, and woo-woo.
What is traditionally a medical and mental health concept, self care is now a $4.5 trillion worldwide “wellness economy,” according to the Global Wellness Institute. The industry promises fulfillment and mental happiness through the purchase of products and experiences that promote “self care.” The idea that you can and should buy happiness can keep so many from seeking the mental healthcare they need – but that’s a post for another day.
Today, we’re going to talk about self care: what it is, why it’s important, and how to identify what you need to be the most productive, effective and authentic version of yourself.
- Self care is unique – there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Think of self care as the foundation of your life. When you have a strongly built foundation, it’s easier to build upon and reach new heights. When your foundation is rocky, you spend a lot of time filling in cracks and attempting to keep things stable instead of growing. What you need to maintain a strong foundation is unique to you. This is why the first step to effective self care is identifying what you need.
What helps you set yourself up for success? Maybe you have a more productive week when you clean and put away your laundry during the weekend. Perhaps it’s easier for you to eat regularly if meals and snacks are pre-made for the week. Cleaning or grocery shopping can be key self care for people who are prone to always hustling. If you struggle to be in touch with your feelings, sitting still and letting yourself feel can be a powerful way to care for yourself. Your self care could be moving your body in a way that feels good and it also could be NOT exercising if you are prone to over-exercising or using it as a symptom of your mental illness. Consider: what makes me feel like the best version of yourself, or, what allows me to have an easier day/week? These are the things that are key to your self care plan. It can be as simple as eating regularly and as complex as setting boundaries. Generally, none of these should need to be purchased.
- Self care often doesn’t feel good. Quite often, the thing you need to do is not what you want to do. Let’s say you have a lot going on, feel frenetic, and are struggling to focus. Stopping to take some deep breaths, journal, meditate, or feel your feelings can release some of that and help you tune into what’s going on. That said, one of the LAST things you probably want to do is stop and think. Or, perhaps taking a break from your schedule and eating lunch might seem impossible, but it’s worth it. You’ll get the nutrients you need to have energy and creative thinking for the next stage of your day. Doing the thing that you need can be difficult, but it’s always worthwhile.
If your self care routine feels good and rewarding every single time you’re doing it, it may not be right. In fact, sometimes the “self care” activities that feel good in the moment can actually be perpetuating negative patterns. Sometimes a tv show is self care. Sometimes that same activity is actually numbing. Part of your job is to know what role the activity is fulfilling and making different choices when it’s not doing something beneficial for you.
- Self care is for everyone. The concept of self care that we see on Instagram ads can be polarizing, we get it. Authentic self care, however, shouldn’t be. Self care is a strategy every person can use to help you to better reach your goals and be the most functioning and healthy version of yourself. Think about the people you admire, or those who seem like they have it together. Odds are, they are actively doing self care. They might not thank their self care routine when accepting an award or talking about how they got where they are now, but it definitely helped. It is so much easier to reach your goals when you are working from a strong foundation. Identify your needs, make the commitment to filling them, and see what happens. The outcome can be quite powerful and it will absolutely make your day-to-day experience better.
- Make the commitment. One of the best things about being a human is that you are in control. You can decide how you live and the types of care you give yourself (and others). This is why making the commitment to self care and understanding what that looks like for you is key. That said, not doing it can initially, feel easier. For example, if you are busy and skip lunch, it might feel easier in the moment – you won’t have to stop whatever you’re doing. However, your brain will be working much more inefficiently by the end of the day and it will probably be more difficult to do all you want to do. Whereas if you stop, even though you don’t want to!, and give yourself the nutrients your body needs, you will be able to do strong, thoughtful work all day long. Making time and committing to your self care is critical to success. Pick the things, reflect on how they help you, and assess how your process is going. It’s a life-long journey.
Once you’ve identified your requirements for self care and begun to integrate these choices and activities, are you set for the rest of your life? No. What you need will shift as your life shifts. What works one year may not the next, and depending on your level of stress and circumstances, you may need something different entirely. For many of us, taking care of ourselves looks very different and requires more attention and mental energy during a pandemic. That doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong – it means you’re growing.
Doing the work to understand yourself, create the circumstances to thrive, and to prioritize yourself in an authentic way is one of the most fulfilling and beneficial things you can do for yourself. It’s also one of the more difficult things you can do! But while it’s tough, it’s absolutely beneficial. If you’re not sure where to get started, start brainstorming – what stresses you? What makes you feel better? Then start doing the things that move you further toward balance than dysregulation. Or, reach out. We’re here to help.