Self-care has been thrown around so much in the last few years that many of us are sick of hearing about it. To you, the phrase might invoke images of motivational quotes by Anon and bath bombs. It has become quite the catch phrase of (what some might think of as) nothing more than eye-roll-worthy, millennial self-indulgence.
The buzzword version of this essential aspect of our lives is not only irritating, it’s damaging. I do think we might just about have reached the tipping point, where people have become so sick of this cliché that we are now more likely to show, argue for and talk about the real, and vital subject that self-care actually is. It’s time to reclaim self-care. It’s very important that these superficial associations are discarded, and replaced with psycho-education, and an awareness of what self-care as part of a healthy lifestyle and why it really, really matters.
So what is self-care?
Self-care is essential to maintaining a healthy relationship with ourselves. It is the act of taking care of ourselves - physically, emotionally and mentally. At its most basic it is: eating well, sleeping enough, and keeping ourselves clean. Beyond this, self-care will vary greatly from person to person. This could be physical activity, creative pursuits, mindfulness, socialising, actively not socialising, making a timetable/spreadsheet, writing lists or forcing yourself to go for a run that you know will make you feel better but is the last thing you want to do right now.
Self-reflection and self-awareness are key components to self-care. We have to get to know ourselves in order to know how we should be going about self-care. Is running what resets us after a mental health slump, or are we more of a meditation person? Do we need to find a way to be creative again, or do we need to write an incredibly detailed to-do list? Know yourself. Advice is only so useful here, because self-care is so very personal and highly, highly individualised (that being said, the three basics of eating, sleeping, and keeping clean are pretty much universal).
The main thing that will help you to know whether you are on top of your self-care game apart from self-reflection and self-awareness is compassion. Treat yourself with the same compassion as you would treat others. If you know going for a run would make you feel better but you didn’t manage to drag yourself off the sofa all day, that’s ok. Don’t berate yourself - that is not self-care. Accept this is just how today is going. Try again tomorrow. It will be completely counterproductive to indulge your inner critic in a self-loathing session. Be kind to yourself. You’re also much more likely to be able to muster up the motivation to move tomorrow, if you’re kind to yourself today.
Mental illness, and in particularly, depression, makes us feel completely unworthy. The regular practice of self-care takes depression’s power away and empowers us instead. It proves that you are worthy, and that you and your needs are important too.
So why isn’t everyone already doing it then?
Change is uncomfortable, sometimes even if it is unquestionably good change it can make us, and even those around us uncomfortable.
It is not self-indulgent. It is essential. But it’s also not always easy - it isn’t a matter of eating some chocolate, having a bath and self-worth magically appearing. Sometimes it’s not pretty, it can be a boring task we put off even though we know it’s what we really need. It takes practice, it’s a skill and a lifestyle that we need to hone and maintain.
Keep reflecting: figure out what self-care means for you.
For example, if you’re lonely, arrange a weekly dinner or phone call with a friend you wish you saw more of. Stay away from toxic friends that you always seem to come away from feeling worse. Get to know yourself. Journaling is a great way to start the process, and is itself an incredible self-care tool. Not into journaling and totally new to any form of self-care/introspection? Start by getting comfortable sitting with your own thoughts, just a few minutes in silence - how does that feel?
It is important to note that I have nothing against baths, or a good bath bomb! My intention is only to address the apparent misconception that baths, chocolate and motivational quotes are compulsory self-care components.
Whatever self-care looks like to you, start there. And keep practising. If you do, you’ll develop a lifestyle that you chose, you protect and you can always fall back on.