What is the term Self Care?
I don’t know when the term self-care became so popular, because I’m usually at least five years late to the internet (I’m still not sure what a meme is), but it’s one of those funny ones that has stuck. I still see regular posts with self-care tips, self-care guides, self-care ‘listicles’ etc. I always found that these guides on how to look after yourself were incredibly alienating. Can I only care for myself if I have my own zen garden, reading nook, and an endless supply of herbal tea and bubble bath? I love tea and baths as much as the next person, but I can’t help feeling like all these articles are meant for someone else.
So here are a few things about self-care that I have come up with for myself.
It’s not what I do, but how I do it
Self-care guides almost always include a list of generic relaxing activities, but one could have all the whale song in the world and still not be taking time for oneself. Whatever I am doing, it’s about committing to it, and thinking, “I am caring for myself, I am worthy of this care”. Ideally, all time not spent in the service of others would be “self-care” time, but for a lot of us, we have to make a deliberate and conscious effort to do something just for ourselves. I think people use activities for self-care because they are a good distraction and a good way to define the time you spend on yourself. Whatever I choose to do, I think to myself, “this is for me, and I am allowed to enjoy it”.
It takes practice.
Self-care is a state of mind and a skill that doesn’t come naturally to everyone. For those of us not used to being kind to ourselves, it can take a long time to master this mentality; my attempts are frequently plagued with thoughts of “but there are so many things to worry about!!”.
I am teaching my brain a new mode to be in, a quiet mode beyond that layer of anxiety, where I can check in with my mind and body and tell myself, “it’s okay”.
And like anything, regular dedicated practice will help make the journey into this place feel more familiar and less daunting. It is okay to feel like I’m not doing a great job sometimes, and this doesn’t mean I should stop trying. Sometimes it’s not what I do, but what I don’t do. Those self-care guides seemed to dictate that self-care can only happen with a valid activity. I find this quite a limiting perspective. I might want a delicious cup of tea, or an afternoon shouting at the rugby on the TV. Or I might want (or be able) to do absolutely nothing at all. It’s about getting away from those worries and responsibilities that take me away from myself. Self-care could be choosing not to think about a particular concern for a while, it could be switching off my phone, and it could be asking someone else to handle a difficult task for me.
Activities can bring us joy and symbolize the kindness we need to show ourselves, but I know I don’t have to engage in the ‘right’ activity to practice self-care.
Self-care can be indulgent; it can be about allowing myself those treats I don’t get every day. But it’s important that whatever I do, it’s something that is healthy for me, and only I can make that assessment. I have a chronic illness that requires me to be careful at all times about what I put my body through. But sometimes I will treat myself to a gentle walk to the local plant shop, despite the exertion, because it brings me so much joy. I don’t do anything to put my life in danger and I’m careful not to encourage bad habits, but I allow myself to worry a little less about being sensible. It’s in the name: self
No one else’s idea of what is enjoyable or relaxing should dictate what I do for myself.
Self-care is personal, and it’s different for each of us. Your self-care is not my self-care, but neither of us is doing it wrong. Sometimes I fear the culture of “self-care” discourages us from caring for each other, but I hope there is a balance of both. Kindness and validation don’t have to come from outside sources, they can come from within. You deserve to feel good. You deserve to not worry for a while. You deserve not to concentrate on your pain every moment of the day. You deserve to be happy. And to believe that, and to act on it, is all that I think self-care really is.