What is self-care, and why should you well, care?
Back before the internet’s obsession with self-care, I would’ve called it pampering, or the more long winded ‘stopping to smell the roses’. But the analogy I think works best is ‘what would you do on a sick day?’
Because imagine for a moment, you’ve got a cold, a nasty virus, whatever. You’re staying home from work, and you suddenly have a whole day in front of you. Sure, you could do the dishes and the vacuuming and the million other chores which need to happen, but you don’t, right? You take care of yourself so you can get well again.
Self care is looking after yourself mentally and emotionally. It’s listening to what your body needs, what your mind needs, and then giving yourself those things. It’s about doing something to nourish yourself. And you don’t just do it when you’re sick. You do it whenever you can.
Self care is for everyone
You know how on the airplane safety video they say to put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others? Self care is like that too. You might be running yourself ragged dealing with your co-worker’s issues, and need some emotional space for yourself. You might be trying to do too many things in a day and find yourself feeling overwhelmed. There are hundreds of ways we push ourselves too far.
There’s a tendency to think ‘yeah, I’m stressed but it will pass’, or ‘it’s not that bad’. But you can help the stress pass faster with self care. You can energise yourself, you can give yourself some down time which makes things better, so why wouldn’t you?
Self care is whatever you need it to be
When you start reading about self care, you’ll see a lot of ‘essential’ lists. Some of these might have useful things for you in them, and some might have entries which if you were to do them, would just stress you out more. This is because self care is different for everyone.
Early on in my journey I was a devotee of Gala Darling, who preaches something called Radical Self Love. I’ve since fallen off the Gala bandwagon; as her brand developed and I became more of myself, we weren’t a match anymore. But I always think of her sad trombone list. It’s a catch all 100 entry list of things you can try which might make you feel better, and a lot of those were never going to work for me but I did find one or two which did.
The ‘guilty pleasure’ entry. One of the things I do to soothe myself during times of stress is watch Romantic Comedies. There’s a couple of reasons I like doing this: RomComs are formulaic, you know the basic story structure going in so there won’t be any jarring surprises or unpleasant twists. They always end happily ever after, which is comforting, and they feature pretty people in nice clothes and often fancy locations, so they’re just nice to look at.
Romantic Comedies certainly won’t work for everyone, and they also require the freedom to sit still (or lie on the couch with a blanket) for a couple of hours while you watch them. You need to find the things which will comfort you in the time available to you.
You should also take into account your own introvert vs extrovert tendencies. If you’re an introvert who’s been to a lot of busy, people filled events recently then some alone time will probably help. If you’re an extrovert who’s been alone or doing solo work, you may need a catch up with a close friend, or a rowdy dinner with a bunch of friends.
How do I find something that will work?
A very wise woman recently asked me “what grounds you?” and I didn’t immediately have a response. I’d not ever thought of things I do as grounding me. But she teased out the question some. Where have you gone where you can turn your mind off a little? When can you remember feeling calm and relaxed, what were you doing?
For me it was going for walks in my local park, or going to the beach and just staring at the ocean. The different environmental qualities there work for me. Parks with trees have a higher oxygen concentration, the ocean generates negative ions which physically make you feel better.
Another thing for me is sewing. I’ve been sewing since I was a kid and learned patchwork off my mother as a teenager, so it has a lot of positive associations for me. Sitting at the sewing machine and creating something new can put me into a flow state which is naturally relaxing.
Other not so obvious forms of self care I or people I know have used include:
- Video games ( console or mobile)
- Watching horror movies
- Road trips
- Going to a museum
- A long hot bath and early to bed
- Bundle up with a warm blanket and a book
- Cooking or baking
- Cycling slowly through a park
- Free writing
Think about a time you’ve been totally at peace, what were you doing? Can you do some version of that? If like me, you love the ocean, why not make a picture of the ocean the wallpaper on your desktop or cellphone, so you see it more often? If you like walks in the park, listen to some ambient bird and wind noises while you work.
Now go try something!
Remember there’s no right or wrong answers. Whatever makes you feel like you have a full drawer of spoons again, or fills your cup, or gives you some serenity is successful self care. I’d love to hear from you in the comments if you have any particular techniques which work for you.
Here’s some soothing links to help you on your journey: