It’s everywhere, plastered across social media, billboards, books and every other aspect of our lives. Despite its widespread appearance, it still remains hopelessly complex and unattainable. The phenomenon is this so called “self-care.”
Self-care has become a topic of conversation amongst people from all walks of life as we all struggle to keep up in the fast-paced environment that has become American society. A sense of guilt often follows these periods of self-care and people are left cringing as they consider everything that could have gotten done in the hour they spent relaxing. However, self-care isn’t all about face masks and Lush bubble bars, it doesn’t have to look like big chunks out of the day to do nothing, and it definitely should not come with a sense of guilt.
Self-care can manifest itself in the simplest of ways, in the intermediary moments of life, and in the everyday routine. Self-awareness author Brianna Wiest describes it as “parenting yourself and making choices for your long-term wellness,” in an interview with Thought Catalog. In its simplest sense, self-care truly is a game of choices rather than a trendy picture on social media. Stepping away from this mentality and towards one that is based in individual moments and choices allows us to also step away from this sense of guilt.
Take Smaller Increments of Time
One of the issues that comes with the social media idea of the “self-care night” complete with candles, a self-help book, and a bubble bath, is the idea that self-care has to take several hours. This leads people to either disengage from the idea entirely or to feel guilty taking that much time out of their day when it could have been spent more productively. However, seeing self-care as five, ten, or fifteen-minute increments of time that can be used as needed throughout the day to boost morale combats this. This can look like taking five minutes between one task and the next to turn on a TV show and eat a meal. While the choice could have been to continue working while eating, or even worse, to skip the meal entirely, taking that little bit of time allows for a mental break and a way to relax between responsibilities. These choices can also take shape in the transitions of our day, the moments we often brush away as simply trying to get from one place to the next. There is a choice between taking the crowded bus that never arrives on schedule just to get some extra reading done, or walking through the quaint neighborhoods and parks and arriving at the same time. Almost like the healthier version of an espresso shot, these spurts of self-care can clear the mind and provide energy throughout the day.
Be Attentive to Yourself
“There is a pervasive cultural pressure to keep pushing ourselves, to ignore the physical needs of our bodies and the emotional needs of our souls,” writes physician Monique Tello for the Harvard Health Blog, “which invariably leads to chronic stress, burnout, depression.” In other words, there is pressure to not listen to our bodies, which is critical in seeing self-care as a choice. Much the same way a doctor isn’t going to treat an illness the same way across all his patients, every day is different in terms of self-care. Of course, everyone settles into a daily or weekly routine, but it once again comes down to making choices within that routine that fit specific needs for different days. Some days it might mean that daily walk is used to call a friend or a parent and enjoy another’s company, while on a different day the same daily walk could be used to spend time alone and enjoy the quiet in the scenery. It might mean the difference between a spontaneous Friday night with friends one week and a quiet night in the next. It all comes down to listening to yourself when the world around you is loud and bustling, and figuring out what it is exactly that your body and mind need in that moment, whether it’s quiet, company, contemplation or something else entirely.
Hearing people say that their professional or academic life is their number one priority is not uncommon in today’s society, but this disparity between personal and professional priorities is part of what leads to the pressure that Tello describes. When work becomes the number one priority there is always going to be more to get done, always something more to improve on. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it is important to also place relationships at the same level of importance. Even though career advances can be permanent and life-changing, so can the relationships around us. Placing the same value in a relationship with yourself or a relationship with another that a professional achievement would have serves as a reminder of everything that exists outside of that sphere, and the sense of identity that often arises from that. This might mean staying up a little later to finish an assignment because a last-minute opportunity arose, or a conversation with a friend ran long. Ultimately, these relationships, including one with yourself, are much longer-lasting than the one individual assignment or task that just needs to get finished. While that doesn’t mean we should blow off all of our responsibilities, it does mean that they should hold the same weight and value as relationships.
“Self-care is often a very unbeautiful thing,” says Wiest, as she rattles off the list of unsavory tasks that she has come to deem self-care, “it is making the choice to build a life you don’t need to regularly escape from.” Ultimately, self-care comes down to a battle between choices. It isn’t the picture perfect night or the high-end face mask, it’s the choices that we make every day.