Why is self-care such a powerful and radical notion? And how does it work to make us better?
This was the question I asked myself when I took a mental health day from work. I’d been feeling exhausted, unmotivated, I had a cold, and I was just down.
I’d lied to my boss and told him I had a cold because I felt like taking a day off just to look after myself generally would be frowned upon.
I spent the day drinking hot tea, making healthy meals for the days ahead, and organizing the bedroom. I came back to work rested, rejuvenated and much more ready to take on my workload.
What is self-care?
At its base, it’s simple. Self care is any kind of activity we do to look after and prioritize ourselves.
Often self-care is interpreted to mean an elaborate seventeen-step skincare routine, which it can be. But the concept goes beyond just bath bombs and tea-time rituals.
It means if we need to take time out, take time off, take ourselves offline to get away from the stress of the outside world, we do. And in an age where everyone and everything is accessible 24/7, that is a very radical notion.
Self care is both a very old and a very new concept.
People have been using self-care rituals for millennia. For example, take the traditional Hindi practice of Ayurveda, which is the oldest known healing system and which definitely falls under the umbrella of self-care.
But the newest kind of self care, popularised by bath bombs, skincare routines, and coffee-and-cake meetings with friends, was triggered in part by the results and online fallout of the 2016 elections.
As people found their normal routines upset, their minds filled with nonstop negative news cycles, they unplugged. They became more mindful about their media consumption.
Slowly, we realized that we needed to make time to reconnect with our support networks and to touch base within ourselves. We needed to stop simply absorbing and mindlessly reacting, and slow down.
“Self-care is any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health.” — Raphailia Michael, Counselling Psychologist
Why should you practice self-care?
Many people confuse the habit of self-care with one of indulgence.
This is not helped by the current marketing message that any kind of break or treat is something we need to pay for in some way.
Self-care is necessary. It’s an act of kindness towards your body and mind that refuels you in some way.
If you Google “self-care,” you will run into many websites and articles which promise that you are just one bubble bath away from achieving your perfect life — and want to charge you through the nose for the pleasure.
If you look at some of the terminology associated with habits and rituals being sold to help you look after yourself, a lot of it is negative.
Why is any deviation from a Spartan lifestyle described as a selfish indulgence?
In fact, self-care is necessary. It’s an act of kindness towards your body and mind that refuels you in some way.
For example, if you work at a retail shop all day and then are asked to go out to a big party, you might not feel up to it. You’ve been “switched on” all day, performing happiness for your customers. You stay home instead, choosing to take time to cook a healthy meal, watch a crappy Netflix movie, and play with your cats.
That’s self-care — relaxing your mind, refueling your body and prioritizing yourself over your social obligations.
There’s one big benefit to regularly practicing self-care: you’re making yourself well.
This breaks down to affect a lot of different aspects of your life. For example, when you stop spreading yourself thin and burning the candle at both ends, you become more productive both in your professional and your home life.
Not only that, but you’re boosting your immune system. More and more Americans get sick every winter with the cold or flu and this might be because self-care is absolutely at a premium nowadays.
Furthermore, self-care is proven to boost self-esteem. It turns out when you tell yourself you’re a priority and prove it by looking after yourself, you start to believe that you have intrinsic value.
Mind, body and soul all can be carefully tended by practicing self-care. Everyone can do it, whether it’s just ensuring we drink enough water during the course of the day, or organizing entire routines to help us cope with the stress of every day life.
Self-care is not an indulgence. Like a car, we need long-term maintenance and that’s exactly what self-care does.