Anyone who hasn't been living under a rock for the past few years has seen something somewhere about self-care whether it was on Facebook, Twitter, or their Instagram feed. Oftentimes it's pictures of celebrities or influencers sipping green smoothies or slathering on mud masks with #selfcare. It's posts like these that made me realize that "self-care" has become the ultimate buzz word, soaring in popularity but in the process, it's lost most of its original meaning. It's time to set the record straight and reclaim the term.
Although self-care has been around for quite some time, within the past few years it's been misconstrued and commodified as our capitalist society tends to do with things it thinks can be profited off. Self-care is now being peddled as something that can be bought and sold on the shelf at Target rather than something that takes real work to achieve. This fake self-care movement is not only enabling people to over-indulge themselves, but it has created a crutch for people to avoid the responsibility of taking true care of themselves. Instead of doing the work that needs to be done, many people fall into the trap of rewarding themselves for doing nothing at all — this can quickly become an unhealthy coping mechanism, especially with corporations cheering us on (to buy their next product). Long, hard day at work? Just grab your third iced coffee of the day! Fight with your SO? Buy that 50-dollar face mask, it'll make you feel better! This is how self-care becomes self-sabotage and self-destructive.
Self-care isn't always pretty, in fact, it's pretty ugly most of the time.
It's hard and it means doing things that you don't want to do at the moment, with the knowledge that it will pay off later. It means dragging yourself out of bed because you promised you'd stick to this sleep schedule. It means saying no to "one more" drink because you know that it would do more harm than good. It means doing a deep dive and examining what YOUR needs are. Self-care isn't one-size-fits-all, and my version of it will undoubtedly look different than my friend's. However, it can be difficult to assess what we need when we're in a rut, so I recommend practicing mindfulness to get a grasp of what you're needing without unnecessary frills.
According to Headspace, mindfulness is being aware and fully engaged in whatever is happening at the moment. Some people see it as a form of meditation to increase our awareness of whatever we're feeling moment-to-moment. Here are two exercises to help us be more mindful of self-care.
1. Mindful eating
This is for those of us who are unable to discern hunger cues from boredom or emotional eating. Mindful eating is less about what you eat but rather about your attitude while you're eating. Start by picking a place to sit down that is neutral (i.e. not in front of the TV, computer, or phone) and focus on the meal in front of you. If you're into cooking, then taking the time to appreciate the cooking process can be a good way to prime yourself to eat mindfully.
Healthline recommends eating slowly and savoring the flavors of your food — this gives your mind and stomach time to process its fullness level which can help prevent overeating. When we're tempted to indulge in a sweet craving to deal with a bad day at work although we're not hungry, mindfulness can steer us in the direction of more helpful coping mechanisms.
If you lead a busy life, it can be difficult to find dedicated time to meditate for long periods of time. As an alternative for those on a time crunch, take a few minutes to do a mental check-in with yourself, asking whatever questions feel pertinent to you. Have you been drinking enough water? Do you need to eat? Are you well-rested, grouchy, anxious, sad? What can you do to honor what you're feeling without passing judgment on the feeling? In doing this we take inventory of our mental and physical state which can help us acknowledge what our bodies and minds really need from us at the moment. Sometimes simply sitting with a feeling can be helpful rather than shoving it down to avoid dealing with it. Here is a guided check-in from mindful.org that may prove useful.
I'm not advocating for a militaristic lifestyle void of any fun or pampering, I'm only rebelling against the notion that relying on this kind of indulgence will be beneficial to anyone's mental or physical health. Of course, I should also add that no one is completely immune to snazzy marketing — I'm just as guilty of indulging in retail-therapy under the guise of "self-care" as the next person. It's not entirely our fault that we wound up like this, being raised in a society that burns its workers out and tends to favor quick fixes over long term solutions. All we can do is take our new-found awareness and mindfulness and rebel against the urge to cling to the crutch of mindless self-indulgence.