Self-care is understood and mainly marketed as a practice emphasizing personal luxury and relaxation. Self-care is a face mask, a manicure, and a bottle of wine. It’s the self-indulgent measures we take to escape the harder, grittier aspects of our day-to-day life. While I completely endorse (and personally participate in) this version of self-care from time to time, I think that it’s vital to understand the practice of self-care as being so much more. I’d argue that the general practice —which extends beyond what the media leads us to believe —can actually be quite ugly.
“Technically speaking, self-care refers to any practice or action initiated by an individual to better their physical and mental health. This may take the form of a preventative measure, or a remedy to solve an existing problem.”
Technically speaking, self-care refers to any practice or action initiated by an individual to better their physical and mental health. This may take the form of a preventative measure, or a remedy to solve an existing problem. So, while taking a self-care day or pampering yourself is an excellent response to feeling burnt out, it’s important to acknowledge the other facets of this concept in order to truly take care of yourself. Consider measures which could have been taken to reduce stress in the first place, such as organizing your workload, eating healthy, and exercising.
I’m not saying that you should feel guilty about indulging every once in a while. Sometimes, we feel stress despite our best attempts to manage it. In this case, lighting a candle and binging Netflix might be the only response, and a perfectly good one at that. Simply keep in mind the intention to moderate a balance between treating yourself and challenging yourself.
Taking a step further, the practice may include even uglier tasks, such as breaking toxic habits, or ending unhealthy relationships. It’s easy to fall into unhealthy cycles, but very difficult to break them. However, once you do, it opens up space to incorporate new, healthy habits into your personal routine. You’ll likely notice yourself feeling happier and healthier, though it will take you some time and a lot of hard work to get there. The sentiment of “practice makes perfect” is key. Breaking the cycle once makes it easier to repeat in the future, until you make it a habit and an ongoing commitment to put yourself first.
“[Self-care] boils down to prioritization… recognizing that you do come first.”
Truly engaging in self-care is something that takes a lot of effort, thought, and self-assessment. It all boils down to prioritization —first, recognizing that you docome first, and secondly, recognizing those actions which might improve your wellbeing in the long-run, versus those which make you temporarily feel better in the moment. Patience and persistence is key — often, it takes ages to see actual results, but sticking with your intentions throughout discomfort and frustration will almost always lead to a better outcome. Self-care is a practice which will teach you a lot about yourself, and provide you with tools to better yourself moving forward.
Moreover, self-care, paradoxically enough, extends far beyond the self. If enough people engage in the practices of self-improvement and self-love, we’ll see a world of individuals who are driven, skilled, and compassionate. It’s much easier to lift others up if you are able to do so for yourself, first. So, consider this perspective the next time you have to decide between giving in to temporary pleasures, or putting your personal wellness first.