For self-care, we think we have to fix what we’re doing and do something completely different than what we’ve been doing.
What I’ve realized is that our approach to self-care has been wrong.
We don’t need to do something completely different than what we’ve been doing when we’re working or when we’re supposed to rest. Self-care has been marketed and promoted as a movement to promote wellness products, nutritional supplements, and gym memberships.
All that represents the capitalist side of self-care that doesn’t have your every day, overwhelmed and stressed out individual in mind.
But what we don’t know about self-care is that the movement might represent an overcorrection, that perhaps we’ve been doing it right all along. I stumbled upon this realization after my girlfriend mentioned to me that my version of self-care was writing articles, reading the Bible, going to church, playing video games, exercising, and sleeping. These are second-nature parts of my routine that I don’t think much about, but that doesn’t necessarily meet my definition of self-care.
Self-care is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as “the ability of individuals, families, and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and to cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a healthcare provider.” That means, for most of us, that self-care isn’t about buying a bunch of products that make us feel good. It means doing what’s therapeutic for us that we’ve already been doing.
I personally hate the idea of spending excessive amounts of money to take care of myself. I maintain a cheap apartment, try to save money on my car and phone payments, and try to use coupons and save money any way I can. While my naturally frugal nature may be appalling and over-the-top to some, saving money and not overspending are routines that are part of my personal self-care. Although I love to spend money on others and cover a tab, I hate to spend money on myself.
I know other people, including a lot of my friends and co-workers of the more classy variety, that enjoy treating themselves whenever we go out. They enjoy treating themselves to good meals and good drinks while I certainly do not.
Self-care looks different for everyone, so please do not buy into an influencer or a marketer’s version of self-care.
Some of my friends care a lot about their appearances and believe that looking good equates to feeling good. I am not trying to undermine their beliefs and experiences, but I could care less about my experience.
Taking care of myself often equates being in connection with others and not being alone. I do not do well in isolation. Other people need time to be alone, but I am not one of those people. Rest is a necessary part of self-care that I neglected for a very, very long time. To function well, I need at least 7 hours of sleep a night. I need to be caught up on my Bible readings and get a healthy dose of good TV.
Some of this advice doesn’t work for others. There are a lot of friends I have that don’t seem to need sleep. Whether these friends are just faking it or truly don’t need sleep as much as I do doesn’t matter, what does matter is that I shouldn’t try to replicate their version of self-care just because it works for them. I started to sleep more and watch more TV and spend a little more time playing video games because these things work for me.
Instead of changing up my self-care to fit the mold what I think I’m supposed to do, I’ve started taking care of myself and my mental health by looking at the things I’ve been doing all along. Sometimes, work is my self-care. That goes against the traditional grain of thought, but you do not want to see me when I’m on vacation and haven’t been at work for over two weeks. I start to stay up too late binge-watching TV or overcompensating on my video game addictions.
For all I complain and gripe about what happens at work, the truth is I’m much better off working than I am when I’m not working. I don’t like to admit it, but I need work and the experiences I have at work to take care of myself.
Likewise, what works for other people simply don’t work for me. For one, I absolutely hate yoga. As an inflexible runner, I can’t stand the pain it puts me in. I don’t meditate. I don’t take myself out for nice brunches or dinners because I don’t like the bill that comes with them. I don’t keep a healthy diet, or take mental health days at work. I never turn off my phone. I don’t go to the movies.
For all of this, I am privileged in ways that other people aren’t. I don’t expect that any of my ideas will go into any sort of self-care manual, because what works for me probably won’t work for you. Or maybe it will. What matters, for each of us, is that we find out balance of what constitutes self-care and what doesn’t.
Only we ourselves can find that out. No one else can do it for us.
Previously published on “Invisible Illness”, a Medium publication.
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