Self Care: just another item for the to-do list?

I’ve been really trying to look after myself recently and put a lot of effort into my own self care.  By the way, I’m super aware of how the term “self-care” has become somewhat commercialised of late, which can make me cringe when I hear myself talking about it.  This commercialisation is what happened with ‘hygge’.  I loved the notion of hygge since visiting Copenhagen (and I’m a massive Danish-phile generally, admiring their tax system, social security and culture too).  But no sooner had I discovered hygge and thought I’d found an approach to living that made an awful lot of sense, than the UK retail sector seized on the idea as if it was a temporary ‘fad’, and I started seeing media articles in Sunday supplements describing it in the most reductive way – basically stick on a candle, buy some trendy cushions and a blanket and hey presto!  *rolls eyes*  Of course the real essence of hygge is far more nuanced and complex than they would have you believe.

Anyway, it seems to me that the commercialisation of self care is heading in the same direction, with quite a bit of stuff in the media right now about how you ‘do it’, all reducing it to a trivial and self-indulgent concept, often involving spending money or conforming to trends.  Example – I heard an interview on the radio the other day when the usual list of self care ideas were listed (having a manicure, facial or spa day) and in the same interview the presenter was asking how busy Mums fit this in alongside their regular childcare, work, chores and ‘down-time’.

Now don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with people treating themselves to a facial, but the whole concept of self care is being presented as shallow, and this overlooks its true value.  Shouldn’t we see self care as an integral part of living, rather than just another thing to add to the to-do list?

Before I experienced burnout, I neglected to care for myself in an integral way. I was always pushing myself forward in my work and in helping others and did not see the value in taking time to properly care for myself – in fact I didn’t even know how.  (Note to self: shutting up stressful feelings with another glass of wine is not self care).  This went on until my body crashed and literally forced me to stop.

It is still early days with my new self care approach, but I have been learning to see the value in doing things that support my body, brain, emotional and mental wellbeing and stress levels to become healthier.  For the last four weeks I’ve somehow completed a workout every morning (HIIT alternated with strength training) with one day’s rest per week.  I’ve been following this with a bit of yoga, meditation and an exercise given to me by my therapist where I challenge negative thoughts daily.  I’ve also been eating healthily with plenty of unrefined and fresh foods, and to top it all I have stopped drinking!  Now before you think get her, she thinks she’s a saint, let me reassure you that I am known to my friends as someone who regularly drinks LIKE A FISH, so I have a lot to make up for!

Of course, the sabbatical has enabled me to have the time to do this and I know there is no way that I would ever have been able to do this had I been working full time.  However, that’s rather the point.  As I said in my last post about hibernation, you can’t expect to just keep going and going at full pelt with no respite.  If I owned a car I would not expect to drive it from Lands End to John O’Groats repeatedly, day after day without taking it to be serviced, or topping up the oil and so on.

I’m learning it’s also not just about these big changes in fitness and health.  It’s also the small things, like how I have started to clean my face properly at night using cleansing oils and proper face cream – who knew?!  (I used to take 2 minutes to use one of those facial wipes so as not to ‘waste’ time).  Sometimes a negative thought pops into my head saying ‘face cream? this is so indulgent’ but then I counter that thought by reminding myself that THIS IS MY FACE!  I only have one and too right I should take care of it!  Besides, any little thing I can do to undo the damage that years of stress has taken on it is fine by me!

So, yes to facials and manicures if that’s what we feel we need, but not if it’s just another chore to add to the list.  My hope is, through integral self care efforts during my sabbatical, my body/mind and my SELF will end up stronger and healthier, so that I will be better equipped and more resilient to return to work and for whatever life brings.

What self care do you integrate into your life?  Are you at the beginning of this journey like me or have you found trusted ways of looking after your needs?  I would love to know and hear about your advice and experiences. 

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