Over the last couple of years, I’ve really started noticing a trend in the influencer community of self-care, especially since 2016. Seeing a few photos of people in bath tubs with a glass of wine for “Self-Care Sundays” or tagging #selfcare in their recent beach pictures has become common on Instagram. Not only that, but many online publications and blogs have posted articles and how-to’s on self-care. Everywhere I look in the online space, it seems to be there.
And this got me thinking: what is self-care? I wanted to know if it means more than having a glass of wine and trying out a spin class (though there is nothing wrong with either of those things in moderation, wine and exercise are great).
So, of course, I Googled it. I wanted to know more about self-care beyond just what I saw on social media.
The first thing that I came upon was a TED Talk by Dr. Guy Winch, a psychologist and author. Although most of his talk was about how negative emotions like loneliness and failure can impact our physical health, along with our mental health, he had a good point that I think is important to note when talking about self-care: “We all know how to maintain our physical health… but what do we know about maintaining our psychological health? Well, nothing.” He discussed how people are taught from a young age about proper physical hygiene and how to take care of physical injuries, but that no one is taught how to manage psychological injuries (which are much more common than physical ones and have real life health consequences, btw). And its true. In most cultures, even in the U.S., mental health is still a taboo topic. We don’t teach children what to do when they are lonely, afraid, anxious, or depressed. As Dr. Winch said, we teach them to walk it off, even though we would never say that if they had a broken leg. So why does it make sense to treat physical injuries differently than mental ones? For some reason, we don’t see the importance in maintaining our mental health in the same way as we do our physical health.
Dr. Winch never specifically discussed the term “self-care”, but it was implied throughout his lecture; in other words, we have to learn how to value our mental health the same way we value our physical health, and we have to take the time to do it ourselves because we aren’t being taught how to do it by other people. Or as he said, “It is time that we close the gap between our physical and psychological health. It’s time we made them more equal”. (You can find this TED Talk, along with a playlist of other videos on the “importance of self-care”, here).
So how does this relate to facials and massages, which is what I’ve started to connect with the term “self-care”? Yes, taking good care of your body by getting that facial or massage is a good thing, but it seems like just another example of what Dr. Winch is saying in that we put our physical health first as something more valuable. Facials and massages are relaxing (no doubt about that), but what do they really contribute to our mental health outside of those 20 minutes to an hour? That facial isn’t going to make you feel less lonely or less insecure, not really. It’s kind of like using a bandaid when you really should see a doctor for some stitches.
Now we ask: what are some ways to practice self-care that goes beyond the physical? How do we start stitching up all the mental injuries that we’ve gotten over the years of our life? And how do we prioritize ourselves in a society where the most important thing is to be (and stay) connected?
The first step is to look at self-care as more than just a trend on social media; we have to take it seriously. It isn’t just another thing we should post about to get likes; we should use it to actually help ourselves, and then spread awareness about it through our Instagram accounts. Practicing self-care doesn’t make you selfish or self-centered either, just FYI. Some people might treat it like that, but that’s because our culture is still coming to terms with how focusing a little time on ourselves can actually be good for everyone.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness states that “improving your relationship with yourself by maintaining your physical and mental health makes you more resilient, helping you weather hard times and enjoy good ones”, which seems to be true. This is because that through self-care, we take the time to heal our mental wounds and give ourselves the things that we need in order to maintain and establish our social relationships. It also ensures that our overall health is more stable, and it can even prolong our life-span.
Taking the time to ensure that you are stable, both physically and mentally, gives you the ability to be there for others when they need it. Its the classic “fill up your cup, and it spills over to others” metaphor. That time that you take to fill your cup doesn’t take away the time that you can give to others, but actually restores you to the point that your self-care ends up helping them. The strength you need to be there for others comes from the strength you have for yourself.
Not to mention that this mental strength will benefit your physical strength too. People who take the time for their mental health can do more physically than someone who does not. Changing our mentality is the first step to changing our lives (and the lives around us); the decision to eat well and go to the gym occurs before you walk into the gym or the grocery store, not during.
What I’m trying to say here is that self-care isn’t a fad, or at least, it shouldn’t be. It should be something that we all do, whatever that means for us individually. I’d also like to point out that just because we’re caring for ourselves, that doesn’t mean that it’s easy. Self-care isn’t about what “feels good”; a lot of unhealthy things can “feel good” and make us feel better for a short-amount of time but take us down a bad path (alcohol, drugs, sex, eating twelve Twinkies, etc.). Even if you start by giving yourself that fifteen minute facial instead of scrolling through Twitter, real self-care always leads to facing some harsh truths about yourself. If you want to start mending some mental wounds, you have to face and realize them first. It can be painful and it can be difficult. But just because something is difficult doesn’t mean that it isn’t good for us (think training for a 5K but for your brain; your muscles are going to be sore, but that soreness leads to strength).
Make yourself a priority in your life beyond just the physical. Your mind, your soul, and your personality are what make you who you are, not just your body. So tend to it; give yourself strength, resilience, and joy. Then spread it.
Over and out,