Clarifying Self-Care

I was having trouble thinking of a lifestyle topic for this week when yet another Top Ten List of Self-Care Ideas chanced my way. Self-care is one of those things I’ve made a study of; I think the concept is fascinating. And the ways in which self-care has become commodified? Doubly so.

There seem to be a lot of self-care suggestions floating around that espouse the benefits of expensive treatments or toxic behaviours under the guise of loving oneself. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy trips to the spa, mani/pedis, and dining out, and I consider each of those things as potentially constituting self-care. However, I roll my eyes at the insistence that these are the only examples of self-care. Worse, that these are the only examples of self-care that get promoted.

This is not to say that Top Ten Lists of Self-Care Ideas are wrong; lists like these can contain helpful and economical suggestions for people looking to improve their well-being. Lists like these, however, can present simplified views of what self-care is, perpetuating the idea that self-care = selfish. I felt it only right to dispel some of the myths about self-care before tackling it in a lifestyle post for this log.

Myth #1: Self-care is about the self.

Truth: Self-care is about taking care of the self, but it is done with the express purpose of getting the self back into connection with the world: friends, family, community, etc. It is the recognition that in order to be involved and connected, to engage with life meaningfully, a person must be healthy. Practicing self-care should not remove a person from their social circle or absolve them of responsibilities. Relationships do require sacrifice and compromise. Self-care is also not an excuse to bail on friends or shirk familial responsibilities. It is a calling, obviously, to consider the impacts of certain environments and the sort of company a person keeps. However, using self-care as a free pass to suck is not self-care. The goal is to be a part of the world, not removed from it.

Myth #2: Self-care is the end, not the means.

Truth: Self-care is a process and cannot be treated as a prize or a goal. I see so many people treating self-care as a destination. I’ve even engaged in this rhetoric: I earned a trip to the spa, I deserve a long soak in the tub, I worked hard for this fourth glass of wine, and then that’s that. Self-care achieved!

But a person is constantly in need of care, and that care changes depending on the individual and what is going on in their lives. As a result, self-care is a process that must be adapted to reflect a person’s life. My self-care is going to differ not only based on my needs physically, mentally, and emotionally; it’s also going to differ based on the effects I want to achieve, on how I want to engage with the world.

Myth #3: Self-care is one-size fits all.

Truth: Self-care looks different for everybody. Taking a yoga class might work perfectly for the bendy introvert who responds well to soft music and gentle suggestions, but for the bubbly extrovert, life on their own mat can get real boring, real fast. And it gets even more complicated than simply introvert/extrovert! Many self-care lists are designed for people with access to time, energy, and resources. It’s unfair to push costly treatments or trips on people who cannot access them. Self-care is for everyone and needs to be realistic for a person no matter their circumstances.

4)  Self-care is about being happy all the time.

Truth: The effects of self-care vary and may not be seen as immediately rewarding or fulfilling. Yes, sometimes self-care makes a person feel awesome, but other times, self-care is one tiny, infinitesimal step back to healthy. Acts of self-care can actually feel worse in spite of – or even because of – their necessity. That goes for every context too. Opting not to hang out with friends to have alone-time can be guilt-inducing. Exercising more regularly can be painful. Paying for an expensive treatment can be stressful. Self-care is not about being happy; it’s about being healthy.

Myth #5: Self-care is pathetic.

Truth: Self-care is necessary, so necessary that most people practice some form of self-care already, they just don’t call it that.

I can see self-care suggestions making up a whole series of lifestyle posts on this blog, but as with Pinterest suggestions about Things To Put On Your Face, I think a healthy amount of skepticism is necessary. Healthy looks, acts, and is different for everyone. Hopefully, the work on this blog can reflect that.


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