In recent years I have found myself surrounded by the phrase ‘self care’ – often from health care professions but I have also encountered it with people who don’t suffer from or know people who suffer from mental health illnesses. In these second types of encounters it is often taken to mean ‘treat your self’ – however there are various different ways in which self care is important in preparation and well being of yourself.
Having to practice self care is absolutely normal, every one partakes in it to some degree (regardless of your mental health).
Self care is what it says on the tin. It is caring for yourself which could in any way help you. This could be by completing everyday essential tasks, such as; making important phone calls, finishing work or preparing a well rounded meal. On the flip side it could also be taking a break from overly stimulating things and perhaps going for a walk along the sea.
During my second year of my undergrad degree I went to see the university counsellor. I explained what I was doing to take care of myself and was met with a somewhat alarming reaction. I was told that what I deemed as self care was actually “dangerous and reckless behaviour”.At the time none of this seemed right, how was me caring for myself dangerous?
The answer lied in the fact that no one had ever told me what self care was specifically. There is a range of behaviours though that are not good for your well-being; identifying these are necessary for safe guarding yourself but can prove to be difficult when you find yourself on the wrong end of the spectrum. For example during the same sort of time I had tried meditating and it actually took me to a pretty dark place (something they don’t always tell you about meditation).
When it comes to maintaining your well being it is easy to see it as a series of luxurious treats but a balance is needed. It is about the duality of the mind and body. It is about maintaining your own well being and not allowing yourself to become ‘overwhelmed’.
According to Victoria Buchanan, strategic researcher, at The Future Laboratory; ‘Millennials are making more personal improvement commitments than any generation before, spending double what Boomers spend on self-care essentials.’ As a generation there is more focus on looking at ourselves and it is definitely for the better.
Though unfortunately this has led to a market being created in order to sell people products that are ‘linked’ to mental health. Mainly it is aimed at women, due to a large proportion of people who come forward for anxiety and stress related conditions are women. Self-care is everywhere now. It is in fashion. It is a trend. It is yours – but only if you can afford to buy into it. Capitalism has managed to convert a feminist concept into a host of products and offers. From expensive yoga passes to bouji sound baths nobody can afford and luxury bath bombs; self-care is being marketed to women in what is actually a pretty insidious way.
If we’re honest about it, this mainstream model of ‘self-care’ is reactive and piecemeal. It focuses on what can only be described as individual acts of indulgence – often within a capitalist frame of buying something for yourself. Healers, massages, yoga, sound baths, expensive candles, nice meals. What does self-care even mean when you’re flat broke, renting or living under austerity? If your mental health is struggling because of systemic oppression, you can’t exactly treat yo’ self to liberation.
This begs the question: if you’re selling self-care, doesn’t it benefit you to have a consumer who is living in a permanent state of anxiety and unwell-ness? Where do we draw the ethical lines?
Self-care used to be a radical, political and powerful act of defiance. Its roots were in communities that have endured oppression and been forced to create their own culture of caring for themselves when external forces would not. In 1988, Audre Lorde famously wrote: ‘Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.’ How has it been turned into the ultimate treat-yourself moment?
A quick check of the self-care hashtag on Instagram reveals more than 3.5m sepia-filled posts featuring bubble baths, mimosas and juice detoxes. In many ways visual culture is fuelling a culture of narcissism and privilege that is more about being able to broadcast the moment than being present at it. It also acts as a filter in which we can broadcast our lives – there is a pinch of salt to be taken when looking at these visual cultural posts as they are designed to show perfection and hide the ugly truths of the day to day. Though simply going for a walk with friends or listening to music, preparing a comforting meal for yourself or taking a long hot bath could all be ways of practising self-care on a more reasonable budget.
When I talk about self care I talk about it as a system of well being that can be done free of charge. It is about taking time out from busy schedules and giving ourselves some time to reflect and rest, to find small pockets of closure, before continuing into the next thing on the to-do list.
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