Self-care, by definition, is the act of taking care of yourself by giving your body what it needs. Sometimes, what the body needs is a few moments of sunshine or a box of Girl Scout cookies. Other times, the body craves exercise or yoga and meditation.
Mental health professionals label acts like brushing ones hair or teeth to be self-care, especially in patients with debilitating mental illnesses. Some common self-care practices, and a few of my personal favorites, include treating yourself to a meal at your favorite restaurant, taking a bubble bath, journaling and making sure to drink enough water throughout the day.
In my opinion and experience, self-care is simply the practice of listening to what your body wants and needs and complying with those urges to the best of your ability. The idea of what self-care is intended to do is often misinterpreted by people who think of it as an “excuse,” and I will say, hopefully loud enough for the people in the back, that self-care is not a practice that aims at helping individuals hide from or escape their problems. The purpose of practicing self-care is to regain inner peace after enduring troublesome situations, not to hydrate the pain away.
An unwillingness to participate in self-care is commonly seen in people who struggle with mental illness. Depression, for example, does a great job at causing a lack of inspiration in partaking in basic self-care practices like washing your face or taking a walk. Survivors of abuse often find self-care challenging, as well as people who suffer with cognitive decline from illnesses like dementia that limit the function of certain appendages.
Another idea that self-care haters have about the practice is that it is intended to cure all of life’s woes, which is actually impossible because life continues on no matter how we’re feeling inside. People who diligently practice self-care do so in order to make sure that their minds and bodies are ready to take on whatever shitty day may, and will inevitably, lie ahead. Life will never be perfect, and neither will the people who live it, but taking care of your body and mind can help make the process of living a little easier.
The process of self-care is different for everyone, but the end goal is more or less the same across the board: to maintain a state of mental and physical well-being.
Feeling emotions like anger, stress, sadness, and despair are completely normal and part of the human experience. These emotions, though, will not assist in the advancement of a life worth living.
Sometimes, self-care is something that can pull an individual out of a slump. For example, after my grandmother passed away, I didn’t shower for two weeks. I was too depressed to do anything, and I didn’t care about my well-being or what I looked and smelled like. Once I was finally able to convince myself to shower, I felt strong and empowered. I was able to begin digging myself out of a ditch through something as simple as bathing, and no one should ever feel bad about going through something similar to this example.
Self-care is here for when we’re feeling low. It’s here as a practice that promotes holistic living and inner strength. Sure, feeling bad is inevitable, but staying in a negative mindset is 100% preventable.
When you’re feeling stressed, it is perfectly acceptable to take a break from whatever is causing tension to paint your nails, read a chapter from your favorite book, or watch Dave Chapelle’s new Netflix special (trust me, it’s funny). If you can, however, power through the stress and sadness without taking a few moments for yourself, then that’s fine, and you’re the strongest, most perfectly formulated person around. Not everyone is the same, though, and that’s why it’s problematic to label self-care as a “cop-out.” For some, it is a necessary part of daily life, and no one has the right to judge that.
It’s unhealthy to stay upset and stressed, and anger has the power to increase an individual’s risk of stroke, heart disease, and can weaken the immune system. According to a 17-year study conducted by the University of Michigan, people who admitted to harboring or not dealing with their stress and anger ended up having shorter lifespans than individuals who spoke their minds and took care of themselves.
Dr. Mary Fristad of The Ohio State University suggests that individuals who experience negative feelings should submerse themselves in activities that “fully absorb you.” For example, biking, golfing, or arts and crafts, all of which fall into the realm of self care activities.
All I’m trying to convey here is this: don’t judge others for the way that they handle stress, pressure, what have you. Unless someone is causing harm to others or themselves, let them live. If meditating calms you and allows you to move forward with your day, then do it. If you consider sitting in one place with your eyes closed for ten minutes to be a waste of time, then don’t do it. It’s really that simple, folks.
The only thing that we can do is try and love ourselves and others to the best of our ability. For me, loving myself means rewarding myself for brushing my teeth before I go to bed. For others, it means never missing class. We’re all different people trying to navigate our way through this tragic, crazy, scary, beautiful world, and if we could lift each other up instead of constantly telling each other why our opinions are better than theirs, maybe the premise of self-care wouldn’t seem so ridiculous to some.
In a collection of essays, the late, great Audre Lorde stated “caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” We only get one body in our lifetime, and there is no guaranteed number of days set for any of us.
Take care of yourself however you see fit, stand up for what you believe in, and don’t ever let anyone tell you that self-care is a waste of time. Taking care of yourself will always be the most important thing you have to do, because you are what’s most important. YOU are the only person you have to answer to, and YOU are the only person that you that you’ll ever HAVE to wake up with. #treatyoself