Self-care. It’s a term that’s buzzing around a lot at the moment. It’s actually kind of amazing how popular the idea of self-care has become. In the land of Instagram, the hashtag “self-care” has over 4,000,000 posts. On FaceBook, there are close to 100 self-care groups.
As a Clinical Social Worker who helps people focus on mental wellness, I have mixed feelings about this rise in popularity. On one hand, I’m excited to see that people are starting to accept that self-care is important and that it isn’t selfish (because it really isn’t!). On the other hand, I can’t help but think that self-care has been oversimplified and commercialised.
Self-Care is not about treating yourself, it’s about knowing yourself
Self-care is not an action or a purchase. It can’t be bought because it isn’t a thing. It is a relationship with yourself. As the saying goes – the most important relationship you will have in your life is with yourself.
To truly care for yourself, you need to first be aware of the way you treat yourself. Being aware of your inner talk, your thoughts, your emotions and your needs. If you talk to yourself in a critical or unhelpful way, you are going to feel pretty “rubbish” no matter where you are. In the words of Jon Kabat-Zinn, “wherever you go, there you are.”
Sometimes self-care is about doing things that make us feel uncomfortable
The thing that also often gets missed in the frenzy of self-care talk is that self-care isn’t always pampering and relaxation. It’s also doing the things we find challenging, but that we know we need to do. These things will be different for everyone.
Here are five free ways to give yourself the gift of self-care
1. Increase your self-awareness
Take a moment and begin to pay attention to yourself and remind yourself that you matter. Notice what you are doing, thinking or feeling right now. Does what you’re doing fit with what is most meaningful to you? What do you need in this moment? What would be the most helpful choice to make?
If you have trouble paying attention to yourself it may be helpful to write this exercise down.
2. Plan to move your body and exercise in a way that is right for you
A simple strategy I use to help to get me exercising is what I call “follow the plan, not the mood.” The idea is that If we wait until we are in the mood to do something we will often be waiting for a long time. So, I plan my exercise every week on a Sunday evening. Then I aim to follow the plan, not the mood.
3. Practice the art of saying no
If you struggle to say no it might be worth writing a list of thoughts and beliefs that you have around saying no. These might be barriers. When you look at those thoughts what do you notice? Are all your thoughts true? Are they helpful? You also might need to consider practicing saying no in front of the mirror so you get used to saying it. Or you could try saying “I will think about it” so that you have some time and space to reflect and then say no if you need to. The thing is, if you are a people pleaser you are going to feel uncomfortable saying no, even though its uncomfortable it’s still self-care.
4. Talk to yourself compassionately
As your self- awareness increases hopefully you will begin to notice some of the thoughts you have about yourself and about situations. Pay attention to how you talk to yourself. If you are critical of yourself ask yourself what would I say to a friend in this situation? Is what I’m thinking compassionate? Is it helpful?
5. Remember self-care is unique for everyone
Finally, don’t forget there are no hard and fast rules. We are all unique and we all have different needs. Spend time reflecting on your needs. Ultimately self- care can’t be purchased it’s about knowing yourself and treating yourself as you would a dear old friend.
Now I’m off to treat myself to a mani/pedi while soaking in a bathtub full of rose petals on a far, far away island, or maybe I will just take a nap.