What is self-care to you?
Instagram tells you it is a luxurious spa trip with the girls, or a hike in the nature with the boys. Something that is relaxing, fancy and Instagrammable.
Social media had shaped and reformed the ways we lived. At the same time, our focus shifted subtly – we were supposed to enjoy the time we were travelling or enjoying a nice day off, but how did we end up caring about whether we looked nice in the photos and whether we were “better off” than our colleagues? Isn’t that counter-intuitive? We were supposed to relax, but we ended up feeling more stressed than ever with unnecesary comparison.
In critical times like this, self-care serves a vital role in helping us disconnect with the world. It’s time to refocus.
What is self-care?
Self-care has been defined as providing adequate attention to one’s own physical and psychological wellness. To put it simply, it is to create time and space for yourself to rest, wind down, or do to things that make your soul happy. Those activities should hopefully restore your energy, reduce stress and get you in flow states.
As I always emphasise, physical and mental health are related. For example, when you have a good night’s sleep, you feel more energetic and you are in a better mood to face whatever challenges come your way during the day. Similarly, after a great workout (hint: a great one leaves you feeling pumped, not exhausted), you will be in a positive mood, not to mention all the great benefits it brings to your muscles and your brain (training for strengths and resilience!).
Hence self-care is an important element in life. I would daresay that like meditation, self-care is a skill that everyone should master in order to thrive and optimise productivity. However, its importance is often neglected. And most education systems are not emphasising its significance either. Students are told to compete with each other both inside and outside school. In order to be the best, they not only need to excel in studies, but also to take on lots of extra-curricular activities to prove future employers that they are “all-rounded”. We have been experiencing a great deal of stress, anxiety and maybe even depression since a young age.
Do you see how important it is to educate ourselves and the next education the importance of balance, and knowing the limits of oneself?
Myths of self-care
There are many ways to get your mind off a few things. While there are actually no rules or standards that make certain activities “tick” for self-care, we should pay attention to certain qualities and how we think of those activities.
1/ Some activities actually create extra stress
Most hobbies are by definition something we do during down time for fun. But if they become extra-curricular activities or side hustle, you might be creating extra stress for yourself due to external and financial expectation. Just something we need to be careful of. After all, the whole point of self-care is to make sure we don’t experience fatigue and burnout.
2/ Self-care activities need not to be "luxurious"
Yes, forget that spa trip. Forget paying 4 figures to sound bathing. Everyone can do things that make their soul happy. Singing, dancing, meditating, drawing.. the options are endless. Basic, simple, effective. The point is to make time for it, and not to get too caught up everyday lives.
6 Self-care blunders we might be making
It’s about YOU, and how you think of self-care. Here are 6 self-care mistakes we might be making (unconsciously!).
1/ Taking certain activities to an extreme
Journalling is great, but if you are over reliant to it and keeping everything to yourself, it might lead to overthinking, overanalysing and self-criticising. Drinking from time to time is great, but you want to be careful not to indulge in alcohol too much that harms your health. Again, it isn’t on the activity itself, but what you make out of it. It is self-care, not self-indulgent. It is about balance.
2/ Following experts' advice
Self-care is personal. And we all have preferences. You don’t need to join that meditation program if it’s not your cup of tea. Just like some people can’t function without a solid 8-hour sleep, but some only need 5 – you do you. There is no rule.
3/ A fixed schedule of self-care
You don’t need to set aside 30 minutes before bed to engage in your chosen self-care activity. Just whenever you feel like it. Sometimes when it gets overwhelming, I immediate close my eyes and take 5 deep breaths. That’s the quickest way I have found to calm my nerves. Sometimes I meditate (I use headspace #notsponsored) before I sleep, and sometimes I don’t. There is no fixed time and place for your self-care activity.
4/ Self-care is spiritual
We sometimes overthink self-care and label it as something spiritual – meditation in a forest, sound therapy, yoga etc… In reality, it just means to engage in activities you enjoy, and to get back to the original rhythm in life. It might be a reset. It might be self-reflection. It might be to chill and unwind. You don’t have to be spiritual to take care of yourself.
5 Ignoring emotions
Self-awareness comes before personal growth. You don’t need to ignore your feelings, pretend negative emotions don’t exist or “switch it off”. It is hard, but admiting and acknowleding your feelings are crucial. It takes practice. You need space and time to unload your feelings, to understand yourself, to learn about your triggers and move on. That is a form of self-care.
6 Doing things that feel good
We often hear things like shopping therapy or happy hour. While those activities do give us pleasure from time to time, we need to ask ourselves how sustainable that pleasure is. From my experience, that excitement often lasts for 5 seconds only. Not to mention the pressure I feel when I see my credit card balance. Consumerism is not self-care. There are more sustainable ways to make us feel good. And guess what? It often involves creation, no consumption – cooking over going to fancy restaurants, writing over Netflix, or trying out a new sport over snacking. I often find creation soothing. Sometimes it is a form of creative therapy. The content feeling lasts longer than buying another pair of shoes. But of course, you do you. These are just suggestions after all.
“Most things that bring genuine happiness are not just temporary, immediate gratifications, and those things also come with resistance and require sacrifice.” 101 Essays That Will Change The Way You Think by Brianna Wiest
My definition of self-care
To me, self-care can be summed up in one word: UNPLUG.
It is okay to skip or fail sometimes, if things get too overwhemling.
Fun things for me: making music, playing handpan, baking, facetiming my best friend and journalling.
After the lockdown in 2020, I realised the importance of social interaction. It was hard for me to accept the fact that we all need friendship and interaction to keep us sane. No matter how much you like to be alone. So now I try to schedule video calls every two weeks with friends. it feels good to have companions to support each other, especially during difficult times.
Final thoughts: the perfect balance
As mentioned previously, physical and mental health are related. In order to be healthy and happy, we can pay attention to a few crucial areas:
- food and information intake
- physical activity
- our thoughts & emotions
Personal growth is about learning and unlearning about ourselves in order to thrive in life. How do we handle stress and adversity? Challenging times are tests for our resilience. If we are self-compassionate and calm, we can all find the anchor in life that keeps us grounded no matter what the situation is.
It is easier said than done, and it will always be a work in progress.
What is your favourite self-care activity and what are you keen to try next?