Self-care is a term we hear around every corner these days, and have for years now.
“Self-care is the ability of individuals, families and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a health worker,” as defined by the World Health Organization.
While that sounds like a great plan, consumerism and social media have influenced many of us to define self-care as being a much more self-centered phenomenon rather than an effort to support wellness starting with ourselves, but in a way that bolsters our communities in the end. After personally feeling a bit of suspicion towards the media’s self-care initiative for a good few years now, I thought it was about time to dive into the topic, and you, like I, may realize it hasn’t been helping you feel better after all.
If you know me you know I began having chronic health issues around seven years ago. Prior to that I was an incredibly active young lady who made it to the gym nearly every day, walked my dog twice a day, loved open-gym volleyball night, and drove all around the state to visit friends and family. All of those things were forms of self-care, for me at least. They were what brought me purpose, relaxation, laughter. When I began having health issues my list of physical activity greatly decreased, and around the same time the promotion of self-care was starting to really take hold on social media platforms (though it is actually a concept that has been around for centuries). At the time it was a great comfort to me. I was ecstatic to learn that I could cancel plans with friends and call it “self-care,” or lay on a bolster for 15 minutes instead of going to the gym. Now again, at the time my physical capabilities were all becoming greatly diminished and I had not yet built up a tolerance towards the chronic pain that was sweeping through my body. So of course anyone could see that yes, those changes made perfect sense, for me. Years passed and while I was still struggling with my own health both mentally and physically, I started being able to once again see outside myself.
One specific thing that really snapped my head around and made me start questioning all the self-care hype was a practice that was prevalent in some yoga circles I had become a part of. The idea was that if you were approached by someone, and you were absolutely uninterested in the conversation or interaction, it was fine for you to simply turn away. Now, I think most of us have had negative interactions where yes, walking away was the most positive thing that could be done, but this attitude reached beyond negativity and into the simply disinterested. I was baffled at the audacity of such a concept. I know that there are times I am running late, trying to get errands done, and feel impatient towards the friendly faces I see at the post office or grocery who want to chat for a spell. But the thing is, sometimes people reach out because they need something to hold onto, even for just a few minutes. And if I am not able to slow down, and give them a smile and my ear, if I am too disinterested or bored by them to the point I simply turn away, I am not being a part of a communal self-care movement. And inevitably I am not promoting any sort of growth towards my own well-being as a person.
That practice made me begin to see patterns of avoidance behavior throughout the modern/media “self-care” initiative. Posts saying things like, “self-care should not be about helping you be productive again. Self-care should be a reminder that you are more important than productivity.” Or “you can’t pour from an empty cup. Take care of yourself first.” Clearly, there is truth and a positive message in both of those statements but if you are stuck in an avoidance routine or already sway towards being a bit self-centered, you may only read a message screaming, “slow down and focus on you, just you.” There are very selfless people who should certainly take the time to do that. But many of us will feel a lot better if we lend our energies to things beyond ourselves. Our self-care ideals need to have interactions and socialization, they need to be productive, they need to say yes to things that make us uncomfortable instead of no.
AJ Hess writes in her article, “Self-Care May be Increasing Your Stress…” for Fast Company, that “the call for self-care can create additional pressure and become a source of negativity.” This is directed towards those people who have inherently busy lives. Family and friends who look at how fast you move and whole-heartedly believe you need to slow down may pressure you to fit a massage into your schedule or take an uninterrupted bath. That pressure can be as exhausting as they think your current schedule is. Hess’s article prompts us all to not only consider slowing down as a form of self-care but to consider speeding up. Being more productive can lead to greater fulfillment at the end of the day and result in better sleep. Making it to happy hour with your friends where you can vent about work can be more relieving than decompressing on the couch alone.
All this is not to say self-care is bad, it’s just to say as a community we need to be more aware of how self-care can look different for each individual, and how respecting that in others and ourselves can help us all grow.
By ADRIENNE WIX | Special to the Herald Times