Yesterday I found myself in a situation where my anxiety, which had been building up for a long time, became unmanageable at the worst possible moment. One of my initial reactions was to be frustrated with myself for not having taken time out during the day to mentally prep, for not having been able to focus much on self care over the past few days so that I could be in a positive state of mind for the evening. And as I wrote yesterday’s blogpost, it got me thinking about all the ways in which we see self care and whether we perceive it in a positive, helpful way.
Plenty of people have talked about how self care isn’t all face masks and bubble baths and it’s definitely true – self care isn’t always pretty. It can be tedious and exhausting and hard work. But last night I ended up thinking about how even when self care isn’t just about things like skin care and candles, there’s still some underlying issues in a lot of what I see online.
A lot of people talk about self care as doing what makes you happy and quitting things that no longer serve you. There’s the obvious limitations that crop up when confronted with these ideas – having to pay rent or bills or look after your family etc. But there’s also this idea that self care is always about maintaining “happiness” and “positive energy” which I think can be unhealthy – we can’t self care ourselves to happiness and constant happiness isn’t sustainable. This idea of using self care as a way to achieve a life devoid of negative people and thoughts and feelings is toxic in itself. Self care shouldn’t just be a fix for the bad stuff, it should be a tool to help you through it.
Sometimes that means self care works in more subtle ways – accepting that you didn’t have time to be mindful or go for a walk during the day and that maybe things didn’t go as planned, but learning from it and being kind to yourself rather than critical and frustrated. Taking the stairs rather than the lift because you don’t need to anxiously stare at the same ‘flaw’ that you’ve already checked several times that morning in your bedroom mirror. On a day to day basis, these aren’t necessarily ways in which I feel like I’m practicing self care. But they stack up and they’re important. And in many ways they’re more successful than the times that I go for a walk with the sole aim of feeling better – I’m looking out for myself without trying to self care away my feelings.
The ideas I’ve talked about are often expressed in lovely Instagram posts and quotes that we see on a daily basis. I get that, for the most part, they’re about making sure you prioritise your self and your wellbeing in a world that can be cruel and exhausting. But seeing these quotes day after day can slowly, in my experience, make you feel like the goal in taking care of yourself is to be constantly happy and in the past it’s left me feeling frustrated when I’ve not been able to fix my sadness with the right self care.
When it comes down to it, I think I’ve realised self care isn’t about happiness. It’s about kindness. It’s about making the world a little softer for yourself, especially on the days when you feel like crap. It’s not about doing what makes you happy, it’s about loving yourself enough so that when the happiness comes around, you’re able to let it in.