“The people that are able to give the most have the best boundaries.”
Jasmine Fulks, Registered Psychologist
Recently I attended a workshop that emphasized the need for self-care. The workshop was a great opportunity to connect with my wife and a few friends. It also got me thinking more deeply about my life. Some of the speakers talked about their own self-care, but it wasn’t what you would think.
Self-care is cool right now. It’s celebrity, status and sexy. But what is self-care and how can it contribute to our well-being? This article takes a deep dive into an industry built on being surface-level.
Four ways that “Self-care” will sabotage your well being
1.”Self-care” is an industry.
If we buy into what the self-care industry markets, we will spend a lot of time and money purchasing mud baths, manicures or massages; buying a variety of products ranging from soaps to candles to essential oils to teas to yoga to coaching. What many people call self-care is really just buying a product or experience that amounts to little more than an expensive memory.
2.”Self-care” is a sign of your social and financial status.
Many people will post photos on Facebook or Instagram of their self-care trips, events or parties. It seems borderline cultist. There is an elite group of ‘in’ people who follow the latest Kardashian who want a few more moments of surface-level attention. They promote products and a lifestyle of self-indulgence. Taking care of yourself, pampering yourself once in while is great. True self-care is essential. But it is more than a passing trend or a tribe that we join.
3.”Self-care” can be justified as a way to care for our mental health.
In this sense, self-care aligns itself with the powerful, stigma-busting mental health movement. But there is a subtle bait and switch.
Self-care raises awareness and supports good mental health, we are told. Self care IS essential for good mental health and well-being, but buying soaps or teas will not help with your depression or addiction. Self-care in recovery includes things like going for a walk, talking to a friend, owning a pet, becoming more assertive, and building practices that open you to your world and your responsibilities. Self-care is what keeps your feet on the ground.
“Self-care is not what you purchase. Ineffective and absurdly unrelated products cheapen the notion of self-care by trivializing mental wellness. Furthermore, raising awareness about consumer products that promise mental well-being does little to combat stigma.” Kathleen Chen and Annie Truuvert
4.”Self-care” is not a smart phone app.
Smart phone apps are a significant industry and full disclosure, I love my apps. I get a serious dopamine hit every time I “discover” a new app that I need. But I can’t say that I am any less stressed because I have, and use, three different mindfulness apps.
True “Self-care” is ugly.
What the previous forms of “Self-care” have in common is getting you to spend money on products or services. Buying something to care for ourselves can be a good idea, but if our primary self-care comes in the form of something we spend money on… are we any different than the person who spends the $50 in their pocket on crack or Jack Daniels?
Most self-care is not Facebook worthy.
“Self-care is often doing the ugliest thing that you have to do”
“Self-care is often a very unbeautiful thing.” So writes Brianna Weist in one of the best self care articles I have read. I could quote her at length, but I suggest you just go to her article and read it.
Self-care is unbeautiful. At times it is challenging. And it often means that we come face to face with our avoidance and procrastination. These are two things I count as part of my Batman superbelt. Spending an hour on my self-care apps is WAY more fun than even one second sucked into reviewing the family budget.
But I have learned the hard way that avoiding real, hard, ugly stuff will erode your mental health, confidence and willingness to stretch yourself.
Mike Rowe, host of “Dirty Jobs” was recently interviewed and to me the title of the article says it all:
We are in an age where self-care is cool and hard work, hard stuff is neither passionate, nor cool. Self-care is about setting boundaries that prioritize good health alongside time for employment, family relationships, “maintenance” of of our homes and possessions (which is another word for the ever-unpopular and uncool daily or weekly chores).
For me, self-care involves exercise, awareness of my emotional life and attention to what I am eating… (trust me, I avoid eating organic grass fed free range pampered beef/chicken/salmon/salads…). It means having an appointment in my calendar each week where my wife and I have coffee and talk about anything in our lives that is important. It means cleaning up my desk, my garage, my lawn and my side of the bedroom. Self-care also means having time for fun things like reading, time for a few of my hobbies and for my favorite self-care activity: unstructured lazy unproductive-time.
I will finish up my musing for today with another quote from Mike Rowe from Industry Insider. Work, Rowe, says is about finding a way to make yourself happy where ever you are. That advice points to one of the best forms of self-care that we can possess:
“Boredom is a choice. Many people today resent the suggestion that they’re in charge of the way they feel. But trust me, those people are mistaken.”
Being in recovery from depression, anxiety or addiction is not simply finding a way to be happy. It is about boundaries, healthy self-care, communication and accepting both hard things and things you cannot change. Often it means therapy and learning to say “no” to toxic people, toxic habits and toxic expectations. Recovery also means that we need to take our vitamins… take responsibility… and for some of us, take our medication. But all of us, in recovery or not, need to accept what we can change.
Accepting what we can change is self-care. It is doing what we can to improve ourselves, our life, our work just a little bit each day. It is the ugly-hard-uncomfortable stuff. It is learning that no matter how old, stubborn, inflexible, proud or independent we may be, we can do something. And then we do it.
What about you? What is your ‘self-care’? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.
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