As Chelsea wrote recently, the concept of “Self-Care” seems to have come from a place of good intention, and been somehow warped into something that prompts people to live like giant toddlers wobbling through life acting on impulse to make themselves feel good for a fleeting moment. She writes in the article, “This warped definition is used to describe any act — cancelling plans, spending money on designer makeup, calling out sick from work, buying a big steak dinner, not responding to people or calling them back — as almost medicinal in nature.”
Chelsea is spot-on in what we’ve taken the definition of self-care to mean in recent years. Of course, acting on impulse, in the long run, is not self-care at all. In fact, it is quite the opposite.
As a firm believer in “being sane”, I do believe that there is a way to practice something that resembles self-care at its Tumblr-Chic core, without getting into that messy “Adult Toddler” place. I believe there is a way to care for oneself while simultaneously acknowledging that you are, in fact, a Citizen of the Universe, a person among people, and someone who needs to maintain connections and an organized life in order to live in a semi-productive and healthy way.
I’ll admit that I struggle with this from time to time. I’m 22, and still sharpening my ~being on my own~ skills (which is hard to do when you still live with your parents), but I do feel entirely confident in my ability to be a contributing adult member of society, and still take care of my own emotional wellbeing. It is easy to make genuine mistakes, or straight-up make the wrong decision, and just pass it off as ~self-care~ so I don’t have to acknowledge my shortcomings.
During the past few weeks, which have been particularly difficult for many reasons, I’ve been laser-focused on school and work projects, and let “Sane Mary” slip to the side for a little bit. I even made a few shopping mistakes, which I regretfully detailed in this post last week. But I will not be writing these off as productive self-care habits – in contrast, I’ve recognized where I let the bad habits take over, and am undoing them to the best of my ability.
But no self-care-blasting or shop-shaming posts should come without a follow-up of the actually good habits you should adopt in order to avoid letting your “self-care” become self-destructive. Here are 4 important tips I use to make sure I’m practicing “self-care” in a way that is inexpensive, effective, and doesn’t alienate the other humans in my life.
1. If you have to cancel a plan, do so respectfully.
Nothing hurts my little soul more than the “My self-care is more important than our plans, your feelings, and basic human decency” mentality. If there is a legitimate reason why you need to flake out on plans you’ve made with a friend, you have to do so in a respectful and genuine way, rather than being a self-righteous piece of shit. The important people in your life have every right to be upset if you’ve canceled the millionth plan in a row with them for no reason other than ~Netflix and snacks~ as a part of your “self-care” routine. They are not “bad friends” for not respecting your need to take care of yourself. They’re normal human people who are wholly aware of the fact that you have no respect for them or their time. If you’re legitimately not feeling well, or some important life event has come up that you need to take care of immediately, be as honest as possible when telling them why you have to cancel. Then, offer a heartfelt apology and a raincheck plan. Oh, and follow through on that plan.
2. Recognize the difference between “treating and taking care of yourself” and “enabling a dangerous cycle of using destructive vices to cope with problems”.
Last week, I rounded up some thoughts a bunch of women in my life have about “treating themselves”. The general consensus seemed to be that having a “treat yo’self” moment is totally cool, provided that the treat is comfortably within your means, and that it doesn’t become excessive or habitual. If the treat you are using to try and make your problems feel lighter is actually a bad habit that could contribute to your problems, it is not a treat – it is a trap. There is such a huge difference between picking up an inexpensive order of Thai food and new bottle of nail polish at the end of a particularly gruesome work-week as a little relaxing treat for yourself, and, say, consistently splurging on pricey shoes à la Carrie Bradshaw when you’re feeling emotional, even though your credit score is low as fuck. In the spirit of Halloween, dare I say: it is okay to treat yourself – but don’t trick yourself.
3. Even more than focusing on avoiding bad self-care habits in favor of neutral ones, try practicing some that are actually highly enriching.
I’m not going to sit here and knock the amazingness of a good old-fashioned Netflix-and-bubble-bath night, because I know firsthand that something so simple and mindless like that can truly do wonders. But there are also ways to practice a type of self-care that is actually productive, and makes the rest of your life better and easier. For example, finding a fun class at a local gym that helps you burn calories while relieving stress is an incredible way to visibly improve your wellbeing while doing something you enjoy. For me, a favorite self-care activity will always be finding and trying new and healthy recipes. I love cooking and eating, but even more than that, I love feeding the people I care about. It is therapeutic for me to spend time in the kitchen, but the added bonus of getting to bring a yummy, autumnal loaf of oatmeal pumpkin bread over to my grandparents at the end of my relaxing day of baking makes it the greatest and most productive act of self-care I can practice.
To take it a step further than that, recognize, as Chelsea says in her article, that many acts that don’t sound like self-care are actually so much more important to your long-term life-self-care than doing the thing that makes you happy in the moment. Skipping a shopping spree or a lunch out might not sound like the most fun thing to do today, but you’ll be self-caring your way to the bank with all the money you’ve saved up after a few months of not buying every little thing that brings you temporary joy.
4. Stop tricking yourself into believing that basic adult functions are acts of self-care.
Making sure that you’re emotionally and physically taken care of, especially when you live a busy and stressful life, is important. Making sure that you’re giving yourself a break, a rest, and some time to breathe is important. Making sure you are healthy, cooking and eating regularly, showering and caring for your home, and making (and keeping!) all necessary doctor’s appointments is important. But I’d argue that these things are not ~self-care~; they are not ~adulting~; they are just basic human functions. Everyone needs to do these things; they’re not extra. You have to be a grown up, and a human, and one that does all the stuff one needs to do to live a life past their greasy teenage years. Change your mindset a little, and let the idea of self-care be the cherry on top of your life-sundae; important, sure – but the thing that comes after all the necessary things. Make those things non-negotiable, and let the self-care be the sweet, delicious afterthought that you toss on top of your life-sundae at the end of a busy week. Do that, and you might just find yourself needing to go all-out with your Self-Care a little bit less often.
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