What was the last thing you did for yourself, that could be classed as self care?
Often when I ask this question, people will respond with answers such as “an evening watching Netflix with a big tub of ice cream” or “a bottle of wine after dinner.” Those things are nice, and they definitely have their place – but I don’t think they’re necessarily self care.
What is self care?
Here’s the thing: for me, real self care is about making sure my day to day life is bearable – even good. It includes things like setting good boundaries, making sure I get a good night’s sleep, and eating my greens.
Eating an entire tub of ice cream while I binge watch a boxset on Netflix feels good in the moment, but there usually comes a point where I’ve eaten a bit too much and I feel a bit rubbish – and then I’ve stayed up too late to watch the next episode, so the following day I am tired, bloated and generally feeling a bit worse for wear. Real self care practices do not cause this bad feeling later on, whether that’s a hangover or feeling bloated or something else.
Think about how you’ll feel later
This can be true of so many things the mainstream media markets to us as the “self care” option. Women in particular are told through media messaging that we like white wine, or perhaps Prosecco, and that it’s an essential for relaxing of an evening – especially at the weekend.
Here’s the thing: if I drink wine in the evening, I might feel that it helps me to relax in the moment and I might feel better for it – but the next morning, it is likely to be a different story. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t begrudge anyone an evening glass of wine – but alcohol does generally cause a hangover, however mild.
Self care is about not needing the wine
I’m using wine as an example here, but this could also refer to a pint of Ben & Jerry’s or any number of things we use to “treat” ourselves after a bad day, or as a substitute for self care.
Real self care is about the boring, day-to-day things we put in place so that we don’t end up feeling that we need or deserve a bottle of wine at the weekend. This includes such boring-sounding things as setting and keeping to boundaries, eating well, learning to say no, learning to feel your feelings rather than numbing out, talking to a counsellor to help us deal with our feelings. Essentially it’s all the things we know are good for us but can often neglect in favour of the more self indulgent, media-pushed version of self care with the mentality of “you deserve it.”
The truth is that we do deserve self care – but what we really deserve more than anything is to have a life from which we do not feel the need to escape. Self indulgence is nice from time to time, but in and of itself rather than as an escape from our actual lives.
The difference between self care and self indulgence
Self care practices are the things we do to create a life we enjoy; where we feel peace and have time to ourselves. Over time they allow us to live a life where we feel an overall sense of good about our lives. This doesn’t mean our lives are always wonderful, but rather that when something less-than-marvellous happens, it is only a ripple on an otherwise calm pond.
Self indulgence is usually something that feels good in the moment, but not so much later on. You feel bloated after binging on ice cream, have a hang over from that bottle of wine and so on. Often if we don’t have proper self care practices in place, self indulgence becomes the opposite of self care: a small drop of calm in an otherwise turbulent storm.
The idea here is to create a life from which we don’t feel the need to escape. When we do this, we are able to enjoy a glass of wine or a bowl of ice cream here and there, without feeling that we need it after a hard day or week.