The focus on self care has come in strong over the past couple of years, but what really constitutes self care? Is sitting at home eating a block of chocolate and having a wine instead of going out with friends self care, or self destruction? Where do we draw the line between healthy and unhealthy choices for not only our physical, but mental well being?
I talk about self care a lot in this blog, and it is something that I hold very dear to me as a way to keep myself whole and well. When I was out having dinner with a friend this week, she brought up the ever emerging question of how we decide whether something really is self care, or it has become an excuse to justify an ever growing number of unhealthy, self-indulging behaviours?
This made me think about all of the times that people do things under the guise of self care, that can ultimately have the opposite effect on our mental health. For example, you’ve had a bad week and pick up a bottle of wine on the way home to drown the sorrows away as ‘self care’, but is this really caring for your mind and body in the way it needs to be cared for? When is having a wine self care and when is it self sabotage?
My golden rule is that what makes an activity and act of self care is when it will help to calm anxiety, and not contribute to it.
I’ll discuss a couple of examples to make it a bit clearer (starting with wine because let’s be real, I love a good vino):
- Self care can be having a few glasses of wine, but it needs to be for the ‘right’ reasons. If you’ve had a terrible week and are looking for a way to practice self care to feel better, drinking alcohol can often have the opposite effect. Not only are you creating a negative association in your brain between; bad feelings=I need a drink, but alcohol consumption often disrupts your sleep, and can lead to the ever horrible hangover-anxiety feels (aka. hangxiety). Therefore, this isn’t a good way to practice self care, and we need to not pretend that this is a choice that is ultimately caring for your well being. On the flip-side, if you’ve had a great day and are wanting to unwind with a wine over dinner, this can be an act that is more in line with self care. If you take the time to savour a nice glass of red or white, discuss the awesome parts of your day with another person or write down some happy moments in a gratitude journal, you’re creating a more positive moment for yourself that is likely to reduce anxiety rather than spike it. Whatever your choices are when it comes to the trickier/traditionally less ‘healthy’ acts of self care (ie. chocolate and Netflix binge or a wine night) be sure that you ask that crucial question of whether this will realistically be a relaxing choice that will reduce anxiety, or will it only contribute to flat feels?
- A practice that often comes up when talking about self care and creating healthier habits is starting your day early. I really am not a morning person the majority of the time, and I can’t tell you how many mornings I have set an early alarm with the intention to get up and hit the gym or go for a walk, and have smashed the snooze button freaking hard and basically laughed at myself for even thinking that it was going to happen. Something that I finally did try this week just gone was setting that early alarm without the intention to exercise (because we all know how that would go), but instead I got up, got on the computer and started writing. And honestly, it was a stellar way to start the day, and a proper act of self care for me. I love to write, so carving out that extra bit of time to get started early doing something that I love set the tone for a good-mood, productive day. What I’m trying to get at is that what self care looks like to one person (a 6am gym sesh) wont look like that for everyone. Instead of making self care goals that you think you ‘should’ be, choose things that you actually like, or at the very least wont make you roll your eyes and feel shitty about.
I used that early-morning example when I was talking to my friend about what is and is not self care, because it highlighted the fact that making an unrealistic/unenjoyable self care plan was something that would only add to my reservoir of anxiousness. Instead, altering the self care activity to be more tailored to my likes whilst not giving up the underlying intention (to get up early and start my day positively and productively) was the win-win choice. I also highlighted to her that it is super important to listen to what your body and soul really needs when making the plan to either get up early or sleep in (for example). If I’ve had an insane week and my body is feeling really tired, I will maximise my sleep and not bother with that early alarm. Because in that scenario, the extra sleep would be the thing that contributes most to reducing my anxiety. If I’ve had an insane week but am feeling anxious about being behind on my study or writing plans, then I will make that early-morning self care plan, as that is the choice that would contribute most to a happy-yes-I’m-on-top-of-everything disposition. Easy.
I hope all of that makes sense, and I’m sure that you can start to unpack the habits and choices in your own life that may be contributing to anxiety rather than reducing it. Recognising these patterns is an excellent first step, as it gives you a clear blueprint to be able to flip the scenarios and make the choice that is going to contribute to better feelings of well being.
Self care=reducing anxiety and maximising joy, in whatever way works for you!
Big self love hugs x