What is self care? It was 2019’s biggest buzzword, but what does the term really mean? Jo Robinson goes beyond the sheet mask to get to the heart of the self care phenomenon, and learns how to do it right.
Three years ago, I believed I was the epitome of self care. I went to the gym six days a week. I prepped a week’s worth of meals on a Sunday. I made sure I was in bed at a decent hour, four or five nights each week. I cleansed, toned and moisturised morning and night, but not before I’d brushed and flossed exactly how the dentist had told me to.
But just because I ate healthy, worked out and did the odd face mask, did not mean I was practising self care. Far from it. It only took one medical scare involving my adrenal gland to realise that all my efforts at self care were, ironically, putting more stress on my body and leaving me out of touch with myself.
Which leads to the question: what actually is self care? How much of it do we need? And what can happen to us if we neglect it?
“Not taking time to care for ourselves and sending the message back to our brains that everything is safe and sound can put real pressure on nearly every system of the body,” says naturopath Philip Watkins, of Hong Kong’s Integrated Medical Institute.
Combined with work obligations, all our attempts at living the healthiest life possible can be massively detrimental, says Graeme Bradshaw, also a naturopath and the founding director of Hong Kong’s Integrated Medical Institute.
“Excessive work hours plus excessive endurance sports and other social efforts can undermine the cells in our body, our sleep, and our neurohormonal systems, as well as how we make energy,” says Bradshaw.
What are we missing when it comes to self care? Our bodies clearly need more than just a face mask, so what are our other options? Madison Ashley is a partner at Balance Potential, a workplace wellness company. She believes most people fall short by missing the big picture when they think of self care.
“Self-care is an act of investing in total wellbeing; a decision which is rooted in awareness and integrity with what an individual values and feels truly fulfilled or uplifted by.”
Most experts agree that it really is as simple as that: doing the things that make you happy, content and calm. Checking in with yourself constantly and being mindful of how you feel and what you need. Forget the scientific reports about what herbal supplement you should be taking, or how long your intermittent fasting should be; the only way to know if you’re doing self care right is to stop, take a breath and ask yourself if you’re happy. It should bring you more peace, mental clarity and assurance, not add to your anxiety by giving you more tasks to complete.
If you’d have told me three years ago that my self care routine would be turning off my phone for 12 hours or eating half a jar of peanut butter on the sofa without guilt, I wouldn’t have believed you. But for me it really has become that minimal – just giving my body what it needs when it needs it.
So how do you find your self care? We’ve got some suggestions on how to properly look after the most important thing in your world: you!
Wherever you are, take a break and go for a walk in nature. Japanese researcher and medical doctor Qing Li brought forest bathing to the world’s attention with his book “Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness”. Li says trees are the key to what makes us all healthier and happier. So get back to your roots – literally!
It’s a word we often hear but do we really know what boundaries are? Personal boundaries are our own personal limits – we build them according to what we know we need to be protected from. Whilst they can be hard to set, start by getting to know what yours are; think of situations where you’ve felt unease, frustration, anger or hurt. These can indicate when your boundaries may have been crossed and where you need to start placing limits around what you’re willing to accept.
Quit the negative self-talk
Make a note of how you talk to yourself when you’re trying on that new pair of workout leggings, or after an awkward meeting with your boss. Would you say the same to a friend? Try talking to yourself the way you would to someone you love; it’s not the easiest but it’s an incredible tool to practice being wonderfully kind to yourself.
Practice saying no
It’s a beautiful word, we swear! Just remember that “no” is a complete sentence; it doesn’t need to be followed by an explanation. And ultimately, by saying no to the things that aren’t important or don’t serve us, we allow ourselves the time to say yes to the things that matter.
Stop the “shoulds”
We often use this as a way of moving forwards towards our goals, but the effect of using this word too much can also conjure up feelings of regret and shame over our shortcomings. Stop with all the “shoulds” and start focusing on what you’re doing well now.
Don’t fake it
Natural never goes out of style, so just be true to yourself and get rid of anything that doesn’t feel like it serves you anymore. There is no better gift to yourself than being unapologetically you.
Start a meditation practice
Love it or hate it, meditation is medically proven to quieten the sympathetic nervous system (our fight or flight response) and activate our parasympathetic (our rest response). If you’re not the sort to enjoy sitting in silence with your thoughts for 10 minutes, try a guided app or a moving meditation, like mindful walking.
What does self care look like for you? Show us your self care at @liv.magazine!