The True Meaning of Self-Care

We see self-care being promoted everywhere, on Instagram if you search the #selfcare you will normally see a glamorous looking woman holding an expensive looking bath bomb and a glass of wine. Or a group of friends enjoying afternoon tea perhaps, with fluffy robes in a spa? Or maybe a group of people engaging in some sort of sporting activity.

Is it just me, or is the way self-care portrayed at the minute, very privileged? For starters being able to participate in sports is not a given for everyone, somewhat ableist. Also, the idea of expensive bath bombs and afternoon tea just makes it feel like self-care has become a luxury and unaffordable for many. I feel self-care has been somewhat ‘glamorised’ by consumerism. I just wanted to put this out there and remind you all, that self-care looks extremely different for everyone. Not everyone can use the same forms of self-care due to disability or finances. When talking about the importance of taking time out, please do not just include the ‘perfect’ looking self-care.

I am not saying there is anything wrong with a long bath and fancy bath bombs, I wish I could lie in a bath for ages, I truly do love water. But for me, I cannot switch my brain off, my mind starts drifting to random topics such as ‘I wonder if cows can swim’ (and before you google it they can, by the way.) This was a fact I found out, whilst I was indeed trying to practice self-care by taking a bath. You see, having ADHD makes these sorts of self-care tasks extremely difficult. I still need to engage my senses, so the fact I could not relax and do the whole ‘self-care’ thing, by taking a bath and having a cup of tea, made me feel I was doing it wrong. I was engaging in self-care wrong; something must be wrong with me!

Truth is, I was indeed doing self-care wrong. You see, I was trying to follow what everyone else was doing instead of doing what works for me. Too busy comparing my forms of self-care to the #instaperfect forms of self-care I had become so attuned to seeing advertised. I needed to listen to my own heart. At heart I am a musician, so playing my instrument is a perfect form of self-care, engaging my mind, I feel the music, quite literally. It allows me to vent out those suppressed feelings and I can get lost completely within the piece. Listening to music too, again finding songs that match my mood, spending time at the end of the day to explore my feelings through a variety of different playlists.

Also, I enjoy nothing more than writing. Journaling all those muddling and somewhat messy thoughts onto paper, so I am not sat with them. Making sense of what ever is going on in my brain and figuring out some of the reasons behind these thoughts, spending time challenging the automatic negative thoughts and decluttering my mind. I have random notepads all over the house, and at points throughout the day when I am feeling overwhelmed, I can grab a notebook and ‘mind dump’ and often revisit it later when I have time.

However, self-care takes so many different forms and I feel it is important to highlight, that it can also be extremely messy. I am a firm believer that self-care also means engaging in tasks that may feel uncomfortable in the moment, but will have long term positive consequences. Such as setting boundaries, setting time aside to actually re-evaluate who you are giving your energy to. Allowing yourself to put yourself first, and looking carefully if you are spending too much time with mood hoovers.

Another big form of self-care which I feel is overlooked is actually having a good cry. Allowing time to actually release those emotions in a healthy way, instead of trying to push them aside. Time to really feel your feelings and acknowledge the pain. Perhaps finally doing those jobs you have been procrastinating on and then having that guilt attached, actually having that clear out and declutter.

My main point here is self-care does not have to be all face masks and pints. It actually means so much more. Self-care takes so many different forms and will look completely different for each person. Do what is right for you, find what ever it is that recharges your batteries and give yourself permission to do these things. It does not have to look ‘perfect’ and can be messy.

Spend time exploring all the different forms, whether it is setting time aside to feel those feelings or standing outside for a few moments barefoot grounding yourself to the earth. It does not have to cost money and more often than not, the best form of self-care is often free.

So, go set those boundaries and find people who encourage you. Look at where you are spending your energy, practice saying ‘no’ or look carefully at what plates you are spinning and which you may be able to put down. Then schedule in some time doing whatever it is you enjoy.

Oh and remember, self-care is not selfish! It is a necessity to lead a more balanced life.

Contributed by Zoe Burnett,
Specialist Support Office at First Steps ED