It seems that self care is a catch phrase in current popular culture and a rather ambiguous term. Lumped along with a whole variety of nouns such as clean eating, low-toxic and mindful it can seem a bit trendy and woo-woo for the average Joe. But self care isn’t all green smoothies and yoga (although I love yoga) it’s relevant to everyone and it’s got a burgeoning place in our society. Let’s look a little more at self care and then I will tell you why.
Self care is a term that often crops up when I am describing my nurture boxes, usually when someone asks for my selling points; how my nurture boxes differ from regular gift boxes and what the “therapeutic twist” actually is. The nurture boxes have two primary aims; to connect the giver and receiver and to provide a vehicle for self care. In this context I see self care as an act of self support, acceptance and kindness in a moment of need. Each box uses a combination of materials, items and visual and written prompts to promote these two outcomes. Take for example the voucher booklet to request help and comfort from friends and family, or the natural soap that nourishes the skin and describes how to mindfully wash.
Despite self care being a primary aim for the nurture boxes I tend to shy away from using self care in marketing. Why? Because a gift should be more novel and less responsible, buying yourself or someone something that has a connotation of chore or responsibility is quite frankly a turn off. It’s like buying your friend a diet book or your mum an iron for her birthday. There is very few to none of us who can get away with it. If you have made that mistake early on, you know what I am talking about; you’ve either been disowned or you’re still making up for it 5 birthdays later. The thing is gift giving is about celebrating or nurturing someone and is in essence an act of symbolic communication. This is why traditionally gifts have always been luxurious and beautiful because such gifts inadvertently communicate to the receiver that they are worthy of beautiful things. Similarly giving thoughtful and personal gifts communicates value and worth through attention to detail. Buying or giving someone something they need however is playing roulette, it could be perceived as thoughtful but is just as likely to be perceived as critical. This is because the underlying message is of inadequacy. If I marketed my nurture boxes as self care boxes I would take a huge risk in their reception. They could still be received as thoughtful or they could fall into the obligatory category of shopping; something you should get but never quite get around to.
Self care is described well by Cindy Ricardo on GoodTherapy.org and although it references mental health and therapy, self care really is a ritual of humanity. It is essentially the act of sustaining one’s wellbeing through balancing spiritual, emotional, physical and social needs. Some aspects of this we generally don’t associate with self care such as physical care like showering and dressing. Most commonly the catch phrase “self care” is used to indicate care of emotional balance. This is because it’s the element of our wellbeing that is most neglected in modern society.
Interestingly self care can be seen as indulgent. It produces a few eye rolls and this is exactly because it is lacking as a cultural practice. Current cultural conditioning values high achievement, multitasking and sacrifice in favour to attain high status careers and the raising of accomplished children. Additionally what was once a community structured culture has become focused on the individual and historic community structures and villages have dissipated. As a result we are more vulnerable to isolation and our lifestyles increase our risk of burnout. Taking time out for psychological needs has been branded as weakness. Have you ever been brave enough to tell work you’re taking a sick day because you’re tired, stressed and vulnerable or you just felt like you needed to refill your emotional cup? Exactly, very few of us have. I think every time I have taken a day off for my emotional needs, it’s been out of necessity rather than prevention and I have always been racked with guilt. These days have usually involved hiding in the house in case I am spotted enjoying my day off in town and a steady stream of fibs are spoken at work the next day about how I had a tummy ache.
As if it wasn’t enough to contend with the frowns handed down in workplaces for having emotional needs, we have been subject to a falsehood about where to find fulfillment, healing and governance. We are raised to expect fulfillment out of our careers, healing from medicine and governance from others. Sure all of these things do offer those outcomes, I find my career fulfilling, medicine has saved me from many an infection and illness and governance has kept my daydreaming brain and inner rebel in line; but I’ve also lost the responsibility and daily ritual of meeting my own emotional needs.
So without further ramblings, I am going to set you the challenge of reflecting on your emotional needs and how you can meet them yourself. Yes I mean you, not your husband, wife, sister, parent or best friends. Have a think about what you need to keep balanced emotionally and try and work a little “me time” in each day. Ignore your brain if it’s telling you your too busy or that’s too selfish, it’s a liar. If your stuck for ideas there are lots of lists on the internet (like this daily list, or this one for especially difficult days). If you have purchased a nurture box, a self care card is included.
Below are three things to remember when starting a self care routine
It doesn’t need to be grand. It needs to be achievable. Sure a sunset beach picnic eating chocolate dipped strawberries while reading your favourite book sounds amazing, but if you live 40 minutes from the beach and strawberries aren’t in season you’re going to encounter some problems. Self care activities can be as small as taking three deep breaths in the morning before you get out of bed, listening to happy songs on the way to work, avoiding the news, eating dinner by candlelight or planting some seeds in the garden. Sometimes self care is social, it may involve seeing or writing to a good friend. But be wary of this trap as sometimes social activities can deplete our emotional reserves rather than feed into them.
Self care doesn’t always feel good. This is why we stop doing it when we need to most. If you’re feeling stressed, anxious or depressed, doing something outside of the schedule or the rut your in can amplify feelings of guilt, stress and worry even if it’s something you usually enjoy. The trick is to remember that it’s something that you need; in the same way a car needs a service; your body and mind need positive and nurturing input. If you’re in a particular rough place self-care can take a while to have cumulative impact. So give it time and keep doing it anyway as long as it aligns with your needs and interests
The success is in the pitch and the self talk. Self Care is an obligation to your health but a little thought trickery is needed. Otherwise that bizarre human trait called self sabotage is likely to make its appearance, disguised as sickly sweet convenience and consideration. Negative self talk is normal when doing something we “should” be doing and we all have well honed procrastination skills. If you fall off simply jump back on the bandwagon, it takes a lot of practice but you will eventually form a habit.
If you have any great self care ideas be sure to comment them below.