When you search #selfcare
on Instagram, you will find over three million posts. As you sift through these posts, you are likely to see motivational memes and contemplative captions, or multi-colored food shots and exercise videos. But more often than not you will see a slew of selfies, each with its own unique explanation of what self-care looks like. While each act of self-love is beautiful and important, it seems that posting it online somewhat defeats the purpose.
The idea of self-care is in no way new. Some known origins of self-care date back to the Ancient Greeks when Socrates, on the brink of execution, urged future generations to pay more attention to the upkeep of their own souls. It rose to the surface again during the 70s and 80s as a form of resistance for black and queer communities. During that time, similar to the climate we live in today, it was made clear to queer communities and communities of color that their existence was not valued in society’s eyes. So, figures like Audre Lorde and June Jordan publicized the importance of self-care through their writing. It was through their words that people started realizing the power in putting their health first.
When we examine the roots of self-care and the historical experiences connected to it, we can see very clearly that it is a sacred practice, one free from outside influences and judgement, a secret emotional superfood to which only you have access. However, unlike folks of previous generations, most of us are developing alongside technology and as we grow, so do the number of social media platforms. It has become almost a requirement to have an online presence and a norm to provide live updates of social activity. And sometimes we get so excited about the new releases and the updates and the apps that we can no longer eat lunch without telling our “followers” about it. This is self-care for the screen addicted. It is for those who need a break from the hashtags and the snapchats and want to have a love affair with themselves.
Realize that self-care isn’t always face masks and pedicures.
A common understanding of self-care often consists of treating oneself to decadent desserts or relaxing spa treatments. But caring for yourself doesn’t always mean spending money on fluffy and fun, yet temporary, relaxation techniques. Sometimes it means sticking to a routine that feels tedious and unnecessary but might have a positive, yet gradual, impact. Sometimes it means cutting something you love out of your life because it causes your body or your mind too much harm. Sometimes it means spending time mapping out your month, week or day so that you can save yourself from future stress. Sometimes it even means feeling uncomfortable about the fact that you are taking time away from time with others and giving it to yourself.
As someone who is more often than not a people-pleasing ball of stress, it took me quite a while to commit to the two-hour, twice daily self-care routine that I knew I needed. I felt guilty for not spending time with my roommates at night and would make excuses or drag my feet before I willingly spent time by myself with no screens or distractions. Getting to know yourself sans everything and everyone can be one of the most liberating yet terrifying experiences that you can have. However, if you take it in baby steps, self-care no longer feels like just another thing someone on the internet told you to do; it becomes the best hour (or two) of your day. It turns into the longest lasting emotional and physical hug you could ever receive. It becomes the secret to your success; success that needs no social media proof because the proof is in your healthy relationships, your positive outlook, your improved communication, and your overall happiness. So, let’s dig in!
Survey your life… then make some cuts.
There are so many things in our lives that we just accept at face value. We don’t even think to question them or dig deeper. You are the expert of your own experience and just because your doctor, your family, your friends, or your boss tells you everything is normal doesn’t mean you have to just shrug your shoulders and live with it. There are always solutions; whether it be adjusting your diet, your mindset, your surroundings, or your daily routine, it is up to you to find the right balance.
Become a researcher of your own life. Think about what is working well and what is causing you stress. Observe your responses to things like food, activities, people, and work. Think about what things in your life you could do without. What do you absolutely hate doing? What do you agree to do only because you feel uncomfortable saying no? What is causing you to hit the snooze button eight times? Think about the people you surround yourself with. Do they lift you up and encourage you? When you leave them, do you feel energized and fulfilled or do you feel depleted and in need of recuperation? Try to keep a running list of things or people that are having a negative impact on you. Ask yourself if you need them. If the answer is no, make a plan to gradually ween away from it/them. If the answer is yes, start to strategize some solutions. Understand your limits and set healthy boundaries for yourself. Take your time with this and be gentle with yourself.
Treat yourself as you would your best friends
Just for a second, think about the negative things you tell yourself on a daily basis. Now imagine you’re saying all of those things… out loud… to your best friend. How do you think they would react? Mine would probably slap me and never talk to me again. Why do we continue to tell ourselves these friendship-ending insults as if they’re normal? These negative thoughts are having the same effect on you internally as they would have on your best friend.
Correcting this tendency is a life-long process but once you start, you are already making progress. Negative thinking is unfortunately a normal part of the human experience. So, although it’s not ideal, these thoughts happen to everyone. On the plus side, each negative thought only lasts about seventeen seconds so bringing your awareness to your negative thought patterns will actually make it easier for you to stop them from doing any damage. Once you notice yourself going into negativity land, bring yourself back by counting to seventeen, taking a deep breath, and giving yourself a compliment.
Another thing to remember is that you don’t have to believe your thoughts. They happen regardless of your awareness, but it is your choice to accept them. Try writing the thought down on a loose piece of paper to remind yourself that you are in control. For example, write down, “I don’t feel badly, my mind does.” Seeing the words written out releases you from an endless loop of toxic thinking and reminds you that you are not your thoughts. Think of your thoughts as passing cars on the highway; you’re going to see them regardless, but unless you grab onto a bumper and let the thought take you to wherever it wants to go, you’ll just watch it pass you by. So, be your own best friend and feed your mind positivity as you watch the negative cars take the next exit.
Ghost your newsfeed and date yourself
If there is anything you take from this article, please let it be this: social media and excessive screen time is more than likely undoing all your efforts to care for yourself. A study by the American Journal of Preventative Medicine
found that social media use is linked to greater feelings of social isolation. Although the original intention of technology and social media platforms was to bring people together no matter their geographical location, having 24/7 access to friends’ and strangers’ daily activities can make our own lives feel sepia-toned.
The most important thing I did for my mental health was disconnect from all social media for 30 days. In doing this, I uncovered several unhealthy habits that were keeping me from being fully present. In the end, I made the choice to keep all of social media apps off of my phone and to delete my snapchat completely. Each person has a different relationship with technology and social media, so a social media fast may affect you differently. I know I never would have realized the negative impact these platforms were having on me had I not taken a step back from them.
Regardless of what comes from your social media fast, though, I encourage you to start thinking of your self-care as private. It sounds more fun that way, does it not? Instead of including everyone in your life (plus some strangers), your non-negotiable “me time” guest list just decreased to one. Maybe try it in conjunction with the social media fast, to take away any temptation, and see how it feels.
Find something that brings you joy, then Rest & Repeat.
Now that we’ve gotten the big tasks out of the way, we can get into the fun stuff! This is where you schedule non-negotiable time for yourself (but try to be as specific as possible). “Me-time” as a calendar event can easily turn into binge watching The Office on Netflix. Instead, find an activity (away from screens) that you love and do it for at least a half an hour every day. Read your book, do some Sudoku, write or journal, draw or color, listen to music, etc. Put your phone in another room or on airplane mode and just let the good feelings wash over you for the half an hour you set aside for yourself. That’s your time and you deserve it.
In through the nose, out through the mouth.
Deep breathing should be a constant on almost everyone’s self-care list because it’s just that important. If you need to destress, the breath is your best friend. It’s pretty empowering when you realize that the most inexpensive and the most powerful destressing tool is something we do 24 hours a day. The American Institute of Stress
explains that focused abdominal breathing for 20-30 minutes a day activates the body’s natural “relaxation response.” During this time, the metabolism decreases, the heart beats slower, the muscles relax, the blood pressure decreases, and nitric oxide (a free radical that expands blood vessels, increases blood flow and decreases plaque buildup and blood clotting) is released.
Take some time throughout the day to quiet your body and deepen your breath. Try to sneak it in before you leave for work, midway through your day, and after you get home. Try the three-part breath technique: as you inhale, fill your belly with air, then your chest and finally your throat; as you exhale, release the air from the throat first, then the chest and finally the belly, feeling your navel naturally draw inward. This can take some time to get the hang of so don’t get discouraged if you find yourself mixing up the order.
Fill your space with green, leafy stress relievers.
Finally, if you’re able to, get yourself some plant pals! Texas A&M Agriculture & Life Sciences Department
has some pretty unbelievable facts that will make you want to run to your grocery store or local nursery and buy all the plants. Being around plants improves your concentration and memory and having flowers in your space reduces stress levels, improves moods, and generates happiness. Spending the majority of your time around plants improves your relationships and increases your capacity for compassion, and there’s even more where that came from!
If you doubt your ability to care for a plant, try out a succulent or an air plant. They’re calming to look at and they require very little care. Or, if you just can’t have plants period, try to spend 20 minutes outside among trees or in a park. This can be a great brain break in addition to all the benefits I previously mentioned.
When I started putting my health first, I didn’t even call it self-care because it didn’t feel great initially. However, when I started looking at self-care as a process as opposed to a quick fix, I stopped resisting. Suddenly, my doctor was no longer my excuse for everything. I was doing these things because they made my body and mind feel better. I stopped shrugging my shoulders and started pushing back on everything I had previously accepted at face value. Self-care for me manifested as taking unapologetic ownership of my choices. The best part is, I did all of this without posting on any social media. I know it seems unnecessary and tedious now but trust me when I say you don’t know until you know. Self-care is hard work and looks different for everyone but hopefully with these steps, it feels a little less daunting.