Being a beauty editor for over 12 years, you’d assume that I’d have the notions of self-care in the bag: Get a massage (pre-COVID days, of course), slap on a face mask, make myself a bubble bath — done. It’s the same advice I’d give my mom friends when they were going through a rut, but to be honest I’ve always been bad at taking my own advice. I secretly pick my pimples. I sometimes forget to wash my face. And when it comes to self-care, I barely have enough energy at the end of the day to sit through my one-year-old’s bubble bath, nevermind drawing my own. Oh well, I’m human (and did I mention, a tired mom?).
Given that self-care is so buzzy, I enlisted the help of Rachel Hoffman, Head of Therapy at Real (a new online mental health program) to break down why it’s more than just a trend. She told me that because “our bodies are constantly running on overdrive, it’s important that we prioritize self-care so our bodies can function at their best. Self-care enables us to push forward given the heaviness around us. Without self-care, I believe that we cannot show up as our best selves.”
With the weight of everything going on on a global level and in my own personal bubble, I haven’t been functioning as my best self as of late. So, I decided that now is a better time than ever to invest in my well-being. For a week, I devoted myself to doing one self-care practice a day, from journaling to mantras to, yes, making myself a bubble bath and what I learned about self-care ended up surprising me. For anyone who doesn’t believe in the notion of self-care or struggles with how to implement it into their own life as I did, these lessons are for you.
Self-care shouldn’t be confused for self-indulgence
Often when you hear about self-care, it becomes synonymous with that famous Parks and Recreation motto: “Treat Yo’self!” But what I learned from Hoffman is that “self-care is a necessity and a way to prioritize yourself on a day-to-day basis that matches you.” On the other hand, “self-indulgence is a desire — something you would perceive as a ‘treat’ that you want, but don’t need regularly,” she says. Self-indulgence, in other words, is something that feels really nice while you’re doing it (like when I had a gigantic bowl of slow-churned mint chocolate chip ice cream one night), but it doesn’t have any positive effects in the long run.
I found that my self-indulgent actions were often motivated by emotions, especially if I was dealing with a lot of stress that day. Whereas acts of self-care (for me, it ended up being journaling) had more intentional decision-making behind it that nourished my personal growth. This isn’t to say that indulging every once in a while is egregious, it’s just important to know the difference and maintain a balance.
You don’t need to feel guilty about practicing self-care
The reason for my resistance to practicing self-care is because I’ve always thought in the corner of the mind that it felt selfish. Being a first-time parent, I felt guilty that taking any time for myself meant I wasn’t spending time with my child (or on the 1,0001 chores that needed to be done around the house). Particularly as a working mom, you already feel like you don’t see your kids as often as you wish. But in fact, carving out some me-time helps me be a better mom, so I feel energized and engaged with my daughter when we play, instead of a potato sack.
Your “alone time” doesn’t necessarily mean being by yourself
You usually see examples of self-care as something you do in private, like meditating, taking a bath or sitting down with a book. But especially during times of stress, it could be beneficial to open up your social circle as your form of self-care. During these weird COVID times, building real-life connections has been good for my introvert soul (which, by the way, being an introvert doesn’t mean I avoid all social interaction). Quarantine has made it so easy to rely on social media or group text message chats to give you the notion that you’re keeping up with your friends, but oftentimes they’re not conducive to meaningful conversations. My most restorative form of self-care has been going on weekly walks with one friend (groups felt like too much “work” for me). I could get my exercise in and also feel like I’m strengthening a human connection.
You might have to “schedule” your self-care
Hoffman told me she is a firm believer in practicing some form of self-care every single day. During my experiment, it ended up feeling rather stressful when I ran out of time at the end of the day and needed to squeeze it in — the opposite of its intended purpose. Juggling my job and family life, scheduling my self-care time on our shared family calendar helped me to be more practical about my time. Seeing it carved into my routine helped me commit to it (and it helped that my husband kept me accountable). Some days it meant just five minutes, but others I got a glorious hour. And when practicing it for the long-term, I know that a daily activity simply won’t fit my lifestyle, but I could still stay consistent with a more realistic goal, like four times a week.
Self-care can look different for everyone
Self-care checklists range from a whole variety of fun activities, from getting a manicure to learning a new hobby. While those are perfectly fine, I constantly wondered if I was doing self-care “right.” The truth is, there isn’t one correct way, but Hoffman told me that “when practicing self-care, you’ll get a good feeling in your soul. There is a range of short-term emotions that you can experience after practicing self-care including guilt, relief, exhaustion or a boost in energy. More long-term, you’ll feel proud and grateful. You will realize that you did this for you and be able to acknowledge that and share it with others. You might also feel less anxious and more energized, even if you’re unable to pinpoint exactly why.”
Self-care is a necessity, self-indulgence is a desire.
Though I certainly enjoy a manicure, I ended up using that time stressing over all the errands waiting for me at home, which negated my self-care activity for the day. So on days where I felt like my checklist was never-ending, I knew there would be nothing more restorative for my mood than a dedicated hour just to Get. Things. Done. This usually looked like mundane tasks like runs to the post office, changing light bulbs and organizing baby clothes. I called it my “power hour” where I enjoyed racing against the clock to see how much I could get done in 60 minutes. It ended up being my favorite form of self-care to not have the weight of a to-do list constantly rest on my shoulders.
It turns out self-care ended up looking entirely different than what I always thought it was, but now with a new perspective on it, I can finally get on board.
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