Self-care, you’ve heard about it before? Perhaps seen it, sweeping across the interweb of mental health promotion. Maybe you’ve heard a friend or colleague talk about ‘taking a self-care day’. Or, possibly, the only people you’ve heard about taking time for self-care are those really struggling with their mental illness.
Self-care is never selfish.
But what is self-care really, and why is it so important for everyone to practice?
Self-care, or “care of the self”, involves any activity you do, voluntarily, that helps you to feel healthy and relaxed. Getting a massage, taking a nap, spending a whole day on your hobby, these are all great self-care activities. So are smaller things you do every day. Been to the gym recently? That’s self-care. Stand a little longer in the shower this morning just because? That’s also self-care. Self-care can be anything you want it to be, from physical activities like exercising, eating right, and getting enough sleep to mental ones like spending time with friends, meditating, or stopping by the beach on your way home. You also don’t have to have a diagnosed mental illness to be ‘allowed’ to practice self-care. It isn’t a special part of therapy where you get permission to look after yourself because you meet certain mental-distress criteria. Anybody’s life can get overwhelming and stressful, everyone deserves to take time out to refuel.
Good self-care can be challenging for a lot of people however, it’s essential to remember that self-care is never selfish. You don’t even have to be already feeling anxious or down to engage in self-care behaviours. They are just as important for keeping on track, as they are in stress management and recovery from difficult times.
I do have a mental illness, and as such self-care has becomes such an essential tool to managing my condition, that it’s now a routine part of my life. Depending on where I am, my self-care practices can be about prevention or recovery, or even just about rewarding myself for getting through a really tough day. It’s about reminding myself that I deserve a quality life. I deserve to take time that is just for me and no one else.
When things are going well I, unsurprisingly, really like to try and keep it that way. A part of this is balancing exertion with down-time. Sometimes it’s about disconnecting from the world and reconnecting with myself. Having a bath once a week is my one of my favourite ways to do this. Other times it’s about completely switching off. Part of being me means I have a tendency to get caught up in negative thought patterns that then fuel my mental illnesses. At these times it’s important that I let my brain disconnect and chill out. I watch a lot of Netflix. Another thing I do regularly is to visit my headspace to see my health professionals. Therapy in itself is a self-care practice. When things are good my appointments are more spaced out, but I maintain the connection so if I start to struggle, we can get on top of it quickly.
Practicing regular self-care makes you resilient, but not immune and sometimes things do just fall in a heap. At these times my self-care becomes less about taking a bath every Sunday and more about whatever I need to do to feel like myself again. When I’m struggling the simplest of tasks – like taking a shower– are really difficult. In these times my self-care becomes about recognising what I can do, what is too much, and asking those around me for help. Asking for help though requires me being painfully honest about what I need, which is scary and uncomfortable and opens me up to being vulnerable. But, in the spirit of all the self-care baths I’ve taken over the years, I remind myself that nobody expects me to deal with everything on my own, that these feelings won’t last, and that, if necessary, taking time out for an admission is the best self-care practice I can do.