By Chay Tanchanco, LMFT
It seems we are a society built on burnout. As the rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide rise, it is becoming more and more apparent that we are needing a major reboot in our emotional regulation as we are feeling the pressure of high intensity trauma, productivity pressures, and relational disconnect.
Suddenly, the word “self-care” came into the milieu. If you are in a care profession, such as healthcare or in schools, you may have heard how “important” self-care is and that you should “do” some self-care, whatever that means. Even among business professionals and tech jobs or labor intensive professions, we understand logically that we should all “take care of ourselves”. But often we misunderstand what that looks like.
Here are a few debunking tips for myths about self-care.
Myth 1: Self-Care is "Treat Yo-self" Day.
Marketing can be deceiving; often we see “self-care” marketed as a “spa day” or a “special treat day”, inviting us to spend money on ourselves or shirk our responsibilities.
As fun as a day without worries may seem, it can often leave us feeling more stressed in the aftermath because while one area of our lives may have been addressed, the others may have been strained further. If your "treat" day is becoming more of a habit of avoidance, you already know how unhelpful the activity is in your life and there are other ways to address it.
Myth 2: Self-Care is soothing and glamorous.
The picture at the top of this blog is feeding into this idea, so I recognize that - but when we think of self-care, often it feels like alone time or snuggling into bed, warm candles, a soothing bath, a quiet night.
It may surprise you then, that sometimes self-care is having a difficult conversation, or cleaning up the messy pile of clothes growing steadily next to your bed, or running a few miles and sweating profusely, or screaming into your pillow, or dumping out your trash. Self-care is often *not* glamorous -- it can be messy, even uncomfortable. However, if it brings balance back into your life (without hurting you or others, of course), it qualifies as self-care.
What areas of our lives are we talking about?
I found this wonderful chart online and it spells out the areas of our lives incredibly well, along with some suggestions of ways to address our needs.
For example, if we spend money on ourselves that we did not intend to spend in the interest of “feeling better” (and do it continuously), we may be further straining our financial health, and therefore tricking ourselves into thinking that we are improving our emotional health this way.
So how do we actually address our self-care?
The beauty of the chart is, we have many aspects of our identity. When we are feeling calm or content, we are maintaining a balance within these areas that feels authentic to who we are. It does not mean that we have “perfection” in every category - in fact, it is allowing ourselves the space that every area of our lives is affecting the others, is supporting and leaning on the others, that we understand they are always shifting.
As another example:
When we are in grief, we may need a larger amount of support in different areas of our lives. Especially around the holidays, when we may feel that we “should” be happy or that people who have passed “should” be here to celebrate, we may feel angry, guilty, sad, irritated, or depressed.
Some people find that work is helpful; it keeps them occupied, takes their minds off of things so that they can take a break from the overwhelming sorrow. Others find that work is overwhelming, and they need significant time off so that they can take time for social connection or physical space from others. As one adjusts, the others change - we may spend more money in order to allow other family members to attend the funeral, or we may need to exercise more physical care such as yoga or walking; we will then need to make space and time in other areas of our lives to make up for it.
Self-care is unique to every one of us, and it is a balance between the many aspects of who we are and how we are in the world. If we are being true to ourselves, then we are exercising self-care that matches our needs.
When determining your next moves for self-care, I recommend asking yourself:
What areas in my life do I find easiest to balance or manage?
What areas do I find myself feeling drained or lacking in awareness?
How can one area in my life adjust so that another can grow or experience relief?