My aunt Nancy looked at me the other day and said, “Laur… I have something I would like you to write on.”
“Sure, what is it?”
“I want to you to write about when self-care becomes an obligation — another thing to do on the to-do list,” and she made a box checking gesture in the air.
Nancy is pretty damn wise, and also pretty damn busy. I have watched how she has parented, and tended to her family over the years — I mean her WHOLE family. I admire how she has handled a whole lot of life’s bullshit with grace. She cares for a lot of people, and she understands that, in order to do so, she has to care for herself too. There is never a big production though. She takes care of her health. She sees healthcare providers and follows their advice. She goes on walks. She attends a yoga class — a time she has made sacrosanct. All of this is woven into a schedule that involves a lot of tending to others.
Nancy’s schedule and M.O. may seem familiar to you. Maybe you do more or maybe you do less, but if you are doing any of these things in order to take care of your physical and mental health, then CONGRATULATIONS! YOU ARE DOING SELF-CARE!
Called the doctor: check, self-care.
Engaged in a simple hobby: check, self-care.
Made a point to get a solid night’s sleep: check, self-care.
I know, these are not really Instagrammable. That probably means it is more self-care than staging a bubblebath, bringing your phone with you, and photographing yourself taking the bath and posting to social media.
Nancy’s suggestion gave me pause. I talk a lot about self-care and what self-care is on social media. Am I making people feel like they are not doing enough self-care? Am I feeding the shame-beast? It turns out that I may be. Writing this has been a wake-up call to me to be more careful about my languaging. And now I am calling upon other health and wellness practitioners on Instagram to be more careful about how they post. I am also offering advice to everyone who consumes social media on how not to get sucked into the either doing self-care because it is another obligation OR because you are worried you are not doing it enough or correctly.
Self-care can be anything you do for yourself to take care of your health — both physical and mental. In my last blog post I wrote that “Self-care is about the intention” behind it. I think we need to also consider the impact (long or short term) it has on your health.
Nancy tried to recall a Brene Brown quote that basically said, if you are going to therapy once a week and yoga once a week you’re doing self-care. Nancy and Brene — both wise women — are right.
In our conversation Nancy kept referring to posts on social media from health and wellness accounts. It reinforced to me that self-care, a once radical concept born of the Civil Rights and Women’s Rights movements, has become commoditized. This leads marketers to find pain points in your self-care practice so they can sell self-care tools. Self-care has become another avenue into our shame-place for us to feel bad about ourselves so we then buy stuff. Businesses that make money off of self-care benefit if you feel bad about not doing enough self-care. If we all feel bad enough, and they promise us that with their product or service we won’t feel bad anymore, they make sales.
This gives me pause. I post about self-care on Instagram, and I am in the business of health and wellness — but I don’t want to make people feel they are not doing enough. That runs counter to my personal mission of increasing people’s agency in their care. I share advice and tools that cost little time and money to use — mostly ways you can move your body wherever you are — to feel better. I am not not intending to say “you should” do this. “Should” is the worst. “Should” makes us feel inadequate, wrong, or bad. “Should” may masquerade as a way to encourage agency but it is not. Should is laden with judgement.
My intent is to convey “this is an option.” I am all about increasing folks’ agency. And maybe I have been clear, but maybe I haven’t. It cannot hurt to make this more clear in my languaging. I don’t want be feed the shame-beast. I am not in that business — that business is harmful. I have been on that side of the self-care conversation, and it sucks. Do not feel you have to “keep up with the Joneses” when it comes to taking care of yourself.
While I will be more mindful of my languaging going forward, let’s look at some questions you can ask yourself when it comes to your current self-care routines and when thinking about your current self-care practices and trying something new.
I made you a flow chart!
Self-care needs to be accessible, approached with intention, and have a positive impact on your health and wellness. If you are creating more stress for yourself because you feel like you are not doing enough or because you feel like you have to spend a lot of resource (time, energy, money) doing it — you need to evaluate if this self-care practice is actually self-care for you.
Furthermore, I want to remind you that people — myself included — may appear to be doing more self-care than we are due to the nature of social media. For example I do write about journaling and encourage clients to try journaling in the gym. This was a helpful and regular practice for me in the past that I still turn to when it is useful. However, I do not journal regularly anymore. When something comes up in the gym, I do jot it down so I can remember to bring it up in therapy, but I do not process things by journaling.
I used to have a regular yoga practice. I do not anymore. I do a 5–15 minute sequence as needed to turn down the knob on hyperarousal. Some weeks that may be twice, some months that may be once. It varies.
I go through periods where certain tools and practices work for me, and I incorporate them into my routine, at the expense of less effective tools and practices. There was a period where it seemed as if self-care filled my schedule and I did little else. I had to live like that in order to survive. I was in the throes of trauma and that was the only way through it. But as I processed and healed I was able to drop certain practices that were taking time or money, and I was able to use those resources for personal growth in other arenas like developing my professional life. I was moving from surviving to thriving. As such I needed to devote less time to self-care. But I will never not need some. And at some points I may need more than others.
I have a stockpile of tools, but I don’t use them all the time. I can’t. I would be broke and my growth as a person would be stunted. I use them as needed. I use social media to share them as a way to give folks options, for them to take or leave. Not for folks to do them all and with regularity.
If you feel pressured to do more self-care as opposed to stoked, I refer you to the flow chart above. If you find yourself looking at that oval that reads “evaluate if this approach is right for you, right now,” I invite you to really weigh the costs and the benefits of taking on the activity while shortchanging neither. And I want you to give yourself permission to take a hard pass if that practice does not work for you right now.