Some would say that self-care is crashing on the couch at the end of a hard day and watching their favourite show. Others, wouldn’t consider it to be anything less than a team of professionals guiding them through life-
And that, is the first beautiful thing you’ll come to know about self-care… It’s pretty damn subjective.
Which is no surprise really, because it is, I believe, based off an individuals needs, experiences, and interests. And whilst we may share common likes, our interpretations and experiences of them are different-
So no two people will practice and experience the same kind of self-care either…
But with all the noise out there on how we should be practising it; expensive solutions thrust into our inbox or popping up on our feeds each day, it’s difficult to not get sucked into the idea that self-care is something we have to buy… That self-care is these products and services.
They might be tools of self-care, but they are not what self-care actually is…
So what exactly is self-care then?
In it’s most simplest form, I have come to understand self-care as an action- caused from the consideration of ones needs and limitations, toward making them feel (or get closer to feeling) 100%. Mentally, physically, and emotionally.
Eating then, would be a form of self-care. Showering, resting, stretching when you feel tense, taking a deep breath to find calm… Most of us actually practice self-care each day without even realising it!
I say “most” and not all, because there are times when these basic needs are completely abandoned, as I often found the case with depression… It’s why I consider self-care to be a process, that starts with this basic level of self-care.
And answers the question most likely bubbling in your mind- if we practice self-care unknowingly, then why don’t we feel good all the time?
To try help explain, I broke it down into three levels-
1: Basic Self-Care:
First up, level one, where we’re taking care of our basic, base-line needs to “function” throughout the day. Resting when we’re tired, eating to fuel, and the things we do to navigate stresses, cultivate happiness etc.
At this very first stage, we’re unaware of the consequences our self-care acts have toward fulfilling these everyday needs- whether they are healthy, or unhealthy toward our overall well-being.
We’re just kind of on auto-pilot…
Reverting to the solutions to addressing those needs that we’ve picked up along our lives, sometimes going as far back as childhood. Like suppressing and beating ourselves up as a need for dealing with confrontation, or drowning ourselves in coffee when we’re tired.
It might seem a bit odd- considering self-care by mainstream ideas is supposed to be this indulgent act, to think of it in this way… But the way I’ve come to understand it, is that these acts- even if they are unhealthy and negatively impact our well-being, they are our methods of self-care. The things we do to cope with our needs.
Question is, are the methods we’re using just band-aids on bullet holes? Quick, temporary solutions toward feeling alright again? Or do they help support us? Not just in our every day needs, but relationships, self-growth, dreams…
When we start asking questions like this about our methods, our self-care explorations starts moving toward stage two…
2: Aware Self-Care:
This would be the stage where we have grown to become conscious of the effects that the self-care acts we engage with are healthy, or damaging to our overall wellbeing- enabling us to make mindful decisions on whether it’s a self-care strategy that needs kicking to the curb, or nurturing…
Then using the tools of self-care, to implement steps to making that happen-
Actively working to ensure we are catering for our needs with actions that bring us the healthiest results.
Take the example of suppressing and self-hating as a strategy for dealing with confrontation. We know this isn’t healthy for us, and yet we struggle to do anything else but, maybe through journaling or therapy, you find out why- or with building a nurturing everyday routine, you begin unearthing confidence in yourself to begin setting boundaries, and acting more in alignment with this need of coping healthier with confrontation…
It’s also the level that sees us falling out the saddle a lot- being blindsided back into old self-care strategies we don’t want to want to use anymore- but it’s also the level we’ll learn how to get back on track- using those tools of self-care to experiment and explore the best, positively impacting strategies to provide for our needs.
The deeper we go into this exploration, the closer we move to stage three-
3: Strategic Self-Care:
Where the increased knowledge and understanding of ourselves has allowed us to adopt self-care into our lives, in a way that adapts and grows as we do. Here, we’re not just mindful of ourselves- but of how our choices impact and influence the world around us…
And employing our self-care strategies to honour these considerations in a way that does not see us compromising on ourselves by doing so.
A simple example, would be realising that both going for a walk, and going for a drive to calm down has the same soothing effect on your mind, but yet, one is more of a cost to you and the environment. If that means something, you’d modify your self-care strategy to reflect it, like-
Unless it’s utterly miserable outside, going for the walk instead of getting behind the wheel.
You know how after you’ve learnt to do something and really gotten to grips with it- in such a way you can start adding your own flair, making it fully functional to your use?
That’s this level.
Where we’ve come to understand ourselves n such a way, we’re actively supporting ourselves to thrive in the best way we can each day. Those neural pathways to old, unhealthy strategies will be decaying, as the new healthier choices become second nature- meaning it’s going to take a heck of a lot more to throw us off our game now…
Told ya it was complicated. Why wouldn’t it be? The human mind is a beautifully complex thing!
But then, if self-care isn’t something we buy, and instead, is this action toward being balanced mentally, emotionally, and physically- how do we practice it? How do we know what action take?