Self care is about learning to look after ourselves in the same way we look after others. It’s important that you do it, for you and for others around you.
Self care is more than doing a nice thing for yourself. It’s about how you deal with your feelings, and how you think about yourself. Knowing when you can do things and when you can’t do things. Being able to listen to what your body is telling you. It’s one of the steps to learning to love yourself.
Read more about how to love yourself.
Why we need self care
Whether we realise it or not we are all receiving messages which tell us how we should live our lives. How we should look, how we should dress, and how to have sex and relationships. We’re told how we should all be having sex to be successful (or that success = having sex). How to be attractive to others. That you should to find romantic love. You and I, and everyone reading this, feel under pressure to do what we’re told.
These messages will be very different depending on our identity. Things like gender, sexuality, whether we are disabled, our race, our age, our bodies. Many people feel that if they don’t fit in, in the way society tells them to. Because of things like racism, sexism, homo/biphobia, transphobia, ablism, and classism, a lot of people feel less safe than others too.
The messages come from many different places, which makes them very powerful. Media, government, advertising, TV, internet, shops, sex ed, school, the places and people around us. These stories that we hear from these sources can be so powerful that we can start to believe and tell them to ourselves too. This inner critic can be the hardest one not to listen to.
All of this pressure can lead us to think that we are not good enough. Not sexy enough. Lacking and not doing life properly. Not lovable enough or just not acceptable. It’s shit and we need to do something about it, but in the first place we also need to be able to deal with it for ourselves.
What is self care?
Self care is different from person to person and from time to time but the main thing is that it’s about being gentle with all of yourself: your feelings, thoughts and what you do. This also includes being gentle with your inner critic. Let’s look at three different kinds of self care and some ideas of what these can mean.
Self care about our feelings
Having difficult feelings is really, well, difficult. That’s how they get their name. On top of all the critical stories there are tons of reasons why we might have difficult feelings, like loss, sadness, loneliness etc. We can also be critical about us having difficult feelings and might feel angry or frustrated or sad about the feelings we’re having. If we do that, then we can start having more difficult feelings about our difficult feelings – so it all gets bigger and bigger.
It might be tempting to distract ourselves from difficult feelings and that is totally fine. Sometimes we just need a break from them, but they don’t usually just go away.
Self care is about finding ways to feel these feelings in as easy a way as possible at your own pace but without just blocking them out altogether. So that you can sometimes just sit with the feelings but at other times just step away from them a bit. My mate Meg-John made this really great zine about how to stay with your feelings.
Don’t let anyone tell you what it is you should do in order to do this.
Self care is about doing whatever it is that you think will work for yourself. How to do that?
Slowing down and getting grounded
Slow down and just take a moment before everything you do to get a sense of what is going to make things easier. Be all ‘Sherlock’ about all the basic things you do during the day and think of how you want to do them. Think about:
- What you want to watch, look at or listen to. Something new, something old? Online or offline?
- What you want to eat. Something you think is healthy or comforting or unhealthy?
- What you want to drink. You need to drink liquids, but what? Hot? Cold? Sugary? Caffeine?
- How active or resting you want to be. What works for you usually? How do you feel today?
- Whether you want to hang with people or by yourself or a combination.
- How much do you want to talk? Who to? How? Offline or online? Social media or not.
Pay close attention to what you’re doing too – have you had enough, not enough, more than enough? Is something working out for you now or not? Think about what’s worked for you in the past and try to be your own expert on how you can get through the next few hours. Remember that feelings are temporary, they come and go. They are like clouds, or farts.
Self care about our thoughts
When we start feeling criticised or start to feel critical, it can be tempting just to believe the thought. If you’re experiencing discrimination, that’s what it’s meant to do. It may help you to remember that these thoughts are stories that you don’t have to believe in if you don’t want to. Also remember that these stories come from so many places that it is difficult to avoid them.
Remember, critical thoughts are just stories. You don’t have to believe in them.
A good self care approach is just to say hello to the thought and treat it as something that has popped in to your brain rather than something that is a part of you. Rather than attacking a negative thought with a positive one, gently ask it questions: ‘where have you come from?’ or ‘is this thought useful to me right now?’
When we’re having critical thoughts about ourselves it’s easy to start comparing ourselves to other people unfavourably. ‘I’m the only person who is struggling with this, I’m so rubbish.’ The truth is that this stuff affects most people, they just might not tell you. Also when we’e being critical of ourselves we can also be even more critical of other people, maybe to make ourselves feel more okay. However this just then creates more criticism for other people, which isn’t cool either.
If you can talk to people when you’re finding this difficult now might be a good time. It can be good to check in with someone who can tell you that it’s totally okay to not be thinking about yourself positively all the time. Perhaps they can give you some reassurance
Self care about what we do
It can be easier to be reflective about our lives, or plans, where we are when we aren’t struggling with difficult feelings or thoughts. Being reflective can help to either prevent some future difficult feelings or help us deal with some things we have no control over. You could try this in whatever way is useful to you: write a journal about what’s going on for you right now and your resulting feelings and thoughts. You could write a story about you. Draw a comic. Record something. Make a graph. Draw a diagram. Write on post it notes and move them around. Write a blog post. Share a blog post.
Try to reflect on:
- whether you are being gentle with yourself or do you give yourself a hard time
- are you being all or nothing or learning and being curious about yourself along the way
- would you value making some changes about you or your relationships right now
- how do you treat yourself compared to how you treat people around you?
- how can you make changes are kind to yourself and others
- who you feel you are as a person right now and whether you are being that person (for more on this go to this post about Big Ups).
So it’s not just about doing a nice thing
As you can see, self care isn’t just a one time thing and none of this is easy. The critical stories of how we should and shouldn’t be living our lives are everywhere and are happening all the time – so the more we practice self care the easier it will get. Of course you might have noticed that there are critical stories about being kind to yourself too, but you don’t have to believe those either.
The importance of self-care as a political act comes from Audre Lorde. I really love Sister Outsider – it’s a great collection of essays and poems.
© Justin Hancock, 2019