What is self-care? I feel like it has become a really trendy topic since lockdown started. I thought self-care was just about taking bubble baths when you’re stressed or cancelling plans on your friends when you don’t feel good. I thought it was a fancy way of saying “spoil yourself”. After I had a breakdown last year, I started realising the importance of taking care of yourself. It finally dawned on me that the reason I had that breakdown was that I wasn’t taking care of myself enough – I wasn’t practicing regular self-care.
The Importance of Taking Care of Yourself
Why Should You Take Care of Yourself?
Determined not to let myself fall into the horrible place I was in last year, I started practicing more self-care. However, I didn’t call it that. I didn’t know that’s what it was. I started exercising, watching what I was eating, making “me” time and focusing on myself when I recognised I was getting stressed. I understood that I needed to increase my resilience (something I discussed in a previous post) to avoid another disastrous outcome, but I didn’t realise I was actually practicing self-care.
In the pandemic, self-care has become more important than ever. With many working from home full time, stuck indoors a lot more or living alone, mental health has become a major concern. It’s very easy to lose your mind or find yourself depressed, so of course, more people have been talking about practicing self-care. Reflecting on my own routine, I realised I only practice self-care when I start feeling the pressure. When I feel like I am going into that negative space, I slam the brakes or smash the “in case of emergency” glass and attend to myself. I’ve been using it as a last resort and not actively engaging in it. I didn’t really understand the importance of taking care of yourself and how often it needs to be done.
In an effort to learn more about self-care and to get myself to practice it more often/start a regular self-care routine, I decided to interview some family and friends for their thoughts and how they perceive self-care.
What is Self-care?
The first question I asked was, “what does self-care mean to you?”. For this post, I spoke to my mom, my cousin and my good friend Devina Divecha. I wanted to know if they thought about the importance of taking care of yourself on a regular basis and, in general, their thoughts on self-care.
I was interested to hear my mom’s perspective as someone from a different generation and cultural view on mental health and life. One thing I’ve learned in life is that mothers (almost) always know best. Pretty much every single advice my mom gave me in life was correct (unfortunately, I wasn’t always wise enough to listen). She has told me the importance of taking care of yourself, but I didn’t quite understand what she meant. I shouldn’t be, but sometimes I am surprised at just how wise she is and this was one such time.
MOM: I always wondered what the word really meant, I still don’t think I understand exactly what it means. I think it means a lot of things. Many people think that self-care is being selfish: putting oneself in front of everyone else. But it’s not that at all. Self-care means that you care about yourself the same way you would care about someone you love. Anything that you do that is good for you, is self-care. One thing I didn’t understand but that I have now learned over the years is that you need to take care of yourself in your relationships. Being in a relationship doesn’t mean you have to do everything for that person and put yourself second. You also have to take care of yourself, you have to protect yourself. If you are in a negative or abusive relationship, you need to get out of it and not think that you have to stay.
I’ve known Devina for about 10 years (did I get that right, D?! I have a terrible memory). Devina is a freelance journalist and editor who lives in Dubai. In her spare time, she enjoys dancing, cycling and running. She has changed her life around a lot over the last year or so and I admire her strength and ambition. I wanted to know her thoughts as someone who has made the leap to freelance (that must have been tough) and her journey to bettering her health (both physical and mental). I really look up to her!
DEVINA: I feel that a lot of people only think about their physical health and not about their mental and emotional needs. Self-care to me is doing something for yourself that addresses both your physical and mental & emotional health. It’s not a privilege, it’s an essential element of everyone’s life.
My cousin Dana has been a part of my life since I can remember. I think of her as my younger sister. She’s been through hell and back because of various difficult and testing experiences in her life. I value her opinion because she has struggled with trauma and mental health illness and has always been very brave and open about it (unlike me).
DANA: Remembering you’re a person that needs to refuel and be taken care of. Your purpose isn’t to be a productivity machine. It’s a practice of self compassion.
What Are Some of Your Self-care Strategies?
DANA: Temperature is a big one. Hot showers calm me down, so do scented baths. Sometimes it’s small things like making my bed, and drinking enough water or making sure I eat some fruit or meals that make me feel good.
If I’m in distress I like to hold ice or do an ice dive (sticking your head in a bowl of ice water to reset your CNS).
MOM: Yoga helps me a lot when I feel anxious or stressed. There are so many yoga routines for different things! It’s something I try to do every day, even if it’s only 10 minutes when I don’t have time. Also, whenever I do anything I consider how it affects me. In the past, it was hard for me to decide where to draw the line between doing a good deed and sacrificing my wellbeing. I think about how the specific action makes me feel and I decide how to proceed based on that. That has helped me a lot! I don’t feel guilty anymore when I say “no”.
DEVINA: I switch off from all social platforms. The activity that I do in the interest of self-care doesn’t necessarily matter, but it matters that I am alone with myself. There’s just so much information and stimuli out there that distract you; it’s why it’s recommended to keep aside all devices before you sleep. When I switch off from my WhatsApp or Twitter or Instagram (choose your social platform here!), I then focus on whatever I’ve chosen to do: whether it’s reading or playing Sudoku or taking a hot salt water foot bath! Learning to be alone with yourself is something everyone should do.
What Is Your Self-Care Routine?
My last question was about how often each of them practiced self-care. Do they do it when they feel the stress coming on or is it a daily practice? I haven’t disciplined myself into practicing self-care everyday. As I said above, I only think about it when I start feeling the stress building. The importance of taking care of yourself is not at the forefront of my mind. I have, however, started a weekly routine of cycling and I’ve recently started a drawing class. Prayer is a great form of self-care and I, unfortunately, do not do it as often as I should – I’m working on it. All these activities though really help bring me some peace of mind and helps me feel like everything will be ok.
DEVINA: It’s only been this year that I’ve been thinking about self-care actively – and it has nothing to do with the pandemic! I used to only think about self-care when I was stressed or at breaking point. But I realised it’s important to actively practice self-care regularly. Our cultures are very much about a collective and a community, so I think it’s been traditionally seen as too ‘selfish’ to do something for yourself. This is an attitude that needs to change. To be an active and contributing member of that community, you need to be at 100% yourself. So it’s a learning process, but always take some time out every day to practice self-care.
DANA: I try to do it on a regular basis. It can be difficult because I judge myself for not doing something “productive” when in fact self care is productive. I think an important part of self care is having a nonjudgemental and nonstressful stance on it. Say for example I don’t have it in me to make healthy choices, it’s fine, as long as it doesn’t turn into a self destructive spiral.
MOM: I don’t do it only during stressful periods, it’s something I think about every day. It’s become automatic for me, I don’t have to think about it anymore. Try doing something daily for two weeks, it will become a habit. In any case, you should always set aside some time every day for yourself.
What is Self-Care to You?
Things I learned
I learned a lot talking to these wonderful women and it really made me think about my own habits. What Devina said about time away from social media really struck a nerve with me. It’s something I struggle with every day. My mom’s suggestion about keeping a healthy distance in relationships when necessary was also important to me. Because of my culture/upbringing, I always think I need to put others first (even to my own detriment). Finally, Dana’s point that self-care is being productive has also made me look at taking care of myself in a different light. I am trying to stop feeling guilty about doing things that are beneficial to me.
I hope you have learned something too! How do you practice self-care? What is the importance of taking care of yourself? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!