Self-care is everywhere. It inundates Instagram feeds and pervades conversations. But do we really need it and how much is too much? Self-care is a vague term that seems to encapsulate anything that makes you feel as though you are looking after yourself. It is a clear reaction to the growing recognition of mental health and its importance. With the turbulence of Brexit negotiations and the planet in a state of crisis, who would deny anyone a bubble bath, a glass of wine and a Jo Malone candle?
This necessary shift in perception has been long-awaited. It is a welcome discovery to know that it is not selfish or egocentric to care about doing what makes you happy. As a society, we are plagued by the pressure of obligations and feelings of what we “should” do. Sarah Knight, in her book ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F***’, makes the case for eschewing those commitments that you don’t care about and instead engaging in the activities that serve you. With ever-busy lives, it becomes all too easy for self-care to be shoved to the bottom of the to-do list or to evaporate from our schedules altogether.
Of course, taking time each day to look after yourself is important. In order to get the most out of your life and its various aspects – be they your studies, your friends, your passions – it is helpful to be a fully operational person and not one who is over-tired and overburdened. Spreading yourself too thin can wipe you out, causing a state of constant stress; evidently, not a healthy way to live and certainly not the best way to thrive.
However, self-care, like most trends, has wandered far from its original meaning. What was a positive movement for the preservation of mental health has become an excuse masquerading as a wholesome life choice? Self-care loses its value when it is used as an excuse for people as a way to bail on everything and anything, promoting self-isolation and passivity.
Everyone has been guilty of skipping a commitment under the guise of self-care. Sometimes it is almost too easy to convince yourself that reading your book and getting an early night will constitute much better self-care than meeting up for a drink with friends, or vice versa, but as Dolly Alderton argued in her Sunday Times column, we must be wary of becoming self-indulgent. Maybe you would have an interesting, eye-opening conversation over those drinks, or maybe not, but how will you know if you never try?
As Farrah Storr contends in her book The Discomfort Zone, never leaving your comfort zone ensures that you will never: meet new people, have new experiences, or broaden your horizons. Put simply, you will never get anywhere at all, and what could be more damaging to personal growth than that? All these things are vital to well-being, so, just sometimes, maybe it is healthy to challenge yourself. Perhaps it is even self-care, albeit in a different form to the heavily-curated, influencer version featuring yoga, herbal tea, cashmere throws or all of the above.
This is not to say that engaging in some activities might not lead to some stress or discomfort, but discomfort is key to growth – even if the only thing you learn is never to do that again.
As with most things, the answer to self-care qualms is to find a balance. That is to say, of course, carve out time to do what keeps you sane and makes your heart sing, but also do things to push you a bit out of your depth. In the long run, the combination is what contributes to well-rounded, happy and purposeful people.
Image: Chris Goldberg via Flickr