Self-care is often considered the yellow brick road to mental health recovery.
This advice might take the form of being told to wear a face mask and take a bath, or that you should cut people out of your life who don’t make you happy.
‘Me time’ is nothing new; it’s been used to sell us things for years.
However, as we become more vocal about our various mental health struggles, self-care has emerged not just as a treat but a necessity.
Self-care first came to my attention in a bout of severe depression, when it was a real struggle even to get in the shower or cook myself a meal. I found out about the ‘concept’ on Twitter, where activists were discussing the importance of eating healthily and actually getting dressed in the morning.
Although simple, when you’re sick these things are often unfathomably hard, and having a reminder that you’re allowed to be a ‘normal’ person and not just wallow is useful.
It seems that recently, though, during a collective time of introspection where we try to work out how to just survive, self-care has become muddled with a certain level of narcissism.
We have to think about ourselves first – both when it comes to our mental health or putting on an aeroplane oxygen mask. That doesn’t mean we only need to think of ourselves though.
When self-care comes to the detriment of everything else in your life – jobs, friendships, romantic and familial relationships – then it’s a short-term fix more than a lifestyle change that’ll help you feel better in the long run.
What I’m talking about isn’t the day-to-day activities that help your life get back on track when you’re low. I’m not even referring to the treats and pampering that can be associated with self-care (even though these aren’t always accessible and can be considered problematic).
I mean the idea that you have the unalienable right to do anything you want all the time because you deserve it.
Cutting off toxic people is necessary, but deciding to leave friendships every time you have a negative interaction based on the feeling that all your desires need to be met immediately is not.
Taking time out of your day to relax – perhaps with a meditation tape – is necessary, but constantly neglecting commitments from work or friends so you can find this time is not.
Buying yourself something nice as a reward for doing well is necessary. Skinting yourself because ‘you’re worth it’ is not.
Instagram is full of quotes about how you should ‘do you’, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with prioritising yourself
But you can easily fall into a trap of forgetting that it’s necessary to step out of your comfort zone sometimes.
Particularly if you’re prone to depression or anxiety, what’s comfortable isn’t always what’s going to aid your recovery. Maintaining good relationships and keeping a work and social routine will benefit you, despite not having the cosy and relaxing facade of self-care.
Entrepreneur and life coach Geeta Sidhu-Robb knows only too well that there needs to be a balance, particularly as a single mother of five.
She told Metro.co.uk that we should change the way we look at self-care: ‘Self-care is particularly important when you see it as a process of refuelling. When you care about yourself, eat well, take time to exercise and even more importantly focus solely on some ‘you time’ you will feel rejuvenated…
‘For so many women, self-care is so rare that ‘too much’ simply isn’t even a consideration. This is particularly true when we become mothers and we are hard wired to nurture and look after the people around. This means that any time we take for ourselves – we feel guilty for.’
Geeta mentions that guilt isn’t a good indicator of when self-care becomes selfishness (particularly if you’re a parent and tend to feel guilt most of the time anyway). What she does say is that you should look at how your actions are affecting you as well as those around you.
She says, ‘Self-care stands to benefit everyone seeing as it rejuvenates your mind and leaves you feeling able to communicate with those around you, being a better version of you. Selfishness will negatively impact the people around you and the dynamics of your relationships.
‘Selfishness is neglecting responsibilities to the point where others suffer from your actions. We can exercise self-care better in the knowledge that the people around us can cope in our absence.
‘Exercising self-care shouldn’t be a decision made through anger – a ‘you’ll have to cope without me, I’m off’ being one version. It should instead be something you plan with the people around you if they are supportive, if they aren’t by all means plan it yourself.’
The crux of it is that, we all make up one big tapestry in this often terrifying world. Put yourself in others’ shoes when you can – especially if they’re relying on you – and set boundaries when they’re needed too.
It’s all about having that nice, hot bath, but not staying in there for so long that you’re wrinkled up, the dog is crying for its dinner, your rent hasn’t been paid in months, and your friends think you’ve run off to Peru.