Self-care: Ideals vs. Reality

This morning I opened my inbox, and after a week of mulling this post over in my head, felt incredibly validated to find that Smarter Living had the exact same thing in mind. Self-care, it’s more than just a sheet mask, it’s a lifestyle.

There is a joke I often tell that if I stopped overthinking I wouldn’t know what to do with all that extra brain space. It’s a bad joke I know — though it’s really a hit amongst anyone else with anxiety so feel free to share it with select social circles. At it’s crux, the joke hits upon the core fact that my brain has an incredibly hard time relaxing and that most of my stress is self-imposed. How do you break up with your habit of making to do lists the length of an average CVS receipt? I’ll let you know if I ever figure it out.

Studying the world of YouTube for a living, the topic of self-care is a common source of video inspiration. Candles burning next to bathtubs, meditation under the stars, crystals, face masks enjoyed in front of a roaring fire place — self-care has become a millennial art form that is now as trendy as staying in on a Friday night. But after these short bursts of self-love where off, what am I building to improve my long term health?

Last week I set aside an entire night to “self-care.” I was so excited. I had a yoga class all queued up on my computer, my phone was tucked away — taking Instagram along with it — and I had a new recipe in mind for dinner. I was going to self-care to physical and mental perfection — come hell or high water! As you’ve probably guessed, hell or high water came and what was intended to be a “perfect self-care” night worthy of the rose-gold Instagram Gods, quickly devolved into working overtime and sleeping so poorly that I spent Friday walking around like a zombie. And in the midst of my sleep hangover, like any rational human, I mostly felt angry.

Angry that my self-care formula had been derailed and in essence, hadn’t worked to begin with! My dishes were still undone, I was still tired, and I still had cat doctors appointments to schedule! What the hell! With the purchase of a skin mask I had been essentially promised the key to unlocking my inner tranquility and getting the answers to my burning questions: What is my purpose?! Will I ever be able to eat a cheese plate in peace again?! And how many books are too many books? I had wanted a fool proof formula on how to take care of myself, but just like I’m learning with personal growth and bravery, self-care is not one size fits all.

It’s not one single night packed to the brim with relaxation activities, but it’s little moments snatched throughout the day that allow me to step back, take a breath, and be kind to myself. It’s the daily habit of tidying my apartment and doing all my dishes before I go to bed so I can start the next morning with a fresh slate (and sink). While universally, movement, meditation, and journaling are fool proof ways to give my brain a bit of a massage, I’m also learning that self-care is a marathon rather than a sprint.

For me, it’s taking my entire hour lunch break. It’s singing to musicals in my apartment while cleaning (Suddenly Seymour will forever feel like a heart hug) and calling a friend just to say hi. It’s making meals at home for myself and making sure I drink six glasses of water a day. It’s eating on time and not looking at my phone first thing in the morning. It’s getting up a little early to not rush right into work and setting out my outfit and backpack the night before.  It’s allowing time in between commitments to grab water and a snack and setting aside time to complete one task on my to do list that’s been nagging at the back of my mind. It’s saying no to hangouts or projects that mentally I’m unable to take on and cutting off the amount of Instagram and YouTube I consume. It’s getting outside of my comfort zone and doing something. It’s regulating the way I talk to myself and being patient when comparison and frustration and loneliness become the most dominant voices. It’s reading on the subway instead of listening to music and deleting Instagram on my phone. It’s getting in a sweaty workout and some nights stretching out all my muscles in a quiet yoga studio.

But most importantly, self-care for me has been dismantling the notion that it’s something that should be “earned.” Without self-care, nothing else works.  And just like me, my self-care needs are ever changing, and that’s okay. Actually, it’s more than okay, it’s exciting if I let it be. Self-care is the oxygen mask on an airplane, it’s the foundation of the house. It’s not only crystals and rose gold champagne flutes and retreats in the mountains. It’s everyday and it’s unglamorous and it’s work and it’s different for every single person. So good luck finding your own sweet spot in the world of self-care, maybe someday we’ll bump into each other in the mental health trenches — 60 ounce water bottles in one hand and a few more answers in our back pockets.

 

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