What the actual fuck.
Last week a friend of mine went to their new therapist and was asked about self-care. Did they practice it? They were then asked, did they love themselves.
Self-care is tricky because like all things that are gray, it’s different for everyone. Gender norms can play a role. Geography can play a role. Finances can play a role. You get the idea.
To the second question they answered a resounding no.
The therapist concluded well you need to do more self-care and learn to love yourself.
That ended the session.
Here’s everything that is wrong with this – first, most people don’t know what self-care is and they think anything to do with self is selfish. Second, I think there are similarities of self-care and self-love, but they’re not the same thing, and how do you tell someone who is struggling to find self-love that they just need to do it without helping them figure out what it means for them. I think self-care can be a form of self-love, but not always.
There are way too many people talking about self-love and self-care – myself included. There is a difference between how I talk about these concepts and how I’ve seen others talk about them is I discuss the wide range of things that could be in your “toolbox”.
I like words and definitions, so let’s define these words. According to Google (lol),
Self–love: regard for one’s own well-being and happiness (usually a desirable characteristic, not narcissistic)
Self-care: the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one’s own health
I think this is a helpful starting point.
Do you have your well-being and happiness in mind – yes or no? If no, why not. If yes, beautiful – how did you get there and decide to put you first?
What do you to that helps you feel better, physically or emotionally – either preventative or treatment related?
I posed the second question to my friend. What do you like to do that brings you joy? That makes you feel good? Gives you peace or calm? Maybe it helps you focus? Maybe it’s a small distraction. Maybe it’s a few of these things at once.
They couldn’t think of anything that didn’t include large amounts of shopping or spending. But I would argue that is actually a harmful reactionary behavior that may only help you temporarily. I asked them what they thought of that and if they could have a more thorough conversation with their therapist about it. They shrugged and said it doesn’t seem likely.
I don’t love myself every day. I do know that I love myself most days or most of all days – if that makes sense. However, I do want myself to be happy or have joy every day, which is why I think it’s hard for me or a bit odd of me to think of self-love. I know that it’s not all or nothing. So to get to self-love, I guess I asked myself a lot of questions about why I wasn’t as important as other people. Why didn’t my emotions or opinions matter? I had no good answers and that led to thinking about what fills me up with fire, what brings me joy or peach – you fill in the blank.
Self-care? My toolbox is overflowing, but even I struggle to find the right tool to you use some days.
First, these are things that help me, that may or may not help you. My hope is that they get you thinking about what your tools can or should be. Some of these things are preventative that I do regularly and others are treatment that are used mostly as a coping mechanism.
Second, I always recommend of thinking of your toolbox when you’re headspace is clear because it’s easier to have helpful tools that move you forward.
- I write, a lot. Not just blog, but journal. I journal inspiration from song lyrics, photos, articles, books, podcasts.
- I paint, color, doodle (not really draw).
- I watch movies – primarily Disney. A cocktail and Disney and I’m golden.
- I bake. I like structure when I’m stressed and following directions for cooking and baking help a lot…which leads to I deliver a healthy amount of baked goods to my neighbors.
- I read – everything. Journal articles, books, the newspaper (mostly The Boston Globe and The New York Times, sometimes Harvard Business Review, sometimes Time Magazine.
- I workout. I’ll pick one or two exercises and focus on them. This summer it was all about deadlifts, some squats sprinkled in – so I work a lot on hinging exercise variations.
- I run and walk, which I don’t categorize as working out because I try hard to not do them in the gym.
- I hike – more so lately, this has been my go to. Up to the same mountain, taking a different path each time, with snacks and my journal.
- I text a friend.
- I get a latte because sometimes I need to get out and engage superficially.
- Sleep in or nap. Sometimes breaking my routine is helpful.
- Keeping routine. Sometimes keeping my routine is helpful.
- Give myself permission ot say no or say yes. Boundaries are hard, whether they are with yourself or with someone else, but at different times they are necessary.
- Meal prep. This isn’t about dieting – this is about time. Meal planning and prepping helps me save time and feel less rushed, which helps me go about my day with less added stress.
Self-care doesn’t have to involve money or things. It’s 100% about you and your needs. It’s about healthy coping to get you moving in a positive direction.
Self-care can also be finding a new therapist or coach or trainer that will listen to you and guide you appropriately so you don’t feel like you’re walking in the dark on your own.
Mental health should be selfish. It should satisfy you.
Think of it like a meal. If you have cooked, but you only thought you would be serving a few guests instead of a few dozen, and you keep giving parts of it away for everyone else to eat, how can you expect to eat once everyone has been served? You need to tell everyone the cook is taking a rest, eating and then making a new recipe.
I’m not an expert. I don’t think anyone is. There are people who are better at this than me – to find them check out Psychology Today. or NAMI or talk to your primary care about referral to a mental health counselor or call your insurance directly if behavioral health is covered under your policy.