The Phenomenon of Self Care

About a week or so ago, a friend from university completing their counselling accreditation put out a post on Facebook asking for volunteers to help her practice her training on. I found myself typing away as I am at this moment, sending her a message saying that I would love to participate. I don’t really remember why or how come – but I said yes.

As it always is, January is the start of new beginnings and though people have New Year's’ Resolutions every year, I had a new outlook this year.

The word resolution holds a negative connotation to me nowadays, simply because it feels as though if it is called a resolution, it is fine if I give up because everyone gives up them eventually. Instead, I focused on calling them goals; something that I would constantly strive to achieve on a regular basis. Checking back in with myself and starting over again if I failed.

Little did I know that one of my goals this year would be strongly aligned with the rest of the universe. It was evident on different social media platforms that everyone wanted the same thing. In the emerging world of memes and thirty second Instagram videos, there has trend prevalent throughout social media known as Self Care.

Dr. Maria Baratta Ph.D., classifies self care as, “…the mindful taking time to pay attention to you, not in a narcissistic way, but in a way that ensures you are being cared for by you.”For many of us this means the management of stress and fatigue at work and for others, it can mean dealing with social anxieties with friends and families.

For quite some time, I felt as though I was in a rut; struggling to be creative and feeling bogged down by the weight of life and all the responsibilities that come with being an adult. I was struggling to come up with new ideas at work and I couldn’t push myself to do anything. After a day filled with stress, anxiety and deadlines, I remember vividly having a call with my boss about my performance at work.

Why aren’t you just doing it? You keep talking about doing stuff, but when is it going to happen? You need to figure out how to fix this because I’d hate to have to lose you.

Those words struck a chord with me. I was at a loss. I had so many things going on in my life, and I didn’t know HOW to push myself any further; I couldn’t muster up the energy and inner motivation. The call was over and my head was in my hands with tears streaming down my face.

I felt like I was losing my mind and I couldn’t think of a solution to the problem for the first time in a really long time.

It was shortly after that call, that it hit me; time and time again, I spread myself too thin. It is a problem that I have had from a young age. I take on projects, tasks and social events one after another with no qualms. Of course until it all comes to a screeching halt and everything falls apart. It was a vicious cycle and I found myself in the midst of a storm with no shelter in sight.

But, I kept saying to myself, “I love all of these things, I want to be able to do all the things that I care about and make time for everything on my to-do list; how can I do this?”

The fact is, I can’t. I never could, but I convinced myself over and over again that that wasn’t the case.

I learned that I need to say NO. I needed to be a friend to myself.

I needed to be more kind to myself and not place so many expectations or pressure on my life. It was eating away at my mind and I found myself constantly losing any motivation to do anything at all.

Young people, especially artists (of any medium) often struggle to make time for themselves with all of the projects, ideas and plans they have on the go. So I took a moment to reach out to some friends and find out what they found helpful, that might help you.

Chantel Luu, 23

“Self care is more than by bubble baths and a glass of wine. It means to take care of yourself in the past-tense, present-day and future-tense. If you are suffering from things in your past, it’s important to talk about it and heal so it doesn’t affect your present and future self. It’s important to take care of your body,mind and spirit so your present self carries you into your future goals. Self-care is about setting yourself up for success, not just feeling good in the moment.”

Matthew Morton, 23

“Self care means doing something that brings you joy or helps you relax. It helps you feel good about yourself or a small escape. It helps you re-focus and feel like you can breathe. IT needs to be catered to the individual or it isn’t effective because different people find different things relaxing.

Katherine McWilliams, 22

“Self care: The act of putting one’s physical, mental and emotional needs first, acknowledging and acting on them. I think self care is very different from person to person. The definition I gave would be a blanket definition. For me, self care looks a lot different from most people.”

Annika Nyberg, 24

“To me: self care means setting time aside for yourself, and putting yourself first. This could be either for your physical or mental health, as they are equally as important. Having a rest day, and keeping your body and mental health in check is so critical.”

Every person I spoke to, they shared a common denominator, being a bit more selfish and putting your needs first. The theme was there, but how do you start? Your mind is scrambled and you are drowning in work.

Here are some things I have learned from friends and myself as a recently converted self care enthusiast:

1) Write it all out.

As crazy as this sounds, planning out your days and keeping track of appointments, meetings and tasks that you have to do over the course of a week or month is crucial. I find there are weeks where I go through a period of not using my planner or agenda and they are probably by far my most STRESSFUL weeks of all time.

2) Assess your social gatherings and alone time.

Based on whether you are introverted or extroverted in nature, determine the amount of social gatherings you would wish to attend in a week that would not interfere with getting a good night’s sleep, completing about 80 to 90% of the tasks you need to accomplish in a week to stay on track, etc..

I consider myself an introverted extrovert or nicely put an ‘ambivert’ (someone who falls in the middle). I have made it a personal goal to spend anywhere between one to two nights out with friends/co-workers throughout the week. Some weeks more, some weeks less, but generally I try to aim for this so that I can maintain a sense of stability and calm. A regular routine and structure to my life.

3) Make self improvement or personal development a priority.

This could be anything - it could fall anywhere from meditation to art work, to going to the gym or even cooking. Whatever it may be, I strongly believe a crucial part of self-care is focusing on yourself. Improving yourself as a person (in different aspects of your life) is hands down one of the most rewarding and calming tasks throughout your week. It allows time for us to reflect, think and process the events throughout the week or even the opposite, forget and move forward. This type of goal (likely long term) will help re-centre and refocus you in a time of stress, strain or sadness.

Self-care is a constant journey is what I have learned over the last couple of months. It is something a lot of people struggle with as often times we prioritize others over ourselves. But there is a great sense of urgency for this, that I feel amongst our generation of creators and artists. The need to open up and share as well as prioritize our mental and physical health as a whole sets this year apart from the ones before.

My first session with my friend was emotionally draining, but rewarding and worthwhile. Though it was our introductory meeting, I learned a great deal about what bothered me and what I had buried deep beneath the surface. I covered it up nicely by keeping busy and overworking. I didn’t prioritize my well-being and as a result, I slowly started letting work and responsibilities slip through the cracks. I think deep down I knew that this was the fix and that’s why I believe I took the opportunity so quickly.

I realized that we are all like houses; they can look normal on the outside, but depending on whether or not we take care of it, can have leaky pipes, wiring problems or worse a crumbling foundation. Now more than ever, at the start of our journey as an artist, it’s time to start taking care of your home.

If you are interested in learning more about what other people think of self care, we recommend checking out The Importance of Self-Care playlist on TED.