Self-care. The Instagram influencer’s favourite phrase. It’s everywhere. Marketing campaigns, product packaging, Instagram feeds. But, what does it actually mean? The image of self-care presented to us by the media is a set of fairy lights, a nice candle, and a face mask. The ‘looking out for yourself’ vibe, however, is dominated by these images curated for Instagram. The cosy den that was clearly only set up for the photo, the really bougie face mask that actually isn’t much better than the £2.99 garnier one (trust me), and the Neom candle, of course. And yeah I’m a completeeeeeeee sucker for all of these things. I LOVE a facemask, a bubble bath and a set of fairy lights – and I’m an even bigger fan of fluffy socks and candles.
Yet, something that’s been on my mind recently, having been through a pretty tough time (like us all but), is that the Instagram version of self-care barely made a dent in cheering me up or making me feel good about myself again. I was trying to think of a good way to describe this – I feel as though it’s like trying to put out a big fire with a miniature fire extinguisher – it might put out a few flames but it’s never going to put out the fire.
In order to put out the fire you need something a bit more robust. You need things like therapy, routine, and tried and tested coping mechanisms that you’ve established for yourself. You need to tackle your problems head on, you need to book that doctor’s appointment you’ve been putting off, you need to actually talk about your feelings. The candles, bubble baths and hot chocolates are only the tip of the iceberg, the icing on the cake. They are almost like the superficial bits of self-care – very much the Instagram highlight reel of it all.
It makes sense, the pretty bits of self care takes a good photo – and the other side of self-care is pretty personal. But, what annoys me is that throughout the whole pandemic and the rest of the 2020 shitstorm is that there’s been such a superficial agenda of self-care. I’ve seen a few people promoting the more serious topic of actually looking after yourself (in ways that don’t involve putting a photo on Instagram) but there’s been a lot of bullshit about #selfcare.
So, my (poor and unsolicited) advice is to start focusing your energy on the real shit that improves your life.
Start talking about your feelings. Talk to your friends. Talk to your family. TALK TO A PROFESSIONAL. Your feelings are valid and they deserved to be given the time to be explored and dealt with.
Do the life admin. Putting off your smear test? Need to cancel that direct debit? Need to renew your insurance? Do it now. I once heard on a podcast that if something is going to take you less than a few minutes to do, you should do it when you first think about it. Otherwise it’ll sit on that ever-growing to do list and you will literally never get round to it. It will stress you out more and more every time you go back to that to-do list and then no amount of expensive candles will de-stress you.
Start saying no. Don’t want to go to Becky’s fancy dress Zoom party? Say no. That is all. It is as simple as that. YOU come first, you must start saying no. I literallllllllly hate saying no to people. It makes me feel so bad! But I can tell you that my life has significantly improved since I started saying no to stuff I didn’t want to do – politely of course and only when necessary but it really does help.
Write down your positive affirmations, spend less time on your phone, go for a run, prioritise your to do list, stop putting pressure on yourself, form healthier habits for your body and your mind. Stop thinking that a bougie candle is going to fix all your problems.
I wish I’d paid attention to how I needed to actually care for myself years ago. Now that I understand what stops me from feeling stressed and anxious, my ‘self-care’ routine still includes the odd face mask and chill but it also means that I prioritize my to-do list, am proactive about my life admin, and have taken a much healthier approach to dealing with how I feel #selfcare.
Thanks for coming to my Ted talk, goodnight x