Self-care is something I think about a lot. Therapy did wonders for helping me unpack how I feel about things, which means I’m constantly evaluating what I need to help me get through tough moments. When my anxiety is acting up, I have to consider whether I should take a break from work or push through and get the things done and off my plate? I usually want to actively avoid the things that make me anxious, so pushing through is usually the thing I need to do, but would the rest result in better work? Each time is a judgment call that sometimes backfires atrociously or pays off. Which brings me back to self-care: Is self-care about doing what you need or allowing yourself to enjoy what you want?
I had a discussion with a friend who vehemently disagrees with how we popularly discuss self-care. I had made an off-hand remark about manicures as self-care, and my friend said that self-care isn’t just about experiences or objects. She argues that self-care is doing the things that we need, like making a doctor’s appointment you’ve been putting off or having veggies with dinner. She also has some very strong opinions about how concepts of self-care are fueled by late-stage capitalism and they should be considered as little more than marketing schemes. She says, “I am not cared for when I get my nails done, light a candle, or take a bubble bath if I am actively avoiding the things I need to do to care for myself in the long term.”
Not that my friend doesn’t love a good manicure or spa day. Those are things she considers fun and enjoyable, but just because something makes you happy doesn’t make it self-care. Dr. Laurie Santos of The Happiness Lab would agree with my friend. The Yale Professor argues that the key to happiness is doing the things you need to do for long-term benefits and not necessarily giving into your short-term wants. So if I need to write my thesis proposal to alleviate my anxiety, I should do that instead of watching Netflix like I want to.
I love taking naps. The absolute most wonderful thing about working from home is that I have the flexibility to take a nap almost any day. I consider it a form of self-care to take a break from work and sleep for an hour or two. It is not something I need to do; I could get through the day and probably have an easier time falling asleep at night if I didn’t. My friend and Dr. Santos would argue that taking a nap isn’t self-care because it actually negatively impacts my sleep, but I find that the joy it brings outweighs the negatives. There’s almost a self-care calculus for these things.
Self-care is a really personal concept. It’s different for everyone because it’s all about feeding the parts of you that get neglected. Taking a walk every day is self-care for me, both physically and mentally. Maintaining a work-life balance is my most important form of self-care. Getting my work done makes my anxiety better, so it helps my mental health. I can do better work when I rest, so I need to make time for that, which aids my physical health. If I do better work, then I’m more efficient and have more free time to see my friends or relax.
Now self-sabotage? That is something I am far too familiar with. But we’ll save that for next time.