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On putting the "self" back into self-care

Updated: Feb 17, 2019

True self-care means giving ourselves permission not to fit into a defined "self-care" box.

Did you know that “self-care” was named the App trend of the year by Apple in 2018?

While I think this news is great, and it’s super cool that so many people are privileged enough today to be able to prioritize their health and well-being, and it’s a necessary change evolving out of a century that positioned people as profit-making resources rather than human beings, and many of these apps are fantastic tools...there is still a part of me that sees the confinements that a commercialized app or trend necessarily puts on people, and the limitations it puts on what qualifies as “self-care”.

For example, I really enjoy the Headspace app. In the past, I’ve struggled with practicing meditation because I’m a major over thinker — my head is constantly filled with anxiety and worry and stress and fear.

But every time I open the App, I’m reminded of my ‘streak’ — or rather, lack of streak, because I’ve failed to use the Headspace App to meditate on a consecutive basis. Does that mean that, on the days I didn’t use Headspace to meditate, I wasn’t practicing or committed to my self-care?

Well, no. Some days I stretched after my workout for ten minutes with calming spa music and deep breaths and closed eyes. Some days I did a body scan in bed before getting up in the morning to try and connect with myself. At one point, I actually took my headphones out during the Headspace meditation because I found the guide’s voice distracting rather than relaxing during that particular session, and just meditated without the App entirely the following day.

But seeing that streak number fall sure makes me feel like I failed. Because of course, the App’s purpose is to motivate you…and also encourage you to pay for a complete subscription.

But the truth is, on any given day, self-care has meant something entirely different for me.

Last week it meant pushing myself to do a workout that I woke up not wanting to do, but knew that it would ultimately energize me.

Two days later it meant sleeping in and skipping my next workout because I hadn’t been able to fall asleep easily during the night, and I needed sleep more than I needed the biological stress of exercise.

This morning it meant throwing on a 20-minute sitcom and just doing whatever my body wanted to do — my favourite ab exercises, a few stretches held for a longer period of time than I usually engage in, and some push-ups (which I strongly dislike) to challenge myself a bit but not so much that I felt demotivated or overly stressed.

Each of these mornings had the same purpose — to start my day with time meant just for me to connect with my mind and body, because that is part of my self-care routine, and I know that I feel better when I carve out that time. But in practice, my mornings vastly differed. If my own self-care practices — and by that I mean what truly makes me feel like I’m taking care of me, the stuff that I have found actually works for me, — can differ so wildly from day to day, then I can only begin to imagine the diverse practices of so many unique individuals in completely different circumstances every. Single. Day.

So I suppose, most importantly, self-care has meant giving myself permission not to fall into a defined box. It has meant giving myself permission to listen to my mind and body, even if it goes against the latest advice I’ve read on some influencer’s Instagram, or health blog, or wellness App. It has meant giving myself permission to get to know myself — to try and fail at certain self-care practices, and to not compare what taking care of my mental and physical health looks like to anyone else’s routine. Often, it has meant detaching from technology completely so that I can do just that.

Because self-care is, by definition, personal. Intensely personal. It is about YOU. And nobody else can tell you how to practice it on any given day except for you. We can provide tools and ideas and offer advice and anecdotes about our own experiences, but the individual is what makes these practices about the self. You do not have self-care without deeply considering the first part of the equation, and I guess I feel that Apps like Headspace merely provide tools for the second part.

So thank you, Apple, for highlighting this wonderful trend! And moving into 2019, I propose broadening the conversation to put the “self” back into “self-care”.

Photo by Alisa Anton on Unsplash

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