Gotta take care to give care; but where do you take that from?? We may love our family at home, but we’re on top of each other more than ever, with less opportunity for self reflection. Your friends remind you who you are, challenge you, and provide you with a healthy sense of belonging. They also hold you accountable (if your friends are worth their salt) when you’re behaving outside the values that make you…you. With the limitations we currently face socially, there’s a temptation to attempt meeting the needs once met by social life with escapism to endure life stuck at home. This can be an increase in unhealthy habits we already have, or making more desperate decisions that lead to damage or destruction to relationships with loved ones and ourselves. You may have been hearing the term “self care” a little over abundantly of late; along with terms like “mindful”, “boundaries”, “empath”, “narcissist”, etc. Coming from my background and profession, I’m encouraged to hear that people are picking up these terms, and beginning to explore factors of their experience other than the material world and hedonic or greedy pursuits. More understanding of these terms is needed, however, as they are frequently misused. The danger lies in the fact that not fully understanding an instrument, like a hammer or concept, can cause more harm than help when misused. I would say very few are completely unable to wield a hammer for positive purposes, but we are also very capable of doing damage when we’re not directing the instrument with purpose and understanding.
Self Care is a term commonly thrown around in magazines, publications and talk shows aimed at better health or well being. It is without a doubt, a WONDERFUL pursuit for all of us to engage, embrace, and ritualize. It is distinctly different, however, from the common forms of escapism, which do the mind and our relationships significantly more harm than help. While drinking whiskey, eating ice cream, and watching your favorite engrossing Netflix show is a wonderful break from mental exhaustion of a hard day’s work, IT IS NOT SELF CARE. No my friend, this is escapism…defined by Oxford: “the tendency to seek distraction and relief from unpleasant realities, especially by seeking entertainment or engaging in fantasy.” This is perfectly fine in reasonable doses, and leads to only small consequences when done appropriately (I’ll probably provide another post about these consequences in the future). It is, however, NOT an avenue for healing, as Self care can be.
Self Care needs to be regarded specifically according to its definition…Care for the Self (oxford again: “the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress”). If you spend the day telling your child to shut up and play a game on the iPad, this can be understandable, but it is not direct CARE for your kid. Playing a game, telling stories to one another, attuning to your child’s feeling or thoughts, showing interest in her personality, or building something together is more effort with a better impact for your child’s development and understanding of how to connect or relate. As adults, we forget that the act of self-reflection is vital and necessary for our mental health. To “know thyself” as Plato would assert, is so simple in phrasing, and a lifelong pursuit few succeed in (at least entirely). The good news is that the exercise is free and healing. The benefits of this exercise: empowerment, comfort/peace, assurance, confidence, accountability, acceptance, wisdom, purpose, meaning, understanding with empathy…and the list goes on. Like getting fit from working out, it doesn’t happen because of one occasion, but the good news is that occasionally with dedication to the practice, you will experience “EUREKA!” moments that launch you forward in experience and understanding of Self. Self-Care is NOT escapism, it is also not a discipline requiring the devotion of a monk in a monastery.
Self Care can take place in all kinds of settings you make to reflect and regard your experience, process, and perspective. It can be the commute to work when you turn off the radio and reflect on your morning emotions, relationships, hopes, regrets, or values. It can be on the back porch regarding the birds, strumming a guitar, painting a landscape, or sipping coffee by the fire. People find these profound moments in the bathtub, on a jog, in their favorite armchair, on their bike, or local ski lift. A good place to start can just be time in the mirror, reading your face, and observing the regard you see, the emotions, expressions, and feelings that arise…critique? rejection? confidence ? concern? pain? compassion? Reflecting on your body and breath in a yoga practice, or on a neighborhood walk can do wonders. Providing a kind regard for Self in reflection on how you have behaved lately in your interactions is a great move. Ask questions about your deepest longings, desires, ever changing perspective, and values like you would a good friend. Own your shortcomings with the kindness you would give to a friend making an admission of error, and delight in your successes the way you would a good friend after an award, promotion, or backflip on his skis. If this is an overwhelming task, there may be factors to address with a professional. After the recent death of my father, I found taking a solo (backpacking alone for a weekend) to be one of the most healing and healthy ways to care for my Self. We are very rarely encouraged by our jobs, the entertainment industry/social media, our social circles, or our political spheres to take time for Self Care. Be grateful if you know exceptions to this in your life. It is your responsibility, the wisdom of all great thinkers, a primal pleasure, an opportunity, a gift to your relationships, and a mental health need to participate in the great art of Self Care. Seize the day! and find a quiet place or mirror before your life fades out of your hands, and into a place you never wanted it to go.