The #self­care revo­lu­tion

It’s in­fil­trated well­ness vo­cab. But be­yond the hash­tags, do you know what self-care ac­tu­ally means – and how to do it?

Women's Health Australia - - DECEMBER - By Roisín Dervish-o’kane

We re­veal the real ben­e­fits be­hind the year’s big­gest well­ness hash­tag

“You can’t pour from an empty cup,” reads one. “Imag­ine if we recharged our­selves as of­ten as we did our phones,” sug­gests an­other. We chal­lenge you to scroll through a so­cial feed with­out land­ing on a state­ment like this writ­ten in swirly script. And don’t for­get the hash­tag. We’re talk­ing about ‘self-care’: the term that has over­taken ‘hygge’ and ‘mind­ful­ness’ to be­come the well­ness word of 2018. Among the circa 8.6 mil­lion #self­care In­sta­gram posts, you’ll find end­less can­dles, cock­tails and kit­tens; a bath bomb, a blan­ket, a Bud­dha. The pub­lish­ing in­dus­try has re­sponded in kind with ti­tles such as The Self-care Project and Recharge: A Year of Self-care

to Fo­cus on You. So where did it come from ex­actly? “Self-care was orig­i­nally a med­i­cal term that doc­tors used to re­fer to ac­tiv­i­ties they rec­om­mended to pa­tients to com­ple­ment their phys­i­cal or men­tal health treat­ment,” says Pro­fes­sor Natalia Mehlman Petrzela, a New York-based health and well­ness his­to­rian. “Then in the 1960s, the civil rights move­ment came to see self-care as a re­jec­tion of a med­i­cal sys­tem that didn’t sup­port them. Women who felt let down by tra­di­tional medicine also saw self-care as a way to re­claim con­trol.” Since then, well­ness has evolved from a niche con­cept to a global in­dus­try, and self-care has be­come in­creas­ingly mar­ketable – and glossy – in the process.


But it turns out self-care is more than carv­ing out time for your­self or adding (In­sta-wor­thy) new habits to your rou­tine, says Dr Hamira

Riaz, a clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist. “[It’s] about be­com­ing more skilled at dis­cern­ing be­tween the sit­u­a­tions and re­la­tion­ships that serve you and those that don’t, so you can make bet­ter choices about who and what to in­vest your time in.” When her clients come to her with prob­lems such as “strug­gling to feel gen­uinely happy”, Riaz finds that self-care – or a lack thereof – tends to lie at the heart of the is­sue, and the so­lu­tion.

The one tiny prob­lem? Riaz wor­ries that so­cial me­dia some­times gives off the wrong im­pres­sion, though, pre­sent­ing self-care as a nar­cis­sis­tic act as op­posed to men­tal-health main­te­nance. “It’s such an im­por­tant dis­tinc­tion to make,” she says. “Many of my clients es­tab­lish healthy self-care prac­tices only to sab­o­tage them by con­vinc­ing them­selves that it’s un­jus­ti­fi­able self-in­dul­gence.”

So, what does self-care ac­tu­ally look like? Ac­cord­ing to psy­chol­o­gist Dr Ali­cia Clark, we need to go back to ba­sics. Un­less you’re rou­tinely get­ting your eight hours, she sug­gests start­ing with sleep. “The parts of your brain that deal with de­ci­sion-mak­ing and self-con­trol plum­met when you’re fa­tigued. As do two ar­eas called the in­su­lar and pre­frontal cor­tex, which en­able you to choose be­tween what you want and what you need,” she ex­plains. “Try­ing to make good calls when you haven’t [rested] is like try­ing to pre­pare for a pre­sen­ta­tion in your liv­ing room the morn­ing af­ter you’ve thrown a house party.”


Break it down and self-care ap­pears mun­dane. Or, as men­tal health oc­cu­pa­tional ther­a­pist Han­nah

Daisy calls it, “bor­ing”. “About a year ago, I kept read­ing com­ments on­line from peo­ple com­plain­ing about be­ing told to ‘go and do some­thing nice for you’ when they were so de­pressed that their house was an un­con­trol­lable mess,” she says. “I no­ticed a dis­con­nect be­tween the prac­ti­cal way we talked about self-care in the [health­care sys­tem] and the way it looked on so­cial me­dia. I wanted to cre­ate some­thing to bridge that gap and make self­care more ac­ces­si­ble to peo­ple.”

En­ter #bor­ing­self­care. Scroll through Daisy’s In­sta­gram feed – @makedaisy­chains – and you’ll find touch­ing and of­ten funny il­lus­tra­tions, the likes of ‘changed my bed sheets’ and ‘did the dishes’. It’s an in­clu­sive, quiet push­back against the idyl­lic ver­sion of the move­ment, and shows how prac­ti­cal and ac­tion­able self-care can be.

“Ac­cept that prep­ping healthy food can feel la­bo­ri­ous and that leav­ing work on time can be dif­fi­cult – but do it to feel good later,” says Clark. “That is the true mes­sage of self-care. It’s not about buy­ing ex­pen­sive can­dles and post­ing pic­tures of them on so­cial me­dia.

It’s about find­ing that sweet spot be­tween be­ing dis­ci­plined and be­ing kind to your­self. Com­mit to that larger goal by hav­ing em­pa­thy for fu­ture you.” At the risk of para­phras­ing an In­sta-meme, it could be the most pow­er­ful com­mit­ment you’ll ever make.

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