If asked to define self care the first images that spring to mind are Instagram posts of bubble baths, Netflix binge sessions, shopping sprees and a tub of ice cream. It’s what I see on social media and what most of my friends define it as when I asked them.
However, once I shake those enticing images out of my head, I would respond that our current view of what self-care looks like is simplistic, harmful and generally bullshit that encourages weakness and discourages growth.
Once upon a time I too subscribed to todays current form of self care. Whenever I felt shitty about my day I would go shopping and ride that endorphin rush that came from swiping my Visa like I would if Jason Mamoa was up in my bedroom right now, hard and to frequently.
Do not even get me started on the number of times I skipped out on starting a fitness routine because I worked hard all week so therefore I must deserve to spend my night on the couch with my favourite snacks rather than sweating my ass off at the gym.
Whenever I felt overwhelmed I thought it better to do what was comfortable rather than something that scared the shit out of me. When life got hard all I wanted to do was shower myself in “self care” because it felt good and I was convinced that I deserved it. This instant gratification became a habit that I can now see was harming my future self and not doing anything that would lead me to a place where I would not feel in a constant need of “self care”.
At 30 years old I was in debt from my constant shopping, 100+ pounds overweight and feel more trapped in body everyday, and I was working a job I didn’t care for anymore. Through all of this I devoted no time to working on plan to get myself out of these situations.
I was on the couch caring for myself instead remember?
The first thing to catch up with me and motivate me to act was my health. At 30 years old I was at a point where I felt I had no choice but to do away with the notion that exercise and healthy food were punishment and skipping the gym to eat burgers with my friends was a reward. This mindset towards health that so many people share is just another negative outcome associated with this idea that caring means indulging and avoiding discomfort despite what the obvious long term effects would be on out health.
Because that is the problem isn’t it? We are at the point where self care is really just excessive self indulgence legitimized.
Doing what my mind felt I needed had gotten me nowhere good. Sick, unfulfilled and in debt. Through fitness I soon realized there is a difference between what our bodies want and what our mind wants. Trust me, your body doesn’t not want a Kit Kat, that my friends is all in your head.
It is the natural instinct of our brains to protect us from discomfort. It is a biological defence mechanism that protected us from threats when we were a nomadic people. Unfortunately we are now a society that sits on our ass for the majority of our day under artificial lights, has access to foods that are essentially poison in vast quantities and are living with debt that essentially shackles us to the very desks we fear returning to every Sunday evening.
I think this corruption of self care comes from our societies obsession with instant gratification. We are not accustomed to dealing with discomfort that has no immediate reward. I think the latter would lead us closer to our long term potential and therefore less in need of constant superficial acts of self care.
When I started taking my health seriously the first thing I noticed was not weight loss or even improved physical mobility, it was a shift in my mood. I had more energy, I felt happier and over time I learned that I am capable of pushing myself to overcome challenges.
Healthy eating lead me to feel less sluggish and I no longer was dealing with sugar cravings and the subsequent crash I would experience when I did indulge.
Exercise trained me to be able to push past discomfort and finish my workout no matter how much I wanted to quit. Every workout I saw myself getting stronger and able to do things I couldn’t do the week before. The confidence I gained from each workout could never have been achieved at the spa.
All of this energy and confidence and just generally feeling happier made it so that my trips to the mall became infrequent. I worked on paying off my credit card and to this day still carry a zero balance.
To top it off, all the extra energy, confidence and financial freedom meant that I wasn’t chained to a desk I no longer wanted to sit at. I left my job knowing I had the capacity to do better and without the burden of excessive and unnecessary bills looming over my head.
The moment I started taking my physical and financial health seriously was the moment I realized that I had been doing self care very very wrong. I realized that the moments when I am often the most uncomfortable are actually the moments I am caring for myself the most.
The gym is uncomfortable.
Eating broccoli as a snack is not always a joy.
Meeting with a finical advisor about your debt, trust me, not the best way to spend an afternoon.
What I was practicing before was self indulgence. Because had it have been legitimate self care would I not have been in a better position? Self indulgence never made me stronger, or smarter or richer, it did nothing to move me forward, it just kept me on a wheel I desperately wanted off of.
So I say let’s break the wheel!
Stop making excuses in the name of self care.
Caring for yourself means doing what is necessary for our long term health even though you will get zero gratification in the moment.
Indulgences are fine, you can still have a spa day or buy yourself a new dress, but ask yourself first whether or not you have been caring for yourself in the ways that actually matter first.
Indulgences are earned and provide us fleeting moments of happiness.
Self care goes the distance as it is something your future self with thank you for.