Maybe you have heard the phrase banded around on social media? Or on campaigning websites where people quote “Self care is an act of political warfare”? Most people would likely have heard the phrase alongside the craze for the beautiful concept of hygge. Hyyge (hoo-gah) is the lifestyle idea that became huge outside of Scandinavia for the first time in 2016. It’s led to thousands of pictures across the internet, like the one above, that are labelled accordingly with #selfcare. But what does this term actually mean and where did it come from?
Le souci de soi – care of self
I am not averse to the phrase being used to mean having a luxurious bath or curling up in a duvet for the day… However it is the motivation behind these images that truly explains what self care is to me.
Self care is being able to recognise in this hectic world, what it is that your body and mind needs – and doing that. People have adapted to the world that we have created. The technological age has formed a generation that are buzzing – all day and all night! Unfortunately, we have the same body that we were born with decades ago and physiologically, we are not ready for 24/7 living.
With poor mental health being greater in the world’s population today than ever before, it is unsurprising that the concept of self care or hygge has come to popularly mean soothing the mind. The more medicalised use of the term means more broadly looking after oneself. Taking care of your hygiene, not smoking and other preventative ways you can avoid harm.
To me, self care is not simply lighting candles and posting the photo on Instagram. It is the act of listening to your need for a simply lit space, a warm duvet and a break from “the outside world”.
Taking a bath is lovely. But it is when you realise that your skin is dry and your muscles ache and you then run one, then it becomes self care.
More complex thoughts can be thrown up when you have poor mental health and are suffering from symptoms like low motivation. Although your mind is saying no, you have to care for yourself by trusting that a small achievable action will – in the long run – be better self care. Depression and low mood respond well to these and in this moment it’s not just kind to yourself but actually therapeutic to focus on your needs.
Sometimes you may have to compromise because although you really need more sleep, that deadline is due. Even in a mindful version of this chaotic world, you will still make compromises with your wellbeing. That’s OK – really genuinely OK. No beating yourself up needed (all you people with high standards out there, I feel you).
One of the ideas that my therapist has brought my attention to, is the idea of self care priorities. These can on the lowest of the low days of depression, turn the day into a less low day. If you don’t live with a mood problem, these small actions turn a grumpy or “non” day into a better one.
My priorities for a simplified day were – having a shower, washing up a few items and walking the dog.
Maybe that sounds like nothing to you. Or an overwhelming amount for your low days. But these actions were enough for me to aim for and feel “Yes, I have existed successfully today”. It gave me goals that when reached, I could highlight to my partner and we celebrate them. The next morning I would feel cleaner and less overwhelmed by the day before. I will have given my mind and body the space to be low but not let the depression become me. By focusing on those predetermined things regardless of how I felt, it was thus soothing myself not pandering to the depression.
Ideas for self care
Where do I start? I’m a big believer in start small if you feel overwhelmed.
A lot of cognitive change starts with recognition. When you do something, notice if it brings you pleasure, calm or some other positive feeling. Write it down somewhere, right then if you can! That list being created is your list of priorities that you can focus on when time and energy feels limited – your first steps at committing to your self care.
This list of 134 activities might inspire you to try something different today. If doing it brings you something positive, try another! Or add that activity to your priorities for the week. Motivation is bred by doing, so commit to experimenting and listening to your feelings.
Some ideas are infectious… If you can find a friend who you trust, you could embark on a journey of exploring self care together. There are a bazillion free websites and apps that can get you started with meditation or mindfulness. Having someone else to talk it through with can give you some head space to really relax and understand the effects on your body.
By the way not all meditation involves humming “ooohm” or sitting cross legged! Go into it like you would a new exercise class.
This NHS approved video has meditation instructor Beth talk you through an introductory session. She has the most relaxing voice!
Need to get moving more? Don’t just sit there – get on your feet and do some moving! I’m a massive believer in anything that gets your heart rate going, is good for you. Scrubbing bathroom tiles, great. Running round the block, great. Dancing to Spotify, great.
The brain literally thanks you for moving more by releasing positive chemical hits!
Whatever you choose to do, however you commit to your self care, be kind on yourself. No one has perfected this and it’s totally OK to start wherever you need to start. As with everything in life, your journey cannot be compared to any other.
Struggling with suicidal thoughts, hearing voices or self harming? Please get help from a doctor as soon as possible – it is important as self help is not suitable.
Anyone in the UK can ring the Samaritans – whether you are living with suicidal thoughts or not – for free, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year on 116 1230