Why It’s OK To Suck At Self Care
A failed attempt at a meditation challenge had CHLOE PAPAS reflecting on why she felt so guilty – and the notion of self care.
Self care. The term is thrown around alongside words like mindfulness, meditation and sometimes, kale salad. We hear about it anywhere and everywhere: the internet, therapists, Instagram accounts of people who may or may not be cyborgs. It’s the concept that we need to do little things for ourselves each day to promote positive health: exercise, healthy eating, meditation, getting some sunshine, listening to Carly Rae Jepsen on repeat.
It’s a great concept, in theory, and I wholeheartedly embrace it as a positive life choice. But man, is it hard sometimes. About a month ago, I made a pact with myself to meditate every day for four weeks. I knew how great meditation had made me feel when I’d gotten into the habit in the past, and after a rough few months figured it was time to do some sweet self-soothing. I tried out a few different apps, found one I liked, and set up an alert to remind me to meditate every morning.
Then, I studiously ignored it for a month. Well, to be fair, I meditated seven or eight times in those four weeks, primarily because I felt desperately guilty each time that little alert (‘Time to meditate!’) popped up on my phone. Shut up, phone. By the time the end of that four weeks rolled by, I was a ball of anxiety: both due to general life factors, and because I hadn’t managed to take care of myself and do one simple thing every day. And that’s how self care is packaged to us: just one little thing, each day. You can find time in your schedule for that, right?
Let’s flip that and reverse it.
After I got through the making-myself-feel-terrible phase of not practising self care ‘properly’, I realised that actually, it’s okay to kind of suck at self care. If you have high standards, a perfectionist complex, problems with your mental or physical health, or are pretty much just a person in the world, you’ll have skipped a bunch of gym classes or eaten chips for dinner five nights in a row at some stage in your life. And quite frankly, that’s OK.
Self care is bloody difficult
We throw around the term ‘self care’ like it’s the easiest thing in the world, because the actions are usually nice and soothing and good for you. But, there’s a reason that the term has become such a huge part of our actionable vocabulary around positive mental health: because it generally doesn’t come naturally, particularly if you’re not in a great headspace. It’s a vicious cycle: you often realise that you need self care the most when you are down or stressed, but when you are in that space you are far less likely to muster up the energy to act on it. Instagrammers may make it look easy as pie with their smoothie bowls and perfect downward dogs, but don’t worry – I understand the a struggle.
But I don’t wanna
Have you ever thrown on your gym clothes or made plans to go for a nice evening walk, laced up your sneakers, and then plopped down on the couch for the rest of the night? Look, most of us have. Human beings are almost hard wired to resist whatever we’re told is good for us. As soon as new instructions are handed down by health professionals or government bodies or your Mum, we turn into three year olds.
This is one of self care’s biggest downfalls: the more we are told it’s good and important for us, the more likely we are to see it as just another thing to add to the list. It becomes a chore, like doing the dishes or looking at your bank statement – and nobody wants to do those things. So, to be any good at self care, you almost have to trick your own brain into doing it – and not learning to hate those good habits in the process.
Healthy vs less-than-healthy self care
The line between healthy and unhealthy self care is a little blurry. Sometimes if I’m having a bad day, all I want to do is eat half a pizza and a block of chocolate, or sit in front of Netflix gently caressing a bottle of wine. I suspect that if I checked in with a mental health professional on whether overeating and very little movement is self care, I wouldn’t get the answer I want. So, should I feel guilty about it? Nah. I mean perhaps it isn’t the healthiest approach, but at least it means I’m not working a 12-hour day.
There’s a lot of chatter around what makes for healthy self care, and of course, there are a few actions that we can probably all agree on: exercise, vaguely healthy eating, getting some sunshine. So, remember that what you do to look after yourself is up to you. Self care isn’t one size fits all: for one person, it might look like scheduling in social events or going for a jog, for someone else it might look like taking a day off to relax, read some books and get a massage.
It’s okay to suck
Here’s something that the experts rarely tell you about self care: it’s okay to be kind of bad at it. Yes, it’s fantastic when you get into the rhythm of truly looking after yourself, and discover what activities or actions can work to heal your exhausted brain. But it takes a long time to get to that place, and even when you get there, it’s not that difficult to fall off the perch again.
Try not to think of it as another task in your busy day, but rather an optional activity that might make you feel good. Don’t beat yourself up if you aren’t hitting self care wins right now, and most of all: don’t compare yourself to the lady on Instagram who keeps posting about her #zen life. She’s probably lying on the couch with a bottle of wine right now.
Chloe Papas is a journalist and writer based in Victoria. You can find her on Twitter @chloepapas.