In the year long stream of chaos since Trump’s election I’ve had thousands of conversations about the importance of self care. Social workers, activists and artists have been talking about self care for decades, but sometime in the past few years it entered the mainstream consciousness. Self Care became a buzzword, an almost meaningless short form for a laundry list of things that are supposed to make us feel good. There are millions of articles offering self care tips (over 17,200,000 according to Google), all offering the same advice. Get some exercise. Take a long bath, preferably with an aromatherapy bath bomb to calm yourself down. Rewatch one of your favourite movies. Book a professional massage.
None of this is necessarily bad advice, but there are a couple problems with this approach to self care. The biggest issue, the one we’ll be discussing today, is that the mainstream approach to self care is entirely superficial, acting as an emotional band aid rather than a proper treatment for overwhelming stress or mental illness.
Put another way, these temporary self care strategies are great ways to avoid truly changing your life. They give you an endorphin rush that makes individual days better so you become complacent about tackling the bigger issues bringing your down. This effect is particularly powerful if you are struggling with an actual mental illness, as eventually the bigger issues overwhelm you so much that no number of temporary self care measures helps.
If you want to drastically and permanently improve your life, you need to dig deeper, to change your entire approach to life. You need to develop something I’ve come to call the self care mentality.
What is the self care mentality?
The self care mentality is a set of beliefs centered the fact that you are a worthy person who deserves to be taken care of. It is a mindset that asks what you can do to improve your reality, not just for today but for every single day going forward. You’ll still enjoy plenty of hot baths and good movies, but you’ll also put in the hard work needed to define and create your dream life, whatever that looks like.
In other words, self care is saying “I may not love myself today, but I deserve to be taken care of just like any other human being”.
How the self care mentality can change your life
Approaching every aspect of your life with the self care mentality will help you figure out what’s working in your life, what’s broken, and what you need to do more of. By asking the right questions, you will develop a lifestyle designed to prevent overwhelm and burnout. The self care mentality might not directly lead to your dream life, but it will definitely help you get closer to that dream. It can also help you define what those dreams are.
More importantly, the self care mentality is the first big step towards self love. When you’ve lived in your pain a long time, loving yourself seems like an impossible prospect. It’s also terrifying. Love makes us vulnerable to hurt and disappointment. This is a narrative many of us are familiar with, because we push ourselves to start and stay in terrible relationships rather than being alone. And love for other people does lead to all kinds of pain, especially when we love the wrong people.
Love for yourself, on the other hand, gives you an enormous amount of strength. If you cultivate an attitude of self love you’ll be able to confidently reach towards your dreams. You’ll know you can survive, even thrive, on your own. You’ll automatically cut out toxic things and people before they take hold of your life.
The self care mentality accomplishes many of the same things as self love, but it does so from an objective standpoint. This makes it feel safer, more achievable, even at the lowest point of your journey. And once you’ve achieved this mindset the idea of true self love becomes much more attainable.
Developing the self care mentality
Like most worthwhile life changes, developing the self care mentality requires concentrated daily effort over a long period of time. Once you achieve it, you need to maintain it–and that can be an incredible challenge when life inevitably gets busy or shitty. The whole thing is so complicated that I’m writing an entire book about it. I’ll be sharing extensive sections of the book (including practical exercises) here on the blog over the next few months, and you’ll get a free copy when it comes out if you sign up for my newsletter.
In the meantime, here’s an exercise to get you thinking about self care:
Grab a piece of paper and free write, using the topic “self care” as a prompt. Write until you fill the front side of the page. If you want, you can then make a collage on the back, using images you associate with self care. If you’re feeling brave, share your first three items in the comments below–or post a picture on your own blog and link to it here!