It’s been wonderful to see, over the last few years, just how much self-care has become part of the conversation – in the media and beyond. For many of us, embracing the concept of self-care has been a vital part of tangible improvements in our lives, as we are better able to manage everything from daily stress to chronic conditions.
However, as self-care entered the common lexicon, the concept naturally evolved to something more complicated and aspirational than perhaps first intended. Beautiful online imagery and the consumer culture connected to self-care can make the concept appear dreamy and far away (and even out of our price range), rather than something that’s achievable for everyone.
There’s nothing wrong, of course, with aspiration or inspiration – and a bit of retail therapy, a trip to the hairdressers or other consumer acts can fall under the umbrella of self-care. However, at its heart, self-care is about uncomplicated actions that protect your health and wellbeing, and this is hugely important when life becomes harder than usual.
Getting back to basics with simple self care can make a huge difference when it feels like everything is going wrong, and is vital in making sure you can through to the other side as unscathed and ready to move on as possible.
Why we need self-care
For a long time, we’ve been taught that success comes with self-sacrifice, that the person who does the longest hours will reap the biggest rewards. But as it became clear that mental health issues were rising, and that often the only thing we were achieving was stress and burnout, we became increasingly aware of the hazards that are inherent to these “you win or you lose” attitudes.
It’s unfortunate that this overly self-sacrificing, burn-the-candle-at-both-ends culture has dominated our working and personal lives for such a long time. While being dynamic, ambitious and hardworking is all laudable, there has to be a balance in life. Without balance, this unforgiving lifestyle can be overwhelming, especially when combined with our modern 24/7, non-stop schedule.
All this is at least partly responsible for our lack of happiness and fulfilment, and the very real impact this is having on our mental health. For those with pre-existing mental issues, chronic illnesses, a loved one they have to care for, or a thousand other pressures, it’s even harder.
Simple Self-Care Techniques
It’s often said that advice regarding self-care can be a little unrealistic – with spa days or salon trips barely accessible for lots of people and big lifestyle changes completely infeasible. This is why simple self-care isn’t about a lifestyle overhaul – becoming yet another thing to feel guilty about not doing – it’s essential maintenance to keep up health and happiness when we need it most.
There are realities in life we just can’t avoid. For example, you are likely to sacrifice time spent “me-time” if your kids are particularly demanding that day, you may have a partner who suffers from depression or anxiety and often have to cancel plans (like relaxing over a coffee with friends) to provide emotional support. We don’t always have the capacity to look after ourselves coherently, which is why it’s important to fit self-care into life as it is, rather than an idealised time where everything falls into place.
So for the times when money’s tight, time is short and you just don’t have the energy, here are some simple self-care tips that should make big difference to how you feel without too much expense or effort.
Life is invariably complicated and stress can affect anyone, but circumstances can make things particularly difficult at certain times. It isn’t always possible to be our best selves, or to find time to really give ourselves the time and care we need, and comparing how well we’re doing with other people in these moments is unhelpful.
For example, looking after a new baby is always hard, but it will probably feel a lot harder it also coincides with having no money, a relationship breakdown, or flare-up of mental illness. The people who seem to breeze through, looking fantastic and barely ruffled, might be having a completely different – in other terms, easier – experience to you, and they may even be secretly struggling.
These are the times when we need to put aside how everyone else may or may not be doing and congratulate ourselves on simply making it through the day. Giving yourself a break from self-criticism and comparison during low points in life (and we all experience them) is really important.
Recognise the things, people and activities that boost your mood.
Even when we’re super busy or experiencing a rough patch, there’s always little moments of calm or happiness in life. For instance, pets can be a real mood-booster – taking the dog for a walk or having your cat fall asleep in your lap may be a highlight in even difficult days. Alternatively, your highlights may be grabbing a latte from your favourite coffee shop before work or catching up with a good book during your lunch break.
Taking these moments and focusing on them – trying to maximise the happy times if you can – can make things feel a little less bleak, and doesn’t involve the extra pressure of trying to allocate more time or money to something new. If there are any other times during the day that you can commit to these happy-making activities, you can bring more positivity into your life.
Recognise what’s adding unnecessary stress.
There are lots of things that may be creating unnecessary stress. For example, you may leave your work email notifications on, forcing you to think about your professional life when you could be relaxing. Or it might be that you have a good friend who is more demanding than you can always cope with. Regular habits may ignite a flicker of happiness or comfort, such as smoking or ordering takeaway pizza just that little bit too often, only to be followed by guilt and stress.
When times are tough, stepping back a little can make a huge difference to our peace of mind. In the example of an overbearing friend, it’s ok to set some boundaries (such as turning off your phone in the evenings) while still being a good mate – you can just explain you won’t be available as often because need a little me-time. The same applies to work. If it’s become an unspoken expectation that you monitor your emails outside of work hours, you can make it clear that there are times when you turn off your phone and won’t be contactable.
The bad habits which make us feel guilty are also pretty easy to identify. It may be hard during a rough patch to stop doing them (you might simply lack the motivation if it’s all being spent elsewhere) so it’s probably more helpful in the short term to stop telling yourself off and set the long-term goal of cutting down or giving up.
Stick to a digital detox
As we’ve already mentioned, turning off your phone can be an important way to set boundaries at work, but it can also be invaluable when it comes to protecting mental wellbeing. While there are times in the modern world where we have to have our phone on, (for example, if it’s how your child’s school would get in touch with you during an emergency) but we have developed an expectation – both for ourselves and others – of constant social availability which is both unreasonable and impractical.
Sometimes, it’s OK to be out of the loop for a little bit. That WhatsApp conversation that jingles every 30 seconds, those social media updates which provide a constant scroll of content – we can switch off from them and spend more time in the moment. It doesn’t matter if we leave a message unread for an hour or two and removing this pressure to be constantly socially “on” can be a really powerful form of self-care.
Make small but steady changes
Sometimes, the only realistic option is to keep your head above water and wait for the storm to pass, but you can still do small things to help yourself. When you are really struggling, it’s the little things that count, and you can take baby steps in creating a life where stress becomes a little less overwhelming. Meditation is a wonderful form of self-care that’s easy and accessible, and will help you cope with stress better in future.
At the most basic level, simply finding time for the tiniest of actions which remind you that you still matter – such as spending an extra 5 minutes brushing your hair, or picking out your favourite pair of shoes, or cooking yourself a nice meal – can give you the small boost you need to get through the day. When times are tough, self-care can be as simple as you need it to be.
We are always happy to chat if you want to discuss how meditation can help you. Get in touch whenever you need.