5 SELF-CARE TIPS THAT DON'T INVOLVE BUYING SHIT
Stop buying things and go walk some children in nature or something.
A couple of weeks back I wrote about the importance of taking time out for yourself and being transparent with your friends. I briefly touched on the subject of self-care but, to stop the blog post from tripling in size and totally derailing from the main topic, I decided to write about it in a future post. Well, the future is now, so let’s talk about self-care has been poisoned by the shit-show that we all know and love: consumerism.
When stripped down to its literal and essential meanings, self-care is the practice of taking care of yourself. How you do this, of course, changes from day to day and from person to person depending on circumstance, needs, and what someone is feasibly capable of achieving. For some, self-care is switching off their phone for an hour after a stressful day at work. For others, it’s something as small as brushing their teeth because they’re in the middle of a depressive episode and don’t have the mental energy to do anything else that day. It’s not pretty or Instagrammable; it’s just routine maintenance that’s as integral to your well-being as drinking water or going for a shit.
So when did this vital act of routine maintenance suddenly become a synonym for treating yourself? It doesn't quite add up when you think about it. A treat is something you earn; self-care is something you deserve. You deserve to take a break and look after yourself regardless of who you are and what you’ve done with your day. We aren’t expected to justify going for a shit by exclaiming ‘TREAT YO SELF!’ en route to the loo – we just do it, unquestioned. By referring to self-care as treating ourselves, we imply that taking care of ourselves is something we have to earn, and that, dear friends, is a one-way ticket on the Guilt Express to Shame Central - population: you and every other burnt-out person on this nervous planet.
Sometimes, you just have to accept that you need to take some time out in order to face the tasks ahead. Don’t ever feel bad for putting your homework away before you’ve finished it or for taking a nap before tackling your to-do list. There is no shame in ‘before’, nor do you need to justify it. If you need to take a break, then you need to break. It’s that simple. Eating, sleeping, self-care: it’s all under the same umbrella of routine maintenance - yet we still regard looking after our well-being as an indulgence, and not a priority.
This is because of the blurring of the lines between taking care of yourself and treating yourself. We all need care in our lives, while treats are usually depicted as something naughty, expensive or decadent - something that you should only have once in a blue moon lest you become a glutton for hedonism. Think gooey chocolate cakes, luxury bath bombs and a new winter coat when you’ve already got four lurking in the wardrobe. By referring to self-care as a treat, you’re not only telling yourself that what you’re doing is hashtag cheeky, but that you should only do it sparingly.
Now, this may come as a huge surprise to some, but self-care has absolutely nothing to do with the purchase of goods. Unfortunately, things like facial masks, bath bombs and seasonal depression-combating lamps have become ubiquitous within the sphere of self-care. Why? Because brands will always capitalise on the latest trends, and self-care is simply the latest commodity under the money-making banner of #treatyourself. Splashing your face with cold water is common self-care practise, so why not do it with this £29 facial wash? Taking a bath is great and all, but it’d be even better if you did it with our £12 bath bomb – oh, and don’t forget to snap a picture of your pink bathwater and tag us on Instagram so that everyone knows just how #woke we are about mental health!
Repeat after me: self-care is not something you buy. Most of us are already fortunate enough to have direct access to what we need to practise it: a bed for sleeping, a quiet room for meditating, a local park for wandering, or a notebook for reflecting. A facial mask is fun and all that, but it’s not essential, or even remotely related to taking care of your mental health.
So, to justify my borderline-clickbait title, here are five self-care tips that are beneficial to your brain and do not involve the purchase of unnecessary shit:
1. Keeping a diary. This is a very cathartic way of unloading your burdened brain and, if you have illness-induced brainfog like me, keeping a diary is a fantastic way of remembering what the hell you’ve actually been up to. Also, there’s no right or wrong way to do it. Some people think keeping a diary means you have to write about your day, but that’s not necessarily true. I personally like to freewrite a page a day, meaning I just sit down and start writing whatever the hell comes out of my brain. Sometimes I write about a bad day at work, other times I write about the sock I lost in 2011 and whether the remaining sock misses it. Either way, I always feel a bit lighter once I’ve done it.
(Note: while I prefer to write in a notebook, it’s absolutely fine to keep a diary through any of the following: phone, app, Word document, blogging platform, Twitter account, carrier pigeon, graffitiing the local underpass. If you have easy access to any of these, they’re all valid. Except for that last one, which is unfortunately illegal but still incredibly funny to visualise someone spray-painting ‘DEAR DIARY TODAY I ATE A GOOD SANDWICH’ on a concrete wall.)
2. Meditate. I’m a big fan of meditation, and while I’m aware that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, I really do recommend giving it a go if you’ve not done so before. Admittedly I use a paid-for app to meditate, but there are plenty of free alternatives out there, including YouTube videos or how-to articles on the internet. Once you grasp the basics, you won’t need to be guided by audio tracks or videos anymore, making this a truly free practice.
3. Go for a walk. Just a few minutes of brisk walking is enough to change your mood for the better. You don’t have to hike up a mountain or even go to a park; if you’re short on time, I find that simply taking a slightly longer route to work along an unfamiliar street forces me out of my brain and back into reality.
4. Do something you loved to do as a kid. Dancing around your room, drawing your friends, re-reading a childhood favourite – the list is endless. Adulting is draining, and sometimes the only solution is to be a kid again, even if it's for five minutes.
5. Switch off your phone notifications. At the moment, the only notifications I have active on my phone are for calls, texts and certain people on Messenger, which are the only things I reckon require immediate action. Everything else has been switched off, which means I only check social media when I want to, and not because my flashing lockscreen or the little red badge on the corner of an app has tempted me to. Do you really need to know that your mate just liked your Instagram post or that you've got a new Tinder match? No. Switch it off.
(Please note that these tips are targeted towards those who are a bit frazzled and need to ground themselves a bit. If you're currently in a depressive episode, please seek professional help (it's quite excellent) and not the advice of grumpy goblins writing about bath bombs on the internet.)
Of course, there's nothing inherently bad about chucking a bath bomb into your next bath. I mean, anyone who knows me understands that I'm a self-proclaimed slut for all things with a Lush label slapped on. But nice products are just that: nice, not necessary. As long as you consciously differentiate treating yourself from performing self-care and are aware of when brands and social media influencers try to blur the lines, you're good to go. Chuck that bath bomb and watch it fizzle, baby! Just remember that a bath without a bath bomb or a nap without a £300 SAD-combating lamp is just as valid as their more expensive counterparts, if not more.
Now, put your phone down and go walk some children in nature, you naughty degenerates.