Today’s version of self-care is an interesting phenomenon to me. We live in a society where we are encouraged to hustle and never stop chasing our dreams, and our self worth is based on how productive we are or contribute to society. Businesses use the term “self-care” to market their services and products, such as telling us to “treat ourselves” to their luxury face mask or to get unhealthy food delivered because “we earned it.” It’s a constant cycle of having to redeem the act of taking care of oneself.
How does one define the act of self-care? Is it simply getting 7 hours of sleep each night or buying another subscription box of material items that will only bring us temporary joy? Or is it breaking up with someone you still love but know isn’t good for your overall well-being?
We’ve spent our entire lives convincing ourselves that we only deserve to rest if we’ve done something productive. But so-called “self-care” isn’t about getting to treat ourselves because we earned it: it’s an act of self-preservation. You shouldn’t have to earn the right to take care of yourself; it should be part of your daily ritual. Saying “no” might anger people, but it’s also how you exercise the right to your own freedom.
I know that, for myself, I spent many years unable to turn down a request or invitation because I felt obligated to engage. I got burnt out really bad last semester when I realized that no one really cared about what I was doing; they simply thought that I owed it to them. That definitely didn’t stop me from going out constantly or trying to socialize, but my extroverted soul could never stop that because I need it. However, these interactions were so much more meaningful because I was choosing to go to them instead of feeling obligated. I think that in itself is one form of self-care that I do for myself.
Chaos and clutter make me extremely nervous when it’s specifically in my own home or space, so things like washing the dishes, cleaning the counters, organizing things and folding the laundry bring me peace as well. It might not be what you think of when you hear the term “self-care,” but it is so healing for me, and I’m truly doing it for myself.
And, of course, I spent many nights in trying to connect with my cat, read, and sometimes just stare at the ceiling. I think there is something so powerful about the ability to think about literally nothing. (See: meditation.)
Self-care also has an interesting meeting point with self-harm, and I think that a lot of people don’t realize this. Staying in because you’re anxious instead of taking the opportunity to bond with people you really love, ordering lots of unhealthy food constantly or buying luxurious items that you don’t need when you’re already on a budget. Getting a new tattoo, a new piercing, going out and getting drunk or making decisions that you think will be funny but actually harm your body can all be seen as things that you “earned” but ultimately can be defined as self-harm as opposed to self-care. I suppose that this is something that you have to figure out for yourself, but it’s easy to keep harming yourself under the guise of this phenomenon of “self-care.”
I once read a quote (that I am currently using as my Instagram bio): “I did it out of love. You don’t owe me anything.” It really stuck with me and changed the way I see things. When you do things that aren’t out of love, you wear yourself out. Your expectations that other people will appreciate you or return the favor will tear you apart and bring out an evil in you that you didn’t know existed. But when you only do things out of love… your energy changes. The acts of kindness that you in fact do are so much more meaningful, and you will connect with the people you love on another level. You don’t feel this greed or this anger building when people don’t notice you. Even if you’re doing something for someone else, you’re really doing it for you. That is the ultimate form of self-care to me.
Self-care looks different to each and every individual, and it’s also something that you have to figure out on your own. I am still working on finding my own inner peace, but I truly hope that you will find yours too. Whatever it may be, just know that you don’t owe anyone anything, but you do owe this to yourself.