When I initially sat down to write this article, I sat at a clean desk, I lit a candle, I put on some soothing music, and then I just sat there. One hour passed, and then two… the next thing I knew 4 hours had gone by and I hadn’t written a single word. I started to think about what could have been wrong. I started with how my day went. I remembered that I had a pretty mentally exhausting day of feeling isolated, anxious, useless and upset. Everything that happened that day seemed to exemplify my already existing emotions, especially for doing what I thought was procrastinating for 4 hours. As I watched the smoke from a candle wick that was no longer lit climb higher, I began to think about what the silence of the last 4 hours could have meant. Perhaps, I just hadn’t found the inspiration to write yet. Perhaps, I had been so hard on myself all day that I had made myself subconsciously scared of doing anything. Perhaps, my body had decided to take a break since my mind could not. When I finally realized that the last 4 hours doing nothing meant that I also hadn’t been thinking hurtful, over-pressured thoughts about myself; it clicked. Whatever I had been doing, or in this case, hadn’t been doing was because it was mentally what I needed at that moment. It was carved out time for me to no be so hard on myself for 5 minutes, or 4 hours. I hadn’t realized then how ridiculously important and radical that break was for my mental health.
As a society, we get so caught up in the commercial concept of “Self-Care”. These are words that we are all familiar with, and that we are sold on every social media platform. We know that on a surface level, taking time to do a Korean sheet-mask or light incense is an act of “Self-Care”; but not many people show us what real, everyday self-care looks like. The self-care practices that we have no choice but to practice every second of every day, or else our lives will never improve in the ways we want them to. So then we ask, what does the real self-care look like? I’ve compiled a short list of three ways to start.
The first, Setting and Sticking to Boundaries; with those around you, with yourself. Boundaries are the most important, and the most overlooked part of self-care, so I’m putting it first to add an overwhelming emphasis. Setting boundaries is one thing. To some extent, we all know what we are and are not willing to tolerate. We know what makes us uncomfortable because it tugs at our stomachs and gnaws at our ears. The act of sticking to these boundaries, however, is as revolutionary and difficult (and sometimes, as deadly) as war. Sticking to your boundaries means, saying “No, I will not tolerate that”. It means telling people that they’ve hurt you, it means quitting a job, it means not allowing yourself to go to dark places; and, above all, it means learning when to walk away. Some days, you will fall back and you will concede. It is important to know that it’s okay. This is an uphill battle, that takes place every day. The first step is knowing this.
Second, Take Time. I used to hate hearing this, so I was a little shocked when it was a huge lesson that I learned. Time really does heal all wounds. Time to yourself, time to do something you love, or time to do nothing; however the time looks. As an incredibly impatient person, I understand how unbelievably unhelpful this piece of advice is when you’re dealing with situations like depression and anxiety. The last thing anyone wants to do is wallow in their emotions and pity themselves. That is NOT what this means. The time you take to heal is not passive. Society has taught us that the way to heal is to get to the end of our emotions as quickly as possible so that we can move on. Really, what we want is the exact opposite of that. If you allow yourself that trust, your body will know when it is ready to move on; but it will only know that if you give it the time it needs to feel the emotions that you’re feeling. This brings me to my third important act of self-care.
Acknowledge your feelings. Trust me when I say that I was the queen of trying to hide/cover up my feelings. I was afraid to not only show people when I was down or hurt, but I was also wary to show love and excitement. I thought the “normal” thing to do was to show little-to-no emotions. As I grew older, it became progressively harder to hide the pain I was feeling, and I found that that pain was amplified by my refusal to show when I was truly happy or excited out of fear that something would take it away from me. By the time I had reached the peak of my downward spiral, I had a completely unrealistic relationship with expressing emotion - and it all came pouring out. I cried for what felt like days, and I couldn’t stop crying. When I had finally stopped crying, I felt better than I had felt in years. I didn’t know it then, but looking back I realize that the outburst of pure, unedited emotion was what my mind, my body and my soul had been longing for. I realized that emotions are not things that we can achieve, but things that we will always constantly experience, and that they are not perfect because they are not meant to be. I may not be happy right now, but that does not mean that I wasn’t happy at all today, or that I won’t be happy tomorrow; and, I cried, but that doesn’t mean I will cry tomorrow. We are not meant to be happy all the time, and the expectation that we should strive for that is unfair to exactly what makes us complex humans. Emotions are beautiful, and their fluctuations are normal and healthy.
I seldom read articles or hear people talk about why these everyday practices of self-care are so important. This is work that no one else can do for us, only we can do it for ourselves. These are not quick fixes, they are long-term solutions. These tools are not band-aids, to cover up the problem. They are remedies for healing. It doesn’t look like what the media tells you it “should” or what it will look like. It’s not as pretty as what we see on Instagram or on youtube. Yes, I still love a good skincare routine but I realized that self-care didn’t always look like facemasks and bubble baths. That sometimes, self-care is sitting in front of your work and not doing any of it.