Self-Care Isn’t What You Think It Is

Self-care is an incredible tool that helps support our mental well-being but nowadays, there’s seems to be lots of misconceptions about what it actually is. Here, we look into the myths of self-care and what it actually it.

There are over 25 million tags for #selfcare on Instagram (at the time of writing) and many of them fit into one of the following scenarios:

  1. face mask/bubble bath/candles/hair perfectly wrapped in a towel
  2. a mirror selfie/a selfie near some flowers/a ‘candid’ laughing shot
  3. a salad/a smoothie/a cake

You see, our ideas about self-care have become quite narrow and (worryingly) they’ve become Instagrammable. But the truth about self-care is that it isn’t always doing the things that you enjoy or things that look pretty. Yes, sometimes it is – treats and indulgences certainly come into it, but most of the time, it’s about what’s best for you over what you might want to do. Sometimes, self-care is called self-parenting, because like a parent is supposed to do, you make decisions that boost your physical, mental and emotional health and make your wellbeing the number one priority.

Here, we take a look at some of the biggest myths and misconceptions that surround self-care and give some pointers for how you can get the most out of it.

Myth: Self-care is a solo mission
Perhaps because it has the word ‘self’ in its name and because it’s all about working on ourselves, we might think that self-care is something that we have to do on our own. In fact, self-care can be about asking for help when you need it. It can be about connecting with friends and family. It can be about starting therapy. It can be about going to the doctor and talking about your struggles with mental health. You don’t have to do it alone.

Myth: Self-care means I can do what I like
While a big part of self-care includes doing (constructive) activities that you enjoy, it’s certainly not a free pass to just do whatever you feel like at any given time. Real self-care requires discipline. It means waking up instead of pressing the snooze button. It means showering and brushing your teeth and changing your clothes when you want to mooch about in your pyjamas. It means cooking a nutritious meal instead of skipping it or just snacking all day. It means having a glass of water instead of another glass of wine. Self-care is about trying your best to make the right decision as often as you can.

Myth: Self-care requires equipment/tools
When it comes to starting a self-care routine, your first inclination might be to go out and buy all the things that are supposed to help – a new yoga mat, a fancy candle, stylish workout clothes. But self-care isn’t meant to be another expense for you to worry about. Self-care can be meditating for ten (or even five!) minutes a day, stretching, walking through the park, or talking to a friend.

Myth: Self-care is selfish
It’s easy to think that taking time to focus on yourself and do the things that you want/need to do is selfish, especially when you have family, friends and colleagues who are all relying on you to be there for them. Actually, one of the basic principles behind self-care is that by looking after yourself, you’re able to better help and support the people in your life. As the drag queen RuPaul says: “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you going to love somebody else?”

Myth: Self-care is just for women
There’s something about the practice of self-care that makes (some) people think that is just for women. Maybe it’s the pampering or the connecting to your feelings or whatever other sexist stereotypes that still pervade society. But here’s the thing: mental health affects everybody, and everybody needs to practice self-care. On that note, mental ill health does not care about your gender identity, age, race, sexuality or your socioeconomic status – it impacts everyone at any time. Self-care helps to keep your mental health positive.

Myth: Self-care is optional
When our schedules start to get busier, self-care is usually one of the first things to go. We think that our time can be better spent doing all the other chores on our list and looking after other people. But if we neglect ourselves, we won’t be able to bring our best to our relationships, our home or our work.

Myth: Self-care looks like…
Sometimes, it’s nice to have someone else give us the answers and show us what to do, and if we follow their directions, we’ll get it right. Annoyingly, self-care doesn’t work that way. It’s not a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all gig. It’s an incredibly personal endeavour, where you have to find out what works best for you. For some people, self-care might mean learning to spend more time alone; for others, it could mean pushing themselves to be more sociable. If you’re getting started on your self-care routine, here are some ideas you can try to help you get started:

  • Exercise regularly
  • Cook balanced meals at home
  • Go to bed on time so that you get the right amount of sleep for you
  • Work out a financial budget and stick to it
  • Set reminders on your phone to take your medication/vitamins
  • Meditate and/or yoga stretches
  • Make your bed every morning
  • Do your laundry
  • Read a book
  • Spend time each day without your phone (you can start by switching it off for 10 minutes and work your way up to an hour)
  • Go for a walk
  • Call a friend or family member
  • Book a dentist appointment
  • Keep a journal

And after all those myths, here’s an idea of self-care actually is. Self-care is decision-making with intention. It is the thoughts and actions that someone pursues and repeats that enable them to be the best, healthiest and ultimately happiest version of themselves. It is about choosing what is best for yourself in the long run, over what you feel like in the moment.

If you’re struggling with self-care, you can also try this interactive quiz, which helps you construct your day in a more caring and productive way: