I recently returned from a family vacation, and even though it was exhausting at times (remember, I said family vacation), it was a great reminder of how important self-care is to our overall wellbeing. Too often, we get caught up in the pressures of daily life and push ourselves until we’re running on empty. Just as you can only drive your car so far until it runs out of gas, your mind and body also need regular fill-ups for optimal performance.
Sometimes we get self-care confused with self-medicating, and knowing the difference is key. While we use both to self-soothe in times of distress, one is essential for good mental health and the other is detrimental. When we self-medicate, we turn to unhealthy behaviours, and sometimes addictions, to help us cope with unpleasant feelings. Self-care, on the other hand, is about allowing ourselves time for the things that rejuvenate us. Instead of turning to drugs, alcohol, shopping or food, it’s watching a movie without watching the clock, hiking a beautiful trail or practicing music. It’s about asking yourself “what do I really need in this moment?” The answer may surprise you.
Our mile-a-minute society tends to give mixed messages about self-care. We’re taught early on that a good day is a productive day—if you’re not accomplishing something, you’re just being lazy or wasting time. At the same time, we receive daily messages that we should treat ourselves; that we deserve to indulge. Use the money you have just worked so hard for at a lush day spa, on an exotic vacation or for a decadent meal. Put in the hours, achieve sky-high goals and push yourself to the brink of exhaustion, and you, too, can earn the right to enjoy something nothing short of spectacular.
There are many problems with this model, of course, but one of my biggest concerns is that it doesn’t leave room for the day-to-day self-nurturing we all need. Forget the work-hard-play-hard mentality—there’s no right or wrong way to self-nurture, and you don’t have to do anything to deserve it.
Me time doesn’t have to be an expensive spa day or an all day excursion—it can be anything you enjoy. It’s about taking a break. And sorry perfectionists, stepping outside for 15 minutes to think about your to-do list in a different environment does not count as a break. Allow yourself to do something you enjoy and take the time to set the right mood for relaxation. If you’re partial to a hot bath, go ahead and use that fancy bath oil or let your inner child play with the bubbles. Instead of grabbing your usual drink on the run, sit in your favourite coffee house—take in the atmosphere, people-watch and savour each sip. If you want to sweat out your stress at the gym, swap your phone for a water bottle and let your mind wander while you work out. It can even be as simple as connecting with a friend and catching up.
At first, putting aside your “duties” for some “me time” can feel selfish or irresponsible, but it doesn’t take long to see that it’s the opposite. Putting all of our energy into being productive leads to burnout, and how can you perform on empty fuel tank? It’s only by topping up with some self-care—whatever that might mean for you— that you can keep your engine running.