Self-care is a billion-dollar industry these days and you don’t have to look far to see a whole range of expensive products marketed towards what is actually individual ‘self-improvement’. It’s no wonder that young people today see others as more demanding of them, and are more demanding of themselves.
We’re confronted moment to moment with advertisements for self-improvement products masquerading as a lifestyle of self-care, ranging from face-rollers to serums, and expensive classes and retreats designed to somehow be both relaxing yet a productive investment in your most valuable commodity - yourself. But what we call self-care should not be designed to improve your social or market-based worth, nor should it be left for only those who can afford it.
Self Care History
With its roots in ancient Greece, self-care has gone through a massive evolution since its Athenian inception. Originally, ideas of self-care were seen as important tasks in not only caring for oneself but for the benefit of the larger democratic society.
To contribute to the world at large, it was your duty to meditate, reminisce, and examine the meaning of life. From a place where self-care was a practice solely belonging to males (of non-slave or foreign origin), the concept became adopted by western males and was used to deem African Americans (among others) unfit for their own self-governance. Through a racial superiority and colonialist lens, oppressors restricted who was physically “allowed” to practise such acts.
The rise of women's equality in the late 19th and early 20th century saw the same basic argument that was used to create/reinforce racism, used as a means to deny sexual equality.
Gendered myths such as a woman being “irrational” and “helpless” prompted the need for them to be ‘taken care of’ as the were unable to do so themselves. Self-care was once again a tool of oppression used by those in power.
After years of dormancy, the term was reclaimed as a tool of resistance within identity politics. Over the years, self-care became a way that marginalized groups (those who were historically denied it) could exist and engage in self-care as an act of self-preservation, or as Audre Lorde put it, an “act of political warfare”.
Modern Self Care
These days ideas of self-care have been co-opted by socially and politically advantaged people and turned from ideas of self and community preservation to an individualistic and consumeristic response to the stresses and anxieties of individualism and consumerism. It’s true that the world can be a stressful place, but it seems like now more than ever people are turning to what we call ‘self-care’ as a means of competition, which will only add to those stresses.
This is where modern self-care gets lost to me.
In our attempts to combat the anxiety and stresses of living up to ever-increasing and unattainable standards, it is easy to fall into the trap of doing self-care because it feels socially imposed upon us. We may even feel guilty for not engaging in enough self-care!
It's become less about caring for our own wellbeing, and more about keeping up with expectations and standards set by marketing campaigns, and a privileged elite. This can be seen by simply turning on your phone. In the maintenance of our social media profiles, the curation of life events like travel, yoga, our homes (and our food, ha!) is often tailored towards the unachievable. In other words, this approach to self-care only further entrenches the need for more actual self-care, in a vicious cycle.
For me, what we call self-care currently, should be reinvented in the practice of self-love. Whereas self-care is more often than not centred on having things and collecting experiences, self-love in a more spiritual approach is centred on being involved in that which allows you to connect with something beyond yourself, be it the ‘divine’, the ‘spirit’, or whatever it may mean to you. It is, by its nature, incompatible with what’s being sold as self-care, as it contains no competition, no perfectionist motive, and most importantly, no end goal. Instead, we can understand it as an experience - the solitary joy found in partaking of everyday rituals and reflection.
Through self-love, we are partaking in the time to decompress and re-centre. Something vital for everyone, regardless of ability or socioeconomic standing. Ideals of elite, competitive, consumer-based self-care should be left at the door, and instead, we should focus on these practices of self-love that make us stronger and better people regardless of income, social status, or physicality.
These are some of the simple and often freeways I like to partake in my own practices of self-love. They are not costly, overly time consuming, nor unattainable.
Work your hands
For me using my hands is an easy way to decompress. I find great pleasure in everything from kneading bread dough, to sewing, beading, weeding, and painting. Research shows that purposeful hand use reduces stress and promotes psychological well being - plus you can create some gratifying out of the process, and enjoying the fruits of your labour is great for your mental wellness.
Create a sleep routine
Having a before-bed routine is a simple way to help relax you from daily stress and slow down the pace. It can be anything from drinking herbal tea, moisturizing your legs and feet, or practising yoga Nidra before sleep. I love to rub in some homemade lotion, do a hair mask, and read in bed before I commit for the night.
Move Your Body
Even after a long day at work, I can find great pleasure in moving my body. Some of my favourite ways are going for an after-dinner walk with my camera, putting on a record to dance to, or finding some space and time to do some yoga or exercise. Great free videos including yoga and short exercise videos are available on You-tube.
Get some sunshine
Making time to get outside and reconnect with the world around you is something we can all do. If you have access to a car, look for areas where you can hike with friends. Drive to the nearest lake, waterfall or beach. If you're in a city, find a park or a green space, bring a book or something to snack on and soak up that vitamin D.
Finding your sanctuary -
Making our home a sanctuary has always been a top priority for both of us. It doesn't take a lot of money or anything fancy to make your home a calm and serene place where your daily stresses can melt away. These are some of the simple ways I like to make our home a relaxing environment.
- Candles - a few candles here and there can set the mood. I love to have a scented one on the counter to light during my dinner prep. We keep a few outside for outdoor eating. Some on the coffee table where we eat dinner (our house is too small for a kitchen table). And a couple in the bathroom for long soaks in the tub.
- House plants - plants make a lot of us happy. They brighten a room, give us something to look after, and add life to space. I like to place them wherever we spend the most time- the living room, our bedroom, and my work desk. The best part is, you can often get free ones from plant facebook groups. Or look for inexpensive ones from the grocery store or nursery. Just make sure they are easy to care for and pet-friendly.
- Setting a mood - keeping our home filled with natural and tranquil colours helps to make a bright yet cosy space. Our living areas are filled with cosy blankets and soft pillows which make it homely environment to retreat too. I'm a huge fan of fresh air. This means our windows are always open which allows for gentle breezes to waft through carrying the bird songs in from outside. Records and chill music is always at fingertips reach which helps complete the perfect "chill" space for us.
Keeping a journal
Writing down your thoughts, concerns, and daily experiences is a wonderfully therapeutic way to help unburden your soul. Sometimes the simple act of writing down your worries and putting them out into the aether is enough to make a difference. It can help flesh out ideas and can provide clarity or insights into complicated situations.
Each month around the beginning or near the new month I like to write down a few intentions, or things I want to work on/ do more often. These can be physical, emotional, spiritual, political, and don't have to be huge.
Besides journaling about our fears and concerns, we can also find a place to journal our gratitude. Keeping a list of things we're grateful for and proud of can be a great place to look back to in hard times, and make us see the positive things in our life. Try different exercises like writing down 10 things you're grateful for, 10 things your proud of, 10 positive things about you, 10 ways you can evoke change, etc.
Take time to read
One of the most luxurious things I can think of is taking the time to sit and read. There is nothing more satisfying for me than completing a book in a sitting. While that's not always doable, setting aside whatever time to can to read is a simple and affordable way to unwind.
Call me a Luddite, but turning off electronics is a favourite activity of mine. It allows you to be in the moment and enjoy life to the fullest. Plus, I don't know about you, but I find social media a huge source of anxiety. A few phone rules I've set for myself are - no phones at mealtime, never place a phone on a table, no phones when I'm with friends, no phones when riding transit, no phones 2 hours before bed or upon waking.
Do something for someone else
I know it may feel like you do stuff for other people all the time, from your family to work colleagues, but taking the time to go out of your way for others brings so much joy. One of my favourite practice is to paint cards and write handwritten notes to mail to friends I don't see often because everyone loves snail mail! Look into political outreach, volunteer positions, or environmental cleanups.
Clear Social Media
I don't want the idea of unfollowing people to sound rude, but I know a few friends who find following certain people on social to be very upsetting and inducing of a lot of "lesser than" feelings. So why do this to yourself? Going through and clearing anyone from your social who is negative or makes you feel inadequate to help remove some of the social media burdens. Make it a source of inspiration and support instead.
Meditate when you can
Meditating seems like it is one of those things that belong to people who have too much time on their hands. But meditating shouldn't belong to those who can afford it. While a lot of us don't have the time to sit and ponder before our morning begins, we can find ways to pause and look inward whenever the moment strikes.
When most of us think meditation we thing sitting cross-legged, eyes closed, hands in the lotus position, but reflection and pause can happen anywhere. I ride the bus daily to and from work and find the morning commute a great place to sit quietly and reflect. Before bed is another great option for those who have busy lives. If you're looking for a little help along the way, Insight Timer is a great free app or Spotify has loads of free sound bath playlists.
Setting a routine that works for you
No matter what it is, having a routine that you adhere to is very grounding. It can range from any of the aforementioned activities (journaling, daily meditation, yoga, pre-bed routine) or whatever works into your daily life. It can be as simple as doing a daily sun salutation, or sipping lemon water upon waking, or whatever makes you feel grounded and centred.
- Offering yourself self-love is powerful stuff. It comes through way of positive talk, gratitude journaling, and simple acts of kindness. Treating yourself to things you often rely on other people for is a simple way in providing self-love. From giving yourself compliments to picking yourself or buying flowers, it's the little things that make a difference.
- Get dressed up - yeah I do this! Sometimes I get some makeup on, put on a nice outfit and hang around the house, go grocery shopping, or complete daily tasks. It doesn't take much to make yourself feel confident and like a million bucks.
- Honour yourself with a bath - having a bath routine is like a mini at-home spa. While the internet is full of rose and citrus filled bath photos, it doesn't take anything more than a little epson salt and a splash of essential oil to make a bath a special event. Light some candles, play some calming tunes and relax. If baths aren't your style (or you don't have access to one) try applying the same principals to a shower (get some steam action), or fill up a basin with Epsom salts for a foot soak.