Self care. I think on the whole, we need to change our mindset towards these two words.
Particularly in an age where we are leading more outwardly pressurised lifestyles than previous generations. Perhaps more importantly though, as we look towards how we can better support young people and their mental health and well-being we need to think more about building resilience and practise active self care ourselves.
In my twenties and early thirties, “being busy” seemed to be what we did. My diary was full of social engagements, work events, family visits and living in London you could easily busy yourself on a free weekend. How often did I have a completely empty weekend with nothing to do because I thought a successful weekend meant having something to do. I enjoyed my twenties and early thirties but with hindsight, I had so much time I could have spent doing something more productive like learning a new skill. I wanted to learn languages, work a sewing machine, bake artisan bread, swim in open water. Skills and hobbies that were for pure enjoyment.
Then along came children and “being busy” took on a whole new meaning. Your children’s social calendar gradually takes precedence over your own and whilst we may joke about our children having better social lives than ourselves, the balance of that needs to shift somewhat. I love my Husband and children and I want to do the best I can for them. With that comes loving myself and taking care of me so that I am feeling healthy and strong and can best take care of my family.
I think this is where self care comes in. I know some of my friends who are very good at this and others who are appalling. The mere idea to some of self care equates to behaving selfishly and that isn’t the case at all.
And so we trudge on without doing much good to ourselves at all.
Self care is the act of taking part in activity that benefits our physical, emotional, social, psychological and spiritual well being so that we are overall healthier and happier which means that in times of increased stress and upheaval, we are more able to deal with our new circumstances.
What activity equates to self care is down to the individual. I really noticed this when a friend said to me that she thought I was quite good at self care compared to her other friend who felt guilty in allocating some time to go and buy new undergarments that fit her properly following the birth of children. To me, wearing undergarments that fit correctly is fulfilling a basic need. But she’s right though, I am aware of making time for myself to enjoy activities and hobbies that are purely for myself and I feel all the better for it. I like to go on long walks and short runs; I like to make a huge mess of our spare room to create one or two craft projects; I’m really enjoying having finally learnt how to knit and making bobble hats for my children. There is something to be said about the endorphins released after having created something yourself which explains why the recent craft movement is beneficial to promoting better well being.
But I haven’t always felt this way. There was a time when I thought focussing on myself was indeed quite selfish and I felt guilty about spending time away from my family, especially if it was for leisure. This was until friends of mine impressed upon me that time away from the pressures and minutiae of daily life was in fact the best thing you can do for yourself and for them. It was quite a revelation. Almost like being given permission to focus on yourself and that it was quite ok not putting everyone else first all the time.
For me, this past year has been a long hard slog. I can feel it both mentally and emotionally that I’m tired. I think about my parents and my grandparents generation who quite clearly just “got on with things” no matter what that may be. I doubt they would understand the daily gripes and moans of some conversations I hear in a day, dismissing it as being trivial and you can understand why when they themselves lived through at least one World War experience.
In terms of resilience, I can’t compare myself in the same way to my parents and grandparents but I know I am resilient. That’s partly due to my own childhood upbringing, a supportive Husband and a great network of friends and family. It is also down to an awareness that I need to take a break and pare back activities that are not really going to restore my own vitality and well being. And I won’t feel guilty about it either. You need to take care of yourself in order to take care of others around you.
So go on. Look after yourself. Go on that run. Book yourself onto that course. Indulge in a bit of luxury. Because these acts of kindness to yourself will see you through those days that leave you a bit out of your depth and gives you an outlet to regroup and recharge yourself for sunnier days.