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Self-care: what does it really mean?

Meaningful self-care starts with our mindset.

While the concept of self-care may not be new, recently it has become a buzzword on the internet. ‘Self-care’ was the most popular app trend in 2018, according to Apple, meaning self-care related apps were the most downloaded out of all categories. Today, there are over 27,000 search results on Instagram for #selfcare.

As you scroll through those search results, you might see images of positive affirmations, a glass of wine, a workout routine, decadent choc-chip cookies, expensive skincare, or a recipe for a healthy salad. With so many contradicting ideas, and some which may appear more like examples of indulgence rather than necessary self-care – it begs the question: what does the term really mean?

Dr Dianne Vella-Brodrick, Deputy Director and Head of Research at the Centre for Positive Psychology describes the term self-care as “knowing who we are and when we are functioning at our best”.

“[Self-care] is that we take time to nurture ourselves because wellbeing is something we all deserve and strive for, but also so that we can be of service and benefit to others,” she told upstart.

Dr Vella-Brodrick believes that it’s important to practice self-awareness and self-care in times of heightened stress, but she says self-care should be applied in all aspects of our lives.

“We need to take time out to do what we enjoy and find engaging, as a normal part of our daily routine, not just in response to critical stress incidents,” she said.

“We might tell ourselves that we don’t have time for self-care, or we might consider this to be indulgent.”

However, Dr Vella-Brodrick says self-care is often misunderstood when it is linked with over-indulgence or consumerism.

“Going back to basics is more indicative of self-care in my view, rather than succumbing to complexity and life’s materialistic things,” she said.

“Going out in nature can be very healing. Ensuring you get a good amount of sleep, stay active and eat well.”

Psychotherapist Whitney Goodman wrote in an article for Psychology Today that self-care is supposed to be a long-term investment in ourselves, rather than a commodity which provides a temporary fix.

“We’ve been sold a lie that self-care comes in the tube of the latest lipstick or is at the bottom of a glass of wine,” she wrote.

And self-care coach Megan Jayne agrees that there is a misconception that in order to self-care, you need an abundance of time and money.

“Self-care isn’t just for those with over-flowing pockets, nor is it just about day spas, massages and retail therapy,” she told upstart.

“Self-care practices are virtually free – taking a walk outside when you feel overwhelmed, meditating to manage anxiety, journaling, setting healthy boundaries, learning to say no.”

Jayne believes that self-care can be mistaken with comfort and this is often due to the misconception that self-care involves rewarding yourself with an external, short-term fix such as food.

“People are subconsciously numbing themselves with food and alcohol to cope with stress and make themselves feel better, because that’s all they’ve ever known – and they call that self-care,” she said.

“Meaningful self-care is learning to do the inner work consistently over time, without the need to treat yourself.”

But Dr Vella-Brodrick and Jayne say that a balance needs to be struck to truly practice meaningful self-care. For Dr Vella-Brodrick, this means making time for what makes us happy without being destructive to our health, such as socialising with friends, finding time to do what engages us such as reading or exercise, and partaking in meaningful activities such as volunteering or caring for family.

“Often what we find meaningful can be quite taxing if it consumes our lives and that’s why it is important to balance positive affect with these more demanding… giving pursuits,” Dr Vella-Brodrick said.

Jayne likes to remind her clients that there is always room to treat themselves to extra ‘me time’ when it is done in a productive and non-destructive way. This may involve taking a mental health day or running that hot bubble bath at the end of a long day.

“So many people feel guilty about ‘me time’, so we need to start there,” she said.

“I’m there to support, guide and mentor them until self-care becomes part of the tapestry of their lives.”


Article: Madeline Donis is a second-year Media and Communications (Journalism) student at La Trobe University. You can follow her on Twitter @MadelineDonis1

Photo: Self Care by Wokandapix available HERE and used under a Creative Commons Attribution. The image has been resized.

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