Why You Shouldn’t Do Self-Care Well
By: Michelle Kuchuk, M.S.
A few months ago, I finished a long and busy day of work. I felt accomplished, if only a little tired. I got a seat on the subway ride home (!) and started to unwind by scrolling through Instagram; I needed to relax my brain with some mindless scrolling. I saw a friend’s pictures of her tropical vacation (infinity pools, postcard-worthy beaches!), an old coworker’s yoga poses (she’d finally accomplished the headstand!), and pictures of another friend’s hike (the greenery! The views!). I was inspired by the posts, and since I limit my social media use, I wasn’t too concerned with feelings of FOMO or that my life was boring in comparison. I do self-care, after all… I have boundaries and take trips and have hobbies and I DO self-care well, gosh darnit!
I think the reason why self-care has turned into something we “do,” (or in other words, another thing that we have to accomplish), is that it has been identified as something that is important to one’s life holistically: that it’s important to do in order to be more productive, important to living a well-rounded life, important to everything. And this isn’t wrong… it’s certainly true that caring for one’s self is important for productivity and growth and living a well-rounded life. But what about caring for one’s self for the sake of it? And how are we incorporating self-care in our daily lives--in ways that don’t seem Instagram-worthy? I don’t think we should “do” self-care. I think we should practice self-care. And I don’t think we should concern ourselves with doing it “well.” I think we should concern ourselves with practicing it “good enough,” (or practicing it and failing epicly!) and incorporating it into the daily rhythms of our life.
Looking at self-care on different levels was helpful to me as I questioned my original understanding of what self-care even was. I realized I can practice self-care multiple times per day (such as sleeping enough, not looking at technology while eating, or simply sitting down while eating, or closing my eyes and sitting quietly for two minutes). In addition to the multiple-times-per-day caring for myself, I can also practice it regularly by going to the gym, reading a book, having a conversation with a friend, or laughing through an episode of Friends. Then, of course, there are the bigger ways to care for oneself (otherwise known as #treatyoself) that could include that trip, a fancy date, a massage -- the indulgent things. The media (whether it be Instagram, articles instructing us how to “do” self-care, self-care “experts) focus on the bigger ticket items, so “self-care” turns into this unattainable thing. We start (perhaps unconsciously) to get into the mindset of “Yeahhhh … so, I can’t really do self-care because um, I don’t have the time/money/luxury/freedom/ENERGY …”
So, I started to focus on caring for myself in a range of ways--really asking myself what I need today to take care of myself. And by treating it like a practice--not something I am checking off to make myself into a shinier more productive person--I am allowing it to be a tending-to-myself practice, and am allowing myself to suck at it, if needed. Practice just means… practice. Practice means I can keep practicing it. How many times can I say the word “practice” before it starts to look like it’s spelled wrong?! Self-care, after all, is one of the hardest things we “should” do. I say “should” because even something that is good for us can make us feel guilty if we start thinking of it as just another thing we don’t have time for!! Ease into practicing it in small ways, and don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good. Just practice it. Practice, and you’re automatically doing the thing
...but where to start? Sometimes it’s hard to think of ideas. So here are a few suggestions that barely scratch the surface of possibilities. Add things that are relevant to you, and then try rating your new list with “I do this” or “I do this sometimes” or “I never do this but would like to” or “I never do this and don’t ever want to.”
Eat regularly, and sit down while doing so. Hydrate.
Exercise or stretch.
Watch movies all day long if you’re sick. Give your body and brain a rest.
Explore your body.
Knit or bake (use your hands).
Dance wildly to your favorite most cheesy songs from high school or middle school.
Emotional & Psychological Self-Care:
Say no to something.
Look at faith-in-humanity-restored lists on the Internet.
Write out a list of 25 examples of things you’ve overcome or accomplished.
Take a tech break.
Or maybe get on tech if you’ve been feeling isolated and can connect with loved ones via this medium.
Lay down on the ground and let the Earth hold you (you don’t have to hold it all on your own).
Relationship & Spiritual Self-Care:
Call a friend and talk it out.
Allow others to do things for you/ask for help.
Journal or reflect over coffee (or tea!)
Go out and have a date nights with a partner/friend/yourself.
Or maybe go home, and cuddle with your pet or a pillow.
Other self-care categories might include workplace/professional self-care, passion-projects self-care, day-to-day self-care, special-indulgences self-care…. you get the idea! What do YOU love? Follow your bliss!
Michelle Kuchuk, M.S.
Fun stuff about the author:
Michelle has a BA in Psychology from NYU and a Master of Science in Neuroscience & Education from Teachers College at Columbia. Michelle has a decade and a half of academic, practical, and research experience focused in mental health and education, and currently leads the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s efforts to define and expand best practices in both new and established clinical technologies. She loves eating macaroons while walking on the beach, and she also has extensive experience in the arts as an NYC-based director, performer, and playwright.