A glance through Instagram’s #selfcare, you’ll see a variety of self-indulgent and pampering visuals that ranges from chocolate cake to salt baths. While all are a form of self-care – they are also numbing behaviors. Most people who think of self-care think of how they can feel better within the moment, so they resort to behaviors that allow them to forget or calm their emotions and thoughts temporarily. However, these methods of self-care are just that, temporary.
Self-care is taking care of ourselves so that we can show up and respond to life, and to do this, it requires us to process why we need to feel numb from life. Self-care isn’t synonymous and looks different to everyone. However, the main goal of self-care always remains the same- to build a life where you don’t need to escape from.
For instance, I would often find that I needed to have a vacation from being on vacation. Because while I was on vacation, my issues with life still followed along with me. It only gave me a temporary scenic change; all of the root issues that wear me down still existed on vacation. I still had worries, anxieties, extra commitments, social obligations, self-confidence issues, and relationship arguments. What’s the point in a vacation then? And what’s the point of life if I need to escape from it? To me, traveling now means taking a trip to explore, create memories, and be educated – without any extra mental or emotional baggage to take away from the trip itself.
I use to be guilty of trying to follow the self-care trend without understanding the main purpose of what it’s supposed to do for me. And, half of my issue is finding the time to take that pause because, with my mindset, I find that taking self-care time to be unproductive, and it further only gives me anxiety as I felt like I was wasting time, plus I felt really guilty about it too. When I did finally try self-care, the act had no intentions behind it, the chocolate cake I ate tasted no different to me, and I was taking bubble baths for the sake of taking bubble baths. However, reframing the concept of self-care provided me with a more purposeful reason to take the time I need for myself. I recognize the importance of taking care of my emotional, mental, and physical health so that I can show up to life.
So, I gave bubble bath one more shot, this time equipped with books, my phone, candles, and calming music—however, this time, I paid attention to my mind and emotions instead of numbing them away. What I’ve realized is, bubble bath still isn’t my jam. However, I found that it’s not so much the activity itself, it’s how you spend that self-care time to self-improve. I felt more liberated utilizing the time in the tub to research and work through my emotional blockages, relationship concerns, and or mapping my overall health issues other than trying to numb them away. Without this time for myself, I would typically earmark them in my mind but never fully explore them for clarity.
Self-care is a very personal journey and the act of caring for yourself is to show yourself love – with that comes self-development and self-improvement. This is why typically, self-care should tackle all corners of your life for personal growth: physical, psychological, emotional, social, professional, environmental, spiritual, and financial. It encompasses the movement of the body, mind, health, nutrition, sleep, and resting needs to become the best version of who we are.
For me, it took me a while to understand what this looked like. Growing up in my Asian family, we just “do.” In fact, my parents would often criticize with comments like “you think your life is so bad, you don’t have it bad, you have it easy,” so there was no need to be open-minded to find self-development. I just pressed on. Because of the seeds of shame that have been implanted in my psyche from their criticism – finding self-improvement was never considered because it would imply that I was defective. This was a tough mindset to get over because that feeling of being defective equals shame, and to admit shame is painfully hard.
Now I understand that there’s no shame in trying to self-improve. I wasn’t born with all of the world’s know-how, and the world is constantly evolving; to expect me just to exist would be unreasonable and can be self-destructing. There’s no such thing as “the school of life” like there is for academic growth – so without putting in time and effort to self-improve, how can I show up to life and be effective? For me, self-care now looks like making all decisions that best build the life I picture for myself and everyone included in it. It involves building a life where I don’t need to run away.
It looks like I’m aware of my emotional state and take the time to decompress before I’m too overwhelmed. That way I don’t end up taking it out on my husband.
Saying yes to invitations that align with my energy. If I’m already dreading it, I’m no longer allowing obligations to drive my decisions because I would rather spend that time hustling and with the people that mean the most to me. This helps my emotional and mental health.
By practicing discipline to stay on course and on task with all the goals that I want, without feeling any obligations and resentment, I’ve already offered all of my time to serving everyone else.
Learning to be vulnerable when I need to and drawing distinct and effective boundaries when I have to in relationships.
Teaching my boys to also self-improve on their own path rather than quickly fixing all their issues for them because the latter is easier and causes less friction within the moment. This also means following through on consequences I lay down for them, even though it makes my life temporarily harder.
Waking up earlier than everyone, so I get in the practices that keep me steady before the rest of the world wakes up: meditation, coffee, mindfulness.
Abiding by commitments and being very exact about the commitments I make.
Asking if my future self will thank me for what I’m about to do versus my in-this-moment self and actually listening to what the answer is.
Having the patience to understand the humanity in everyone around me to respond to them effectively.
Slowing down and allowing myself to be entrenched in gratitude to show appreciation and love to life and my loved ones.
Adding value to other people’s lives.
Deconditioning all behaviors that no longer serve me and being authentic to who I am.
More than anything, it means going against my default patterning, and going against our patterning is how we change.
When we love others, we are compassionate and try to help them feel better when they’re down. When they’re sick, we take care of them, help them through their difficulties, advise them when they need advice, and are a soundboard when they need to vent. Why do we not offer ourselves the same love, especially when we should know ourselves and what we need best?
This is why self-care isn’t selfish because we need to take care of ourselves first to care for those around us. It is also encouraging and comforting to others when they see that we are in control of ourselves, genuinely happy, healthy, and emotionally and mentally regulated. Our positive energy is a magnet for healthy people. Most importantly, it allows us to get to know ourselves on a deeper and more meaningful level to add more value and purpose to our lives.