Every one of us – and I mean every single one of us – has heard the phrase “practice self-care” in one form or another. What comes to mind? Bath bombs? Candles? TV? Meditation? Yoga? Whatever it is, it often feels overdone and surface level – the words don’t hit deep enough anymore and seem more like a mantra when nothing else is at hand. Self-care. Self-care. Self-care.
This broad and familiar topic might actually encompass something more helpful, more meaningful than the couple of empty words it seems to have become – especially during a pandemic.
Feeling depressed? Self-care.
Can’t see your friends or family? Self-care.
In extreme mental anguish? Self-care.
This post is not to knock the idea of aiding ourselves without medical help. I agree with the concept of focusing on our inner selves and surroundings, instead of relying on ever-elusive pharmaceutical industries. Using our own skills, experiences, and resources to heal or help ourselves is crucial – but what does it really, truly look like?
The truth is: however you want it to.
Holding ourselves is not always cute and pretty and full of scented lotions or ice cream. It looks like sobbing on your bathroom floor. It looks like isolation. It looks like hurting over and over and over again. Whether it’s ignoring calls,cancelling plans, staying in bed for three days or being unable to stomach anything at all – holding space is the underlying, often overlooked idea.
So what does holding space mean?
It starts with sitting with the discomfort or negative feelings we are experiencing. Then, we acknowledge them, trying to unravel them – and if we are unable to, we accept that as well. Giving our hearts and bodies the time to understand exactly what they are feeling is essential, and being okay with not being okay is also key. We are humans, not robots, and we bleed when cut. Nursing those wounds ourselves can be tiring, but this teaches us how to be prepared for the next one. Life is, after all, a series of battles – some, we win, and others teach us how to care more deeply for ourselves .
In times when pain surrounds us and escaping disheartening news or emotions is next to impossible, guiding ourselves through our emotions is important. Talking to ourselves with softness, saying gentle and comforting things while combating thoughts that feel destructive is paramount. How we speak to ourselves dictates how we move forward, and how we feel about our circumstances and capabilities. When you can’t take care of yourself, and can acknowledge that your heart and mind and body need more time – that’s self care too.
I want to emphasize that, oftentimes, self-care can feel like a luxury. Living in fast-paced, exploitative, exhausting capitalist societies means work usually comes first. Then comes our family and friends. Then comes us – but why are we always last? I find myself feeling guilty at times, not understanding why I couldn’t make that friend date or grab that thing my mom wanted – but then I remind myself that I need time too. I get tired, I get sad, and trudging forward is not always the answer. Taking the day off is. Lying in bed for the day is. Cooking myself my favourite food or buying myself a new book is. But, so is talking myself through my bad days.
There will be days, however, where coaching ourselves won’t cut it – reaching out for help is self-care too. Therapy and helplines are there for us when we can’t take care of our hearts alone. Seeking professional advice is a sort of gift to oneself, much like a new plant, new phone or baskets of our favourite chocolates. It’s formative and effective. It holds space while making space for growth and healing. It means overcoming stigma and challenging convention – and it’s for the parts of us that need a little extra tending to.
Glamourized ideals of taking care of ourselves gives us expectations for how our healing or downtime should look. It could present itself as a chore, or another thing we have to spend money on. This makes a simple, yet profound, practice something difficult and rather unhelpful. The notion of self-care does not have to fit media standards. It has to fit the feelings we experience, and our individual exhaustion or pain. It has to hold us in ways that feel safe, and not shallow. It has to look exactly how WE want it to look. And if that means hurting for a time, leaving for a time, being unable to connect for a time? Then that is self-care too.
Mental Health Resources:
I am a second-year sciences student at the University of Alberta studying psychology and sociology. I’m a Pakistani-Canadian and a Muslim, as well as a local spoken word artist! I enjoy writing and reading and painting - artistic expression makes me feel at home. I love poetry - especially performing it - as it lets me put words to the feelings of others (and myself) that often go unspoken.