Self-Care Is Not a Rom-Com: A Practical Discussion on Wellness and “Adulting”

Hi reader! I’m trying to keep it interesting here with the titles.

This one was heavily inspired by two videos:

  1. Stop Romanticizing Self-Care by Valeria Lipovetsky:
  2. When Manipulative People Weaponize Psychology Lingo by Ana Psychology:

I thought this topic was quite applicable and wrote the first draft just after our week of much-needed vacation.

Taking care of yourself is hard. I have a feeling someone out there needs the validation so I will repeat myself – taking care of yourself is hard.

If someone would like to tell me how easy it is for them to be a functioning adult, I would love to read a list of your secrets. For the rest of us, I will be honest and say that while I have a lot of good days, there are times when doing what I know I need to do for my wellbeing is exhausting. In the age of social media, everyone seems to have it together. However, as we all should know – social media lives are constructed.

Let me preface this with saying, I do love a good yoga session, listening to music, robes, and buying myself flowers. Still, as wellness becomes discussed more heavily in workplaces, education, social media, and other spaces, many are waking up to the fact that self-care is often overly romanticized.

Earlier this year, I felt myself entering a bit of a rut. My appetite was not the same as it had been prior. I stopped feeling well-rested after sleep. I just felt uneasy. With some reflection, I realized there were a plethora of contributing factors.

One major contributor was that I was on a three-month rotation outside of my home in Kingston. I was away from my usual environment and doing a lot of work from home or via phone. Being away resulted in me losing track of the basic habits I try to keep in my life, for example meal prepping. I also started to experience plantar fasciitis (a foot injury) and had to stop running which was my main form of stress relief at the time. I turned to endless scrolling as my primary form of de-stressing. Notice that the core of my issue was rooted in basic elements of my routine.

What is and isn’t Self-Care?

I would define self-care as choosing to look after oneself – simple I know. At the forefront of this is not face masks or other more artificial forms of wellness. The foundation of wellness in my eyes is within mundane life tasks. It is the decision to cook instead of watch Netflix or the decision to go to bed at a reasonable hour. The best thing an institution can do for its students is provide days off to use to get your car serviced, do your banking, go to the doctor, do laundry. These are often things you may not have or make time for if you work certain hours every single day.

When we brand self-care with all the bells and whistles of romanticized wellness culture, some of us find ourselves unsure why being “well” is so difficult for us. Unfortunately, a lot of what actually keeps us well is boring and tedious. Self-care forces us to “parent” ourselves; it is the crux of “adulting”. This may come more naturally to some depending on how much independence you had as a child.

Self-care is rooted in discipline. The choices we make every single day to create boundaries and routines for ourselves may have the inner child in us revolting. There are habits that I try to do almost daily that I do not always feel like doing but those are the days that can be the most important.

“We are what we repeatedly do.” – Aristotle

Although I may not feel like moving my body and exercising some days, I know it is something that is important for my wellbeing. Sometimes I may not feel like having quiet time in the mornings to journal or meditate, but I sit myself down and do it. On the other hand, there are mornings where I fail and scroll on social media for 15 minutes instead – and I feel a difference in my day. Overall, I aim for the days that I am taking good care of myself to overwhelm the days that I do not.

Still, wellness is not only caring about yourself. Self-care does not imply you as the only person in your universe. Yes, you are the “main character” in your life but we need to be aware of the potential selfish pitfalls of this mindset . This leads me into the next question:

Do we weaponize wellness culture?

There are so many benefits to wellness discussions becoming less taboo but in this age of (mis)information, there are ways that wellness is becoming increasingly weaponized in our day-to-day life.

As an example, you make plans with a friend. At the last minute, hours before you agreed to hang out, they let you know they won’t be coming anymore as they are “not feeling up to it” and need to cancel. While I agree this can be an example of setting boundaries, I do also think this is can be a signal to that one’s wellbeing may need some attention.

At a certain point if this becomes a repeated pattern of behaviour, it could also be appropriate for someone to respond by no longer making plans with said friend as often. We have all been there where we have needed the caring presence of a friend. The highly individualistic focus of wellness culture at times can bring out entitlement in how we treat our loved ones. It is okay for you to expect a certain level of engagement from someone you consider close to you.

It is important to not let what you define as self-care be at the expense of your relationship with others, the environment, and humanity in general. A self-centred approach to wellness can become a slippery slope of disregard for our impact as global citizens just because it slightly affects our comfort.

Finally, I have learned the hard way not to weaponize wellness culture against myself. As I mentioned before, sometimes I do not do all the habits I hope to. Sometimes I just need to have a day where I sit and binge a TV show. Or finish a box of chocolates. Some great advice I received recently is not to judge yourself. We humans tend to do things for a reason. When I am overworked, I oscillate towards extreme rest and relaxation mode. Ideally, I would love to stay in a realm of balance rather than oscillate between extremes, but I am working on that and I think that is okay. We will all get better at this self-care thing with experience.

My Top 3 Tips to practically Improve Your Self-Care Habits

  1. Consider therapy if you can afford it or have coverage. I truly believe anyone can benefit from it. It also may help you get to the root cause of any self-care issues you may be experiencing. For example, therapy may allow you to explore your upbringing and explain any issues you have with “parenting” yourself now. You may be better off trying therapy while you feel well almost as a preventative measure rather than at the peak of when you feel like you’re spiralling. There is something about getting your thoughts out to a third-party, who does not know you or your life, that can lift weight from your shoulders while being eye-opening.
  2. Add one habit at a time to your routine. It can be easy to set the goal of having the perfect combination of meal prepping, movement, reading, reducing screen time, etc. However, it can be very challenging to completely shift your life in one huge shift. You can try adding one or two things in for a couple of weeks at a time to set the habit, then try something else!
  3. Be mindful of how you speak to yourself and exercise self-compassion. This is coming from me who recently realized how judgmental I can become of my own actions. When I was experiencing difficulty with self-care, my first instinct was to blame myself. I asked why I was not thriving, rather than objectively look at my circumstances. Coming from a place of self-compassion allowed me to recognize what I needed and give myself the tools to feel better. I recommend self-compassion meditations if you are not sure where to start.

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