Practical self-care amid life’s challenges

Hi, I’m Michelle, the new 1N5 office manager.  Practicing self-care is a very popular topic these days, and it has proved itself more important than ever in the onslaught of stressors we are inundated with nonstop.  

There’s no way to sugarcoat it: the past 8 years or so have been, uh, HARD.  Politically tumultuous, socially contemptuous, persistent fears for our health, the climate crisis, the rising socioeconomic disparities, and the 24-hour news cycle pushing alarmist headlines into everyone’s pocket– not even to mention the individual stressors happening in our daily lives at the personal level.  If you’re like me, this can overwhelm you and at times leave you feeling lost and a little helpless.  How can we take care of ourselves when so many things feel outside of our control?

The societal conversation regarding self-care has blossomed into the mainstream thanks to the prevalence of social media.  However, the carefully curated versions that we all see in our algorithms can feel unattainable due to their picture-perfect nature.  I know I’ve seen countless posts celebrating the positive effects of journaling… so long as your journal is color-coded and you know calligraphy.  These subliminal messages say that unless you’re engaging a certain way, it isn’t worth it or isn’t “self-care enough.”  So now we find ourselves trapped between what can feel like insurmountable world pressures and unrealistic relaxation methods.  

So what else can self-care be besides fresh homemade juices and a multi-step skincare routine?  What if I don’t have the time, patience, or budget to ensure everything I do is aesthetic?  And how do I make sure that I’m not relying on self-soothing techniques while mislabeling them as self-care?

Self-soothing techniques provide immediate relief to a stressful situation.  Taking a hot bath after a long day is a great way to provide instant comfort when you’re feeling tense, but its short-term benefits make it a self-soothing technique rather than what gets labeled as mainstream self-care.  Self-care techniques are things that help us manage our long-term stress and anxiety, like holding ourselves accountable to a routine as a consistent way to ensure we’re following through on behaviors or goals that help us self-regulate over time.  

The biggest thing I have done for myself on my self-care journey is to meet myself where I am.  I have tried many times in my adult life to be someone who journals, but getting myself to sit down and write a long and thoughtful journal entry proved difficult.  So I met myself at that hurdle: instead of convincing myself I needed to write something lengthy every night, I wrote down just a sentence or two about my day.  Because I have made the goal less daunting, I have been able to stick to it for nearly 5 years.  When something significant happens or I’m having a hard time holding my emotions, I still give myself the space to write it out extensively in another notebook, but my long-term self-care tactic has been to shorten the commitment to something I am easily able to hold myself to.

Like most people, I still enjoy those smaller self-soothing options like a face mask or a fancy overpriced coffee.  But the most important thing I can do long term is to give myself the grace to be where I am.  Am I feeling lazy and unmotivated today?  That’s okay, I allow myself the time to rest without shame.  I will take the time to check in with myself and find what I am really needing at that moment.  Am I asking too much of myself?  Take a step back and manage your expectations.  There is no shame in honoring yourself exactly where you are.  Remember, it’s called practicing self-care because it should always be evolving to meet your current needs.