“If you’re selling self-care, doesn’t it benefit you to have a consumer who is living in a permanent state of anxiety and unwellness?” — Victoria Buchanan
As you may have read in my previous post on Self-Care for Cynics and Skeptics, I stated how I feel capitalism ties in to modern-day self-care techniques currently perpetrating mainstream media (and society overall).
Self-care is critical for our wellbeing. However, despite what the media may lead you to believe, self-care doesn’t necessarily mean “treat yourself” to a luxurious day at the spa. Rather, self-care involves a long-term commitment to “develop, protect, maintain and improve … health, wellbeing or wellness.”
While self-care is frequently associated with millennials, the concept has been around for centuries, with ancient Greeks believing it to be integral to democracy. In the 1970s and 1980s, self-care gained political traction as a way for people of color and those in the LGBTQ community to push back at the oppressiveness of society. As Audre Lorde famously said, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” Simply put, minorities who were habitually overlooked and cast aside by society were taking a powerful stance by putting themselves first: making sure to not work themselves into an early grave, making sure to eat, making sure to be mindful of their personal triggers like hate speech and other attempts to devalue their existence.
Nowadays, if you search #selfcare on Twitter, you’ll find millions of Tweets featuring yoga, hot drinks, self-care kits, and even bath tea—hardly the political act of decades past. From at-home apps (of which the 10 most popular grossed 27 million USD alone in the first quarter of 2018 worldwide) to bath bombs and crystal healing, an increasing number of people are investing in the kind of self-care that tiptoes along the precipice of a certain type of self-indulgence that only the privileged can attain. With articles like Bustle’s “19 Items To Buy For Your Mental Health, Because Self-Care Isn't Always Free” and “Self-care gifts to help ring in a peaceful New Year” on Cool Mom Picks taking social media by storm, though, it’s hardly surprising that more people are financially investing in this type of “self-care.”
Picture retrieved from https://twitter.com/seyiakiwowo/status/1034031277949825035/photo/1
The ideas that underpin self-care are perhaps more subtle or subconscious in the marketing schemes of giants like McDonalds, which famously stated in 1971 “You deserve a break today.” Other examples, like “Because you’re worth it” by L'Oréal Paris and Kit Kat’s “Have a Break, Have a Kit Kat” only further illustrate this issue. After all, if you don’t indulge in that special shampoo or spend just $1 for a candy bar, are you even caring for yourself?
And perhaps buying that extra item does make you feel (at least temporarily) better. What’s important to remember though is that self-care is a long-term voyage, not short-term gratification nor the destination, so to speak. Self-care involves a continuous, conscious commitment to yourself that extends beyond the price tag of a green smoothie. So, next time you consider whether to buy yet another day at the spa, try to keep in mind that self-care that hits at the heart of mental (and physical) health and requires time and effort, not necessarily your credit card.
Don’t know where to begin on your self-care journey? I recommend heading over to Dr. Kristin Neff’s site to test your level of self-compassion. (Confused? Have a look at my previous post to learn about the connection between self-care and self-compassion.)
The final day of our Rural Road-trip had arrived. Nobody likes a 4.30am alarm clock, but thankfully we had had gone to bed early the night before. We checked out of the motel and were on the road by 5am, headed for Sunshine Beach. Kristin took the first driving shift from Maryborough to Gympie. I then drove from Gympie to Sunshine Beach. We stopped at Fratellini for a tasty breakfast of smashed avocado with honey yoghurt and dukkah and to get some much needed caffeine.
We arrived at Sunshine Beach State School just after 8am and got set up for the day. We had three workshops to deliver to some of the year 11s and 12s. The workshop was a new one exploring the topic of ‘Men and Gender Inequality’. In it we discussed constructions of masculinity, negative gender stereotypes in sport, work and home-life, mental health in men and boys and how men can be feminist allies. It was refreshing to have a break from delivering ‘Healthy Relationships’ and I was looking forward to some interesting discussions with the students.
Our first workshop for the day was a small group of year 12s, some of whom already had a vested interest in feminism. The workshop went well, particularly since it was the first time we had presented it. Afterwards we enjoyed some morning tea with some of the teachers in the staff room who all seemed happy it was the last day of term.
Our next two sessions were back to back with year 11s that had been studying gender representation on the media as part of their English coursework this term. Our activities went well and with a few minutes remaining at the end of the final session we some interesting questions about the values and work that we do with OWP. The highlight for me was one of the male students thanking us specifically for discussing some of the ways gender inequality affects men and particularly men’s mental health.
We drove back down to Alexandra Headlands and that’s where Kristin’s road-trip ended. I still had to make my way back to the city and return the rental car. Unfortunately, being the last day of term, the traffic was atrocious and a journey that should have taken just over an hour instead took over two hours! I got home in the late afternoon both mentally and physically exhausted but thankful for the experience. As someone who had never attended the in-school workshops it was an eye-opening experience and the public speaking practice was also valuable for my September Series Seminar coming up in a couple of weeks.
We had a slightly earlier start today, as we were facing a jam-packed day with four back to back workshops at Maryborough State High School again! We were to start 8:50am with the first group of students. We were up and ready to go by 7am, and we headed into town for breakfast.
We returned to the same cafe as yesterday. There was a street market going on in Maryborough today, and the main road was roped off. We strolled past the stalls of homemade goods and fresh vegetables to the cafe. I ordered coffee and berry pancakes and Gabi had tea and eggs Benedict.
After breakfast, we headed back to the school ready for a big day. We decided to co-facilitate today, rather than alternating taking one workshop each. We each took a few sections and alternated presenting to the group, which we think worked better and saved our voices a little!
We had four groups of students from year 7 to 9 today, each group was different to the last. By our afternoon session, the room had gotten quite warm and it was the second last day of school We were tired and so were the students, so we mustered up the last of our energy to engage the last group to the best of our ability.
After the final bell rang we were absolutely exhausted! We packed up our computers and cords, and headed back to the motel. We had a little rest before heading out for a very early dinner (takeaway pizza!) which we ate in bed. We were both tucked in by 7:30pm, completely shattered after the day. An early night was just what we needed, as we need to be up by 4:30am to make the drive down to the Sunshine Coast for our final day.
“Yoga and drinking healthy, green-leaf smoothies are the best ways to treat your soul.”
If you’re anything like me, cringing at the words “self-care” is almost an automatic response. Seriously, whenever I read yet another blog post featuring a young, healthy woman in some sort of yoga pose on the beach, sunrise in the background, I immediately lose all interest.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m pro-yoga and smoothies. But, we can’t deny that mainstream methods of self-care not only regularly exclude individuals who may not financially be in a position to pay for the extra splurge* but also fail to include non-able-bodied persons and, frankly, those (like me) who are disinterested in getting down with their spiritual self for an hour a day.
As the title of this post suggests, today I’m addressing the cynics and skeptics out there who are fed up with the current capitalist, non-inclusive wave of self-care techniques currently perpetrating social media.
I get it, I do: As cynics (and skeptics), we often see the world through a more cautionary (if not scathing) lens. Self-care today borders on self-indulgence, and the techniques and suggestions are only met with, “That’s ridiculous and I’m not doing it.”
Cynics and skeptics need self-care just as much as the optimist, though. Research suggests that people who are happy live longer lives. While happiness research is still attempting to address why, it’s clear that happiness and its ties to individual health shouldn’t be overlooked by health professionals.
If you’re like me, you’re probably too hard on yourself (objectively speaking). You put too much pressure on yourself to succeed, and if you don’t meet your personal high standards, you mentally kick yourself for your failures. And those self-care books that promise to make you the happiest person alive for only one flat fee of $10.99? Preach it to the choir, darling.
What I’ve come to realise in my short life as a cynic-turned-realist is that the world can totally suck torture (Perks, anyone?), but proper self-care can make that typical situation of life a whole lot easier to deal with.
So what does self-care look like for the cynics and skeptics in the crowd?
Research by Dr. Kristin Neff suggests that increased self-compassion can lead to an increase in self-care. To me, this makes sense: Self-compassion refers to being kind to yourself and learning to accept personal failings, and self-care involves those actions taken to make this self-compassion a reality.
It’s important to note that self-compassion is not self-esteem. Self-esteem tends to focus on favourable self-evaluation, and researchers are now arguing that self-compassion, not self-esteem, is key to increase feelings of self-worth.
Dr. Neff has created a test to assess your levels of self-compassion. At the end, you will receive a score of 1-5, which indicates how self-compassionate you generally are. You can also access self-compassion exercises via her website, including learning how to identify your inner critical voice and, yes, even short guided meditation audio clips (if that’s your thing).
Self-care comes in all different shapes, from yoga to bullet journals, so don’t be afraid to try new ideas to see what really works for you. In my experience, learning to address my own self-compassion has really helped me develop my own self-care while eschewing the aforementioned mainstream capitalist techniques.
In times that are particularly testing my patience, it helps to think of The Doctor: Always try to be nice, but never fail to be kind. I urge you, my fellow cynics, to remember the difference between nice and kind, and don’t forget to be kind to yourself.
*Stay tuned for my next blog post on The Capitalism of Self-Care.
Myself and Kristin were awake bright and early and very thankful that today didn’t involve any long drives. We headed to the local Cheryl-Lyn’s Cafe and I fuelled up for the day with plenty of tea and vego eggs benny!
Our next stop was Maryborough State High School for our first of two days delivering workshops on healthy relationships. I nervously took the morning session, a group of Year 9 students, in what was my first session facilitating. Thankfully I had amazing support from Kristin, who I knew had my back if I needed her. Overall the session went well and we had some poignant questions from some of the students. We did encounter a couple of technical difficulties but OWP facilitators come prepared and we soldiered on!
After a short break we were ready for session 2. This was a very different dynamic from the morning as we were with the year 11 health class, a group of only 5 students. This small group size allowed for a bit more discussion around some of the heavier topics that OWP in-school workshops covers such as domestic violence and sexual assault.
With two out of the three sessions done for the day we had a quick bite for lunch and then it was time for another round of healthy relationships. This time Kristin took the session, a group of year 8’s that were keen to be heard and posed some interesting questions for Kristin to handle, which she did expertly!
With school out for the day, it was back to the motel for snacks and relaxing in order to recharge our batteries for tomorrow, another full day of healthy relationships at Maryborough State High School.
On Tuesday, we were set to meet up and move into one car, so Gabi drove up to the Sunshine Coast from Brisbane, and I drove down from Hervey Bay. We both had quite early starts, picked up some breakfast on the way, and met up at about 10am. From there we set off for day two of the Road Trip: Gympie!
Gympie was about an hour’s drive, so we arrived a bit early for the workshop. We wandered around the town for a bit, and got lunch at the Brown Jug cafe on Mary Street. We were able to have a leisurely lunch before heading to Gympie State High School, where we were to deliver a workshop on Healthy Relationships.
We were working with the Year 8s today, and they were quite a large cohort! We arrived quite early, so had plenty of time to set everything up and make sure the tech was working correctly. We were in the school hall, with about 150 students. The workshop went well, we finished around 3pm, just in time for the students to head home.
We then switched drivers and were off to Maryborough for the night. On the drive up, which was about an hour, we debriefed about how the workshop went and began planning for the rest of the week. We arrived in Maryborough, checked into our motel, and walked up to the supermarket to pick up some snacks.
The next two days are going to be quite busy, as we have seven workshops to deliver at Maryborough State High School. Tonight we went out for sushi, chatted about the workshops and ironed out some details. We were exhausted after the day, so we decided to have an early night - we were both in bed asleep by 9pm!
For day one of the Road Trip, I was on my own - I drove up to Hervey Bay (and made a few snack stops on the way) for the first school visit. I arrived early enough to sit on the beach and read a book for half an hour before grabbing some lunch from a small cafe right on the coast. It was then time to head to the first school - St James' Lutheran College in Hervey Bay.
I was to deliver two workshops at St James', Healthy Relationships, followed by Women in Leadership. The group included Years 10 to 12, some of which had been studying feminist theory in English this year. They had studied gender constructs and 'rules', as well as the history and future of feminism.
The students were very engaged with the content, were happy to contribute their thoughts and questions, and we had some excellent discussion. The students had very diverse opinions and viewpoints, and some were even happy to share personal experiences.
Following the workshop I felt very energised and excited about the discussions we'd had this afternoon - energy that was zapped by the time I checked into the hotel, where I promptly ran myself a bath, because it's #SelfCareSeptember after all. Now I'm off to bed early to drive back to the Sunshine Coast to meet up with Gabi and head to our next school!
Self care is more than just bubble baths, facials, and treating yourself to a weekend away. For many of us, those stereotypical activities are out of reach. But self care doesn't have to be expensive or timely! Here are 10 suggestions for unconventional self care that you may have never thought of!
1. Spring clean your online friends
We all have people who annoy us on social media - whether it’s a family member with some problematic ideas, or people from primary school who you frankly don’t care to follow. There are few things more satisfying in the Digital Age than unfriending and unfollowing. And, for those ‘have to follows’, Instagram has got you covered. They recently introduced a ‘mute’ feature where you can silence those who you don’t care to hear from but feel you have to keep them on your socials. To mute posts, simply click the three dots on the top right hand corner of their post, and tap ‘mute posts’. To mute stories, hold down the current story, then hit ‘mute posts’. Easy peasy, and nobody’s feelings are hurt! Facebook has a similar feature where you can go to a person’s home page and ‘unfollow’ or ‘snooze for 30 days’ to get a well deserved break from problematic or annoying content.
2. Take a shower
Yes, this simple, regular activity can do wonders in times of need. There’s nothing better than having a nice hot shower to cleanse the day off yourself (bonus points for using a coffee scrub - you can make this at home by saving old grinds! Feel free to add in some coconut oil for a moisturising finish, or just use the coffee alone). After a long, tiring day, your bed may seem too irresistible to not just flop into it in your work clothes, but trust me, you will feel better after a shower. After metaphorically and physically washing the day off, you will feel more ready for what’s to come - or just ready for a long sleep!
3. Switch off the socials
A lot can be said for just taking a bit of time away from social media when you would usually reach for it. I’m not asking for much, just five minutes Instagram-free. Instead of scrolling yourself to sleep, pick up a book. Instead of checking your Snapchat, take a pause with a meditation app (I recommend Headspace!). Or switch up your morning ritual of checking all your platforms, and plug in to a podcast.
4. Go outside
A bit of sunshine is great for the mind, body, and soul. If you’re feeling tired, sunshine can actually reduce your melatonin levels, which tells your brain it’s not bedtime for a while yet! Even a couple of minutes in the sun can help boost your dopamine and serotonin hormones as well - the hormones that make you happy! So whether you can spare an hour for a walk, or just five minutes to lounge on your balcony, try to make it a daily or weekly ritual!
This one is a bit cheesy, I know, but laughter - even when forced - can help boost your mood and feel happier. Watching a funny video or reading a humorous blog post everyday on your commute to or from work could be the perfect way to spend a little time on yourself and relax for a little while. Otherwise, meet up with or give your funniest friend a ring and listen to their tales. A chat with a friend is often just what the doctor ordered.
In a time when we are always connected, it is almost impossible to take down time. And when we can, we will often feel guilty. Busy-ness is in vogue. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve responded with ‘good… busy’ when someone asks how I am or how I’ve been. We are all praised for being busy. People are wanting less and less to admit they spent the weekend plonked in front of Netflix, only getting up to answer the door for the UberEats delivery person. All we want to show are our successes and how hard we worked for them. Your cousin just got engaged, your best friend just closed on her first home, it seems like everyone you went to uni with is getting a perfect job, your sister has started a new #fitnesslifestyle and has become a running, yoga-ing, clean eating machine. Of course this will leave you feeling a bit lost.
Nearly every Millenial I know feels as though they are running in circles without achieving anything. When I talk to friends, they are all mirroring my uncertainty - what should I do? Where should I be? What am I supposed to be putting my energy into? So how is it that everyone I know feels unsure and a bit lost, yet everytime I open up Instagram all I see is pictures of people #grinding. Could it be… No… Surely not… People aren’t lying on social media to show only the best side of themselves!? Well of course they are! It’s a tale as old as Snapchat - people only show their highlights online. We only show the most perfect breakfast smoothie and the best views from our weekend walk. We don’t show the mornings we feel like we would ratherdie than get up for work. We don’t show ourselves eating five pieces of dry bread and a whole tomato for dinner because we’re tired, or, let’s face it - too lazy to cook.
I’m sure you can find hundreds of thousands of blog posts about how comparison is the thief of joy, and that social media is a trap to make you feel bad about your un-aesthetic acai bowl. This blog is about self care. For a lot of people, self care is taking time out. Time away from work, maybe time away from people all together. So why is it that taking ‘time out’ always involves social media? We take it into the toilet, we scroll through it at lunch, we can’t even watch a television show without looking at it. Social media takes energy. Whether we’re stalking an ex, investigating a new friend, or consuming perfectly produced Influencer content - you’re not taking a break.
So if you’re feeling burnt out, exhausted, or like you may scream if you get one more notification, take my advice and take a break. Leave your phone in another room for an hour and revel in the peace. Take out a book before bed instead of checking up on all your socials. Or, for something even more radical, uninstall your most used social media app for a week. Even though we would like to think we are, nobody is immune to the effects of social media. It can be draining, exhausting, and just flat out make us feel bad about ourselves. Take an hour, a day, or a week without and look at the world around you. Eat your ugly breakfast, wear your sloppiest activewear, and watch the beautiful Australian sunset without the obstruction of your phone. Trust me, you will feel energised, refreshed, and all your followers will still be there when you get back.
This month One Woman Project is celebrating Self Care September! We know that this is the time of year that people start to get tired and run-down, and colds and flus are rampant. As I’m writing this, I can name about 10 people I have spoken to in the last week who have been unwell - myself included! A large percentage of our team at OWP have been ill, including our National Director of People and Culture, Linden. Linden is a huge advocate for self care, so I had to catch up with her about the topic this month. We planned a face-to-face chat, which turned into a phone call (hint: this is foreshadowing).
At One Woman Project, intersectionality is one of our biggest focuses. “But wait, what does this have to do with self care” you might ask? One word: accessibility. How many times have you seen someone on Instagram advocate for self care by going on a fabulous beach retreat, or having back to back spa treatments? For me, it’s been too many to count. This can absolutely leave a bad taste in your mouth and you might think that self care is only for the privileged and well off. That’s not the type of self care we’re advocating this month.
Linden has a definition of self care that may differ from what you’ve read in lush magazines. To her, self care is understanding your own needs in order to prevent burn out. This could mean anything at all to you. When I asked Linden for some self care tips, and what her routine is, she had some unexpected answers. To her, self care is less about running yourself a bubble bath, and more about knowing when you need to rest. Sometimes saying ‘no’ to something is Linden’s form of self care ‘for example, turning a face-to-face meeting into a phone call’ she told me - which was exactly what we had done this evening! It was a rainy cold day, and Linden had had a big day that had come at the end of a stress filled week - so to her, doing right by herself meant heading home early and catching up over the phone. We’re not saying that you should cancel all your plans in order to spend every night alone, but it could be helpful to ask yourself a few questions before dragging yourself out the door. Do you want to go to X event? Did you only agree because you felt obligated? Can you change the plans into a phone call or reschedule? And most importantly, will X event be beneficial to you in the long run? Often times it will be more beneficial to take the night off and recharge for the following day.
Our conversation turned to self care for activists, something that rang true for us both. Linden believes that it is essential to take time to switch off occasionally. In this age, we are so connected that we are constantly engaging with bad news and often will find it hard to switch off. It’s easy to feel as though we aren’t making a difference in the world when we are constantly reading bad news stories online, or engaging with people who have differing world views (and often aren’t too polite about them). So how do we, as activists, unplug? Well, Linden likes to put her phone aside sometimes and watch Netflix or read a book instead. She likes to engage in positive media and read about the good in the world (an absolute must for an activist). We spoke about the responsibility we can sometimes feel as activists, and how it’s not always your job to change someone’s mind. Another or her favourite acts of self care is to connect with her support system. Catching up with a like-minded friend can do wonders for your mental state, whether you just have a chat about all the good things happening in the world, or perhaps to get advice for an issue or problem you’re experiencing. Connecting with people she trusts and is close with is one of Linden’s favourite ways to practice self care - and a chat with a friend is free!
It is my belief that social media is the natural enemy of self care. Linden and I spoke about the glamorisation of busy-ness, and how we are always being told to ‘lean in’. Young women globally are massively overworking, whether that be at university, at our jobs, volunteering, or working in the home, and we’re being praised for it. But nobody is being praised for taking time to themselves to recharge and relax. If you’re anything like me, your social media feed will be full of people sharing their wins and how hard they’re working in every aspect of their life. Not to say that working hard is a bad thing, because it absolutely is not, but we also need to take time out in order to do our best work. Linden reminded me that social media can be a good place to retreat and read the good news - something I (and I’m sure many others) have forgotten. It’s important to remember you are in charge of who you follow, and it’s super simple to get them out of your feed. We spoke about the importance of remembering that what you see on someone else’s Instagram is their highlight reel and their absolute best selves. You’ll see influencers in a pristine set of silky PJs with their hair in a symmetrical bun washing their already flawless skin. You will not see them having a lie in on a Sunday wearing an old holey t-shirt that has at least 3 ice cream stains on it and eating kids cereal straight out of the box. It’s important to remember that, although social media is anywhere and everywhere in today’s society, your ability to produce likeable content is not your main job on this earth.
‘Just because I can’t take a good Insta photo doesn’t mean I’m not worthy’
- Linden Peacock
We ended our chat with some unconventional self care tips. Linden told me about a small ritual she has to ground herself. ‘I always cross the river on the way home from work or uni, and I look out at it while I’m sitting on the bus. I will always look out the window as I cross, rain hail or shine, and it always makes me so happy. It gives me a moment to reflect on what’s important. It’s very grounding.’ Linden told me that she’s been doing this for a long time, but only realised how happy it made her very recently. And it only takes about five seconds of her day. I think what we can all take from this (whether or not you cross a river daily) is to appreciate the little things and be mindful how how they make you feel. Linden mentioned the cliché quote that I’m sure we’ve all heard - if not me then who - this is a quote that usually related to being active, or making your mark. But she often thinks of it in another way - in terms of stopping, and taking a second for yourself. If you don’t look after yourself, who will?