By Tanya Tang
Self-care has become trendy lately. #selfcare has nearly 5 million posts on Instagram, and more on Twitter. But when you log into Instagram and hit up the search bar, the first few posts under #selfcare are of girls with their perfect beach tan glowing under the sun, captioned with something along the lines of ‘how to stay soft all day #selfcare #selflove’ and a long list of beauty products. Further down the page, there’s a post extolling the greatness of a morning bath for a busy mum, complete with a picture of a rose filled spa bath.
Somewhere along the line, something has gone horribly wrong.
When we think of self-care, there’s a trend towards self-indulgence. Self-care has become synonymous with ‘treat yourself’—a tub of ice cream for the days that are too stressful, a shopping splurge or ‘retail therapy’ because you deserve it. The face of self-care has become cold-pressed juices, yoga and motivational quotes. Even when we bring this back to the basics that we as medical students have understood and experienced, mindfulness has also been commercialised. The old Buddhist meditative way of living has evolved into McMindfulness that slots into busy consumer lives just as easily as a one-tap-pizza-to-door delivery service. Often it isn’t taught right. For some, myself included, the sort of meditation that is taught to us in first year only serves to heighten our anxiety and, at its worst, can trigger an episode of depersonalisation.
What, then, is self-care?
Self-care is anything that is initiated by a person to maintain their physical, mental and emotional health. The key word here is maintenance. The self-indulgent nature of the modern consumer based self-care so prevalent nowadays is not sustainable. We take photos of our salad and tag it #selfcare but behind the uploads are the bags of potato chips and a few too many batches of brownies that were stress-baked. We buy packs of face masks and beauty products for a night to ourselves but end up peeling off the black charcoal mask to reveal a festering layer of guilt for the wasteful spending of our savings.
And if you see a trend of self-care targeting wealthy females, that’s not entirely a coincidence.
Self-care is neither kind, nor indulgent. It is a chore to be practiced every day, every hour and every second. More than mindfulness, meditation and becoming aware of the present, it is a deep introspection of yourself. It is facing yourself in the mirror and criticising yourself so that you can be a better version of yourself.
It is, in fact, a dedication to discipline.
It takes time to cultivate a truly balanced mental state of mind, and it definitely will not bring a sense of instant gratification. That mental health day we take when we are burnt out serves to only bring us a sense of instant gratification that lasts maybe only a day or two. To draw a medical comparison, it is the band-aid fix to a chronic ulcer. By practicing good self-care and self-control every day, we reduce the chances of burning out. Perhaps we might even prevent needing a mental health day.
How to care for yourself
This is perhaps the trickiest part. Despite knowing exactly what is good self-care, how do we in fact SNAP ourselves? With the trend to become healthier mentally and physically, the motivation to get started is right there; and yet that gym membership is still unused despite saying that you will go to the gym every day since Craig Hassed taught you exercise is the essence of health.
It isn’t a lack of motivation. It’s hardly the lack of motivation with all the attention being focused on student and doctor wellbeing in the medical area, and also on self-care in the wider society (albeit in a self-indulgent way).
It may not even be an issue with laziness.
It’s a problem with converting words into action.
‘Taking care of yourself’ is a huge, intangible concept with so many branches and offshoots, it may as well be one of those mirror labyrinths. There’s the diet, the exercise, the work-life balance, the social aspect and the hobbies amidst all our study. By taking small steps, we can gradually incorporate every aspect of what good self-care looks like, and nurture a balanced physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. We can plan it all down to the details, we can allocate time and money, we can scout out which gym membership is cheaper and we can educate ourselves on the healthiest recipes and procrastinate and procrastinate, but in the end, we have to own up to the fact that motivation was never the culprit in the first place.
In the end, you just have to take a deep breath and commit to yourself.
Featured image from Yoga Journal