Doing The Work: A Guide To Self-Care

Taking care of ourselves often gets pushed to the bottom of our to-do list. And when we do finally pause, many of us feel guilty about it. Somewhere along the line, most of us learnt that taking a break means falling behind — and that’s a problem for our mental and physical health. Enter the self-care movement.

From books and help guides, to bubble baths and weighted blankets, self-care has become so much more than a way to build ourselves back up — it’s become monetized. With all the noise (and ads) we’ve lost the core of what self-care actually is, and why we should do it. So let’s get back to it.

The birth of the self-care movement

Our lives are the most optimized they’ve ever been — for better or worse. Devices have automated our mundane tasks, creating more time for the complicated and the mentally taxing. Our minds are constantly flooded with important decisions, our attention is pulled in a hundred different directions, and somehow, we still feel like we aren’t doing enough. We can’t seem to step away from the ‘grind never stops’ mentality.

In 2019, the World Health Organization officially recognized burnout as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” It’s not just older, office-bound generations that are feeling it. Millennials are experiencing burnout at an alarmingly high rate. Gen Z is worried about work-life balance when most of them aren’t even in the workforce yet. Yikes.

The response to all that? Self-care.

It was born out of necessity. Self-care is a loophole in our ultra-productive culture. It’s a magical term that gives us the go-ahead to pause without feeling guilty. Because self-care is so much more than taking a break — it’s a practice. And our culture loves practice.

Then, things went sideways

While the self-care movement bloomed with the intention of bringing more peace into our lives, companies have taken over. They’ve not only jumped on the self-care bandwagon, but they’ve turned it into a full-blown marketplace. Everywhere you look, someone is trying to sell you a solution to burnout and exhaustion. And they do it effectively by studying the way we speak and interact online, leaning into it, and mimicking it right back to us — giving the impression that they’re on our side. It’s time to take back control.

Self-care isn’t all self-heating mugs filled with fancy tea while binge-watching an entire season of the latest Netflix special, all in the name of ‘treating yourself’. While those things give you a real but short-lived dopamine hit, they leave you feeling unsatisfied and in search of your next fix. That’s how companies keep you in the endless self-care loop. So how do we get out?

Remind me, what is self-care?

At its core, self-care is meant to fill your empty tank and set you up for success. So yes, while bubble baths may play a part in that, there’s so much more to it. Let’s take a look at a few frequently forgotten (but really important) aspects to self-care:

Boundaries. We may not be consciously aware of it, but we all have boundaries — and we can tell when they’ve been crossed. It’s that off feeling in our gut that’s delivered with a hefty side of shame, doubt, and justifying others people’s bad behaviours. A violation of our boundaries leaves us feeling drained. So by being aware of, and sticking to our boundaries, we can avoid the mental weight of recovering when they’ve been crossed. Bonus: saying ‘no’ feels super liberating.

Hobbies. Not a side hustle. Not a new way to monetize your life. Not something to add to your ‘personal brand’ or LinkedIn page. Do it purely for you, because you enjoy it, and you’re able to turn to it for a moment of peace.

We’ve seen people get famous from their hobbies. It’s the ultimate Instagram Cinderella story. So we often start hobbies with the thought that it may blow up, and people may start paying attention. While its amazing to think long-term, it’s a ton of pressure.

Even worse, it can alter the way we create as we begin to cater our talents for an audience that doesn’t even exist, rather than producing for ourselves. We begin aiming for perfection, not for pleasure. And doesn’t that defeat the whole purpose? Create for yourself and the rest will follow.

Invest in yourself: Thinking of taking that class? If you have the means, do it! Self-investment is part of self-care. Its putting in time and effort to grow now, so the version of you a year from now is better off.

Prioritize health and wellness: Let’s be real, most of us trade off our health for everything else on our to-do list. But self-care includes taking care of the body that carries you, well, everywhere. That means eating properly. Getting enough sleep (No, 5 to 6 hours per night isn’t enough). Exercising more than just your thumb during an Instagram scroll.

Next time you’re about to drag yourself to a party on a Friday night after an exhausting week, ask yourself if giving into the FOMO is worth it. Maybe a rest would be better!

Process your thoughts and feelings: As humans, we’re bound to be hurt every now and again. Our usual response is to cut people out, bury our feelings, and put up walls in an attempt to protect ourselves. Have you tried talking to a wall? The conversation doesn’t go very far.

When we don’t allow ourselves the space to process how we feel, we never heal and we continue to carry the hurt into every interaction. That’s a lot of weight for our shoulders to handle. While our feelings are real, they aren’t always correct. So it’s helpful to have another person help untangle your thoughts.

Speaking with a counsellor or a mental health professional is one of the best ways to navigate the complicated walls of your mind, understand your patterns of thought and behaviour, and evolve them in a way that changes your life for the better. Platforms like Wellin5 can help connect you to a counsellor who fits your specific needs.

Self-care isn’t always pretty

When we look beyond bubble baths, self-care can feel messy and vulnerable — but it’s also one of the most important things we do for ourselves. The key is to remember that engaging in self-care isn’t to reach a peak or a destination, but it’s a constant work in progress. Stay patient and forgive yourself if you fall short.

Bottom line: go ahead, indulge in your bubble baths and fancy teas. Just don’t forget about the rest of it.

Sarina Arefzadeh is a Vancouver-based content marketer, mental health advocate, and pop culture enthusiast. She brings her education in psychology and sociology to unpack topics like tech, gender, mental health, and online life. She’s a speaker with Jack.org, regularly visiting schools to talk to students about their mental health, what it means, and how they can be there for themselves and their peers. Connect with Sarina on LinkedIn, Twitter, or by email.