Don’t Let Self-care Become a Chore
by See Change Ambassador, Zoe Forde
Three years after my diagnosis with depression, it was time to start living with my mental illness, not just survive it.
Up to then my journey had been a balance of medication and therapy to find the right combination that worked for me. I’d struggled to be alone with my own thoughts, choosing to stay active and busy to keep the intrusive thoughts at bay. But with the depression finally being managed and starting to feel, well anything, again, I had to learn how to live with it.
That’s when I heard about self care. I was told to practice it, do something nice for myself, and put myself and my feelings first. But I didn’t know how – it was a foreign concept for someone who had spent so long disliking themselves and treating themselves poorly.
Self care is often thrown around like it’s a fad or a buzz word. Some people talk about having a bubble bath or a glass of wine for ‘self care‘ (which sounds pretty great to me), while others dismiss that as being too simplistic. I didn’t know where to start.
So I started by buying as many self-help books as I could find, with titles like ‘How to be Happy’ and ‘100 self care ideas’. I read them all, counting even that act of reading as a tick in the self care box. I bought the adult colouring books. I tried meditation, mindfulness, journalling and CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) courses. I took a four hour intro to yoga class.
At the same time, I was keeping busy. I was volunteering with a number of projects, working two jobs and running a blog. I had put myself under a lot of pressure and taken on a lot of responsibilities.
“I’m looking after myself,” I told anyone who expressed worry. “I’m practicing self care and doing all the right things”. I was hoping that a cup of tea, some colouring in and a bubble bath in the evenings would take the stress away, but it wasn’t working. The pressure was building, and I felt like I was reaching breakdown.
In my head I was doing all the right things, ticking all the right boxes. Yoga? Tick. Meditation apps? Tick. I was the perfect model of self care, doing a bit of everything every day.
But it wasn’t working. I didn’t feel relaxed after my self care rituals. And the stress was building the more I realised they weren’t helping.
What I learned in time was that I wasn’t doing them for me. I was trying to make all these habits stick because I thought I was supposed to. I thought that if I just tried all these different coping methods, at least one of them was bound to work and make me feel better. Self care had become a tick box exercise, another daily task.
I am older and wiser now. I’ve learned that self care is about listening to my body and mind, noticing what it wants and when I need a break. It’s not a chore, it’s the nice things I do for myself every day.
Self care is broken down to these small acts of making a cup of tea or running a bath. While small acts are important, self care is so much more than that.
Self care is doing what helps your mental health, what makes you feel better and what allows you to get through another day. That can look different to everyone and it can look different on a daily basis.
Sometimes self care is having a bath or buying yourself that chocolate bar, and sometimes it’s catching up with family and friends. Sometimes it’s doing nothing at all.
I’ve learned to listen to what I need, to be attuned to what my body is telling me and what it wants. It needs a balance of rest and activity. I take less baths and more walks now. I read a lot of books to unwind, but I’ve mostly given up the self-help genre.
Finding what self care is for you is trial and error. But it should be reducing your stress, not leading to more of it. Don’t let self care become a chore for you.
If you are having a tough time at the moment and need to reach out for support, please contact any of the following