The difference between the media’s version of self-care and healthcare’s version of self-care is huge. In the media we see bubble baths, spa days, “me time,” wine nights, and girls trips. In healthcare we talk about activities of daily living – showering, getting dressed, eating nutritious meals, doing light exercise, etc. I mean, I’ll admit that I definitely engage in all of the media’s version of self-care as well (well, I prefer solo trips to girls trips, just sayin’). And that’s fine. It’s totally all well to do all of that. As a person with a chronic health condition, I find it more beneficial to make sure all of my ADLs are done on a regular basis. Why? Because it helps not only my physical health (I’m literally more mobile when I do them), it also helps my mental health (mood is better, anxiety is less). Yet it can be hard to do these activities when we’re feeling low, when we’re super anxious, when we’re in a lot of pain. The thing is, doing them can help with all of these things.
First off, the media’s portrayal of what is self-care is VERY different from what mental health care professionals think of as self-care. Self-care in the media is bubble baths and spa days and bottomless brunches. I am not against any of this! In fact it all sounds quite fabulous. Counsellors and therapists such as myself think of self-care more in terms of activities of daily living (ADLs) like getting showered and dress and eating meals, etc. And then there is this weird grey area of overlap. For example, I see meditation as a form of self-care. It’s not an ADL, and the media would categorize it as self-care, and yet it can be extremely beneficial for mental and physical health. So I see things like that really as acts of health care.
Here are some activities that I see as health care (that are sometimes categorized as self-care):
meditation and mindfulness – contacting the present moment to be here-and-now
self-compassion – taking a moment to be kind to yourself through touch or words
massage therapy – having a registered massage therapist do deeper work (than just purely going to the “spa”)
acupuncture – it has been around around for thousands of years and sessions are usually between 20-45 minutes
swimming and other forms of exercise – water therapy, strength, cardio
baths – more water therapy!
For all of these, research actually supports that they are important for health and mental health. Mindfulness and self-compassion can release tension in the body, make us feel calm and centred and present. Massages and acupuncture can reduce physical sensations of pain and also create relaxation in the body. Exercise reduces pain and increases strength. Baths, swimming and in general water therapy is supported for pain because of its strength, flexibility, heat and relaxation effects (depending on what you’re doing).
Thinking in terms of how these things will benefit my health, as opposed to just being things to enjoy (I mean, these are all things I do also enjoy) makes me more motivated to do them. It’s funny, because the idea for this topic came to me as I’m having a massage later today (I write these about a week before they’re posted). Getting a massage purely for pleasure hasn’t occurred to me in the longest time. Instead I always consider my massage therapist part of my healthcare team. I’m just like, hey, it’s time to take care of those muscles, especially because I have fibromyalgia and I’ve been neglecting them recently! And honestly, this type of health care is also self-care. I think we can get pulled into all these labels, rather than just going with what we need, regardless of whether it’s real self-care or media self-care or health care or anything else. What will make your mind, body and spirit feel better today? Do that, and keep making the most of it!