Self-care gets a lot of airtime these days, and it’s packaged up as all things lovely – from designer candles to day spa mini breaks. Like many good things in life, self-care has been commercialised. Clever marketing now presents an image of self-care that has moved away from things that are genuinely and holistically good for us, and shifted the concept closer to luxury things that are nice, but potentially self-indulgent, not that helpful in the long run and beyond the reach of many of us anyway – especially in terms of time and money.
Instead, Dr Justin Coulson from Happy Families reminds us that self-care is taking time for personal growth and the development of true well-being. It looks like some very practical things, like dental and medical appointments, regular bedtimes, planning and decision making, learning new skills, practising a craft, reading a thought-provoking book, eating well and staying hydrated, spending time outside and getting regular exercise. Yes, massages, manicures and chocolate are all great things and have their place in our lives, but these tend to fall into the category of short-term fixes when it comes to our mental health and well-being, and true self-care has the bigger picture in mind.
The designer version of self-care can actually add pressure to parents, rather than do its intended work of de-stressing and relieving anxiety. Instead of putting pressure on ourselves to invest time and money in the commercialised version of self-care, we’d do better to direct our energies towards being intentional about our daily rhythms and habits, and to recreation that actually has a re-creation component to it, says Coulson (something creative or exercise that serves our physical health, for example).
Effective self-care also looks like being intentional about seeking out positive relationships and positive experiences, and investing our energy there. And positive experiences can be little things – a delicious cup of coffee, sunshine on your back while your toddler swings, walking to the letter box and discovering a parcel, an encouraging text from a friend, a relatable meme that makes you laugh out loud. These moments can pass by without the recognition they deserve, but when we stop to savour them, they can make even the greyest day more beautiful. Finding joy in lots of small things is a valuable (and free!) self-care technique, suggests Coulson.