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When is self-care a luxury and when it is a necessity?

Apr. 11, 2017
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When I moved into my current apartment, I was OVER THE MOON to discover that my ensuite bathroom had a tub. Anyone who knows me well knows I live for bath time. For me, bath time isn’t a luxury, but rather a necessity, a ritual that I take very seriously as part of my regular self-care routine. It’s my time — or “me time”— to recollect my thoughts and reconnect with myself, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Sometimes, that may include candles and a bag (or two) of bath salts, while other times, it means throwing on an episode of The Mindy Project and breaking open a chocolate bar (I once read that you can’t gain weight in the bath, which I’m sure is absolutely false, but I choose to believe it). 

More than anything, I turn to the bath in times of stress. When work piles up: bath. When homesickness kicks in: bath. When the November election results were announced: bubble bath, extra bubbles.  

via: Pollyvore

More often than not, when we’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed, self-care is the first thing to go. Call me crazy, but I think this is solely due to our natural instinct to associate self-care with selfish. Who has time for a massage when you’ve got a class project to work on? Why make a healthy meal at home when you can grab a burger and save five minutes? There will always be something better or more important we could be doing with our time. I blame it on our inherent need to please people. After all, if you do something for someone else, there is some form of validation or reward; if you’re only doing something for yourself, what is in it for you? A pat on the back from... yourself? 

I spoke with several feminist friends, co-workers, and ex-classmates – men and women ranging from nineteen to twenty-six — from Chicago to Los Angeles. I spoke with them via text, social media, and in-person, asking them all to define “self-care” in their own terms, to explain the importance of self-care, and finally, to detail how and when they practice self-care in their own lives.  

For some, self-care is a luxury – an occasional, special treat:

“It’s treating yourself to a weekly indulgence or when you’ve had a rough day.” – Ellen Anne

“Every once in a while, when I have a moment, I’ll take myself on a date, go get a smoothie, or a see a movie alone.” – Nathaniel

For others, self-care is a part of their routine: 

“I think self-care can be easily mistaken for facials and mani-pedis, when really, it’s about the whole body. It’s making time for yourself to NOT make plans, saying “no” sometimes to staying late at work or meet up with people, even when it’s hard.” – Megan

“Self-care means that you can't give to others if your cup isn't full first. As a teacher and roommate to my boyfriend of almost 6 years, it is completely necessary for me to take care of myself, every day, in order to serve others.” – Natalie

For some, self-care is a mental practice: 

“For me, self-care is trusting myself to make decisions that are right for me. I take care of myself by trusting myself.” – Sionne

Mental health is number one. More than anything.” – Tiffany

“For me, meditation is huge. I try to set aside time to listen to music and say nothing. Laying on my bed always helps, too.” – Jeffrey

“I take care of myself spiritually. I make the time to go to Church.” – Siedyria 

While others appreciate something a bit more tangible:

“I pour myself a glass of wine and watch Silver Linings Playbook on my worst days.” – Charia

“I like put away ten bucks a week. I save up “fun money” for a trip or outing, because I deserve a vacation.” – Megan

Some people find solace in exercise:

“My main form of self-care is hot yoga six days a week. It brings calmness, lets me essentially wipe the slate clean after a long day and helps me handle difficult/stressful situations and choices off of the mat. It has also introduced me to so many friends that have common values, which solidifies the notion of self-care!” – Natalie

“I had a panic attack recently, and I calmed myself down by doing some easy exercises - push-ups, squats, stretching, etc.”– Asa

“Doctors recommend that light exercise for thirty minutes a day can help boost serotonin levels in the brain. I love to walk literally everywhere, and have found that if I’m having a terrible day, talking a nice long walk will help me think over my troubles and reverse my mood.” – Katie

Some people enjoy just being alone:

“It's all about the little things you do to get yourself through. Whether that means taking a day off from school or buying yourself a treat after a long day. I've always tried to be open with myself if I need to skip a class or something like that”. – Charia

“The best thing I can do for myself is to adjust who I surround myself with. I have had so many toxic relationships and I’m around so many negative people on the regular – it’s emotionally draining. I know my self-worth and that’s what really matters”. – Hannah

Some people appreciate the comfort of others:

“Talking: talk it out, talk with friends, talk with families, talk, talk, talk. It can help promote empathy, compassion, and understanding.” – Claire

For some people, food is the enemy:

“I try not to use food anymore because I stress eat and it gets a little wild, so wine and my blanket will suffice” – Charia 

“If my body is feeling shitty, I try to step back and see what the problem is. It usually has to do with the food I’m eating – they can throw me off.” – Ellen Anne

While some people love to indulge in something tasty:

“I think it's important to let yourself off the hook. Some days, I’m going to drink a ton of water, eat clean, get plenty of exercise and accomplish a lot. Some days, I’m going to binge watch Netflix, eat Doritos and have a couple of margaritas. It's important to understand that ebb and flow and then realize that you deserve to indulge as much as you deserve to hustle!” – Natalie

“Eat ice cream a few mornings every week, if you want to. If that’s going to make you feel better, you do you.” – Jenna

Stress is a part of our lives. School, jobs, relationships, family -- where there’s love, there’s bound to be pain. It’s how you approach the pain and the stress that really counts. We may all have our own techniques for handling situations, but the point is we are not alone. You are not alone. 

So, do me a favor: Rather than wait for the stress to set in -- for the shit to hitteth the fan -- set some time aside. Now. Take some "time for me." Go, put it in your phone, write it on the calendar, or pencil it in. 

Better yet, write it in pen.