During the past two years, popular culture has seen a massive influx of content surrounding self-care and self-work. Increased time spent at home alone meant increased time for introspection and “self-care.” Home workouts, cute recipes, bullet journaling, bath bombs, homemade face and hair masks, online meditation—the list goes on. All of this content flooded our screens while we were at home trying to navigate some of the scariest times we have experienced as young women. What wasn’t shown on our screens, however, was the exhaustion that came along with all of these self-work practices—the feeling of failure, the burnout, the defeat of feeling that your work may just have gone to nothing. If you have felt this way, you are not at fault. False promises of instant comfort and healing are so prevalent in our cultural landscape, and they set us up to be completely blindsided when faced with the reality of the grueling process that is healing. Self-work must be supported with radical acceptance of the process. In order to radically accept the flux that is our emotions, we must place less priority on superficial notions of self-care and more priority on actively repairing and modifying our reactions to our stressors.
Bubble baths and face masks are a perfectly good way to destress after a long day of studying, networking, and staring at faces on Zoom for hours on end. But when we are experiencing more pressing emotional and physical stressors, it is important to acknowledge that something more than a day of pampering is needed. There are serious implications to not appropriately caring for yourself when things become exceptionally stressful and overwhelming. It’s easy to give up and accept the negative emotions you feel when the actions you’re taking to remedy them are simply not working.
Too often do we resort to the “old reliable” combination of ice cream and Netflix when we’re feeling down. In an interview with the New York Times, Anna Borges, author of “The More or Less Definitive Guide to Self-Care,” argued that this is not the appropriate way to approach our emotions. According to Borges, it is more important to “consider what feels good now— bingeing Netflix and pizza after an anxiety-ridden week, for example—versus what will make you feel good in the long-term—developing a habit around something that genuinely enriches your mental well-being.” In other words, consider the implications of your actions from the perspective of your emotional state in the future.
An easy way to do this is by attempting to understand what is causing you to feel negative, as feeling “bad” can be the result of a myriad of experiences and sensations. For example, if one day you come home feeling anxious, instead of immediately curling up with a pint of Ben and Jerry’s, examine your recent experiences to grasp a better understanding of what you need both in the moment and in the future. Maybe your anxiety stems from feeling lonely or isolated. In that case, a phone call or a quick lunch with a friend might ease your nerves while also strengthening your bond so that you avoid feeling those anxieties in the future. Borges suggests separating your self-care practices into four quadrants: physical, mental, social, and spiritual. With that in mind, it is easier to compartmentalize and understand what you need and when you need it.
In an article written for GQ, Borges suggested another self-care tip that, while mundane, proves to be very efficient in mitigating everyday stressors that we all face. She calls it her “downtime list”, and it serves as a “low pressure cousin to the to-do list.” Rather than jotting down the things you must do every day, the downtime list serves as a resource for chronicling the things you can do during your downtime. As ambitious women, at times it can feel difficult to even find downtime during the day. Furthermore, when we do find it, it’s easy to want to just relax and watch TV or maybe take a nap. However, these actions are often followed be the residual guilt of not doing anything productive during our downtime. It’s a vicious cycle that we all know a bit too well.
Keeping a downtime list allows us to keep track of the little things we want to do during our downtime that will allow us to both relax while also feeling productive. The items you can put on your downtime list are truly limitless. Anything from listening to a podcast you’ve been meaning to explore to finally completing a nonurgent project you’ve been putting off. What is most important is that you have an understanding of the fact that you are completing these tasks on your own terms.
Self-care burnout is a real and pressing issue with serious implications. Detailed understanding and acceptance of your emotions and needs will allow you to better understand how to take care of yourself when you need it most.
https://www.gq-magazine.co.uk/lifestyle/article/downtime-list ; https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/03/smarter-living/self-care-routines that-actually-help.html