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Has self-care been trivialised over the years?

Drink your water! Slap on a £30 Glossier face mask! Spend 60 quid getting your nails done every month! If you’ve ever ventured into the “self-care” side of the internet, you will have most likely been confronted with advice like this. Whilst I am a fan of a weekly face mask in the name of relaxation, it’s hard to deny that the idea of self-care has been trivialized in recent years as an excuse to treat ourselves to material possessions, rather than truly working to improve ourselves and our wellbeing. As important as treating ourselves — without excuse — may be, there’s definitely a less-than-glamorous side to self-care that we all need to face up to. 

If self-care is defined as “the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one's own health”, doesn’t that apply to our mental health as well? This “uglier” side of self-care can be slightly harder to put into words: it’s reflecting on and admitting to your more unfavourable traits, enforcing self-discipline day in and day out, holding internal interventions when things get bad. It’s mentally wrestling with yourself, each day, in an attempt to conquer your inner demons. And, while this definitely sounds less fun than treating yourself to a Chinese takeaway and a Twilight marathon, it may be some of the most important work we do in our lives. Working on yourself, making yourself a better person than you were yesterday — isn’t that the dream? 

Because, in all honesty, what good do shopping trips and luxurious baths do at the times when you arguably need self-care most: like at 2am, with the walls closing in on you, left alone with your intrusive thoughts? A face mask will do little to truly help you on the days you can’t get out of bed until well into the evening, consumed by all of your own worries. In moments like these, self-care isn’t just “stay hydrated!” and “treat yourself!”; it’s an act of survival. It requires not only the mental strength to confront these parts of yourself, but also the strength to commit to working on such parts every day in the hope of self-improvement. Everyone has bad days, and there is strength in being able to accept this fact, rather than beating yourself up over your mistakes. 

It’s undeniably a challenge to do all of this owning-up and self-discipline, but doesn’t that make it all the more rewarding? There’s nothing quite like making that breakthrough, when you realise you’ve finally broken a bad habit, or the feeling of finally coming to terms with whatever has happened to you. The day I realised that I could look at old pictures of myself without hating them, after years of hating my body followed by years of working to improve how I think about my body; that was a good day. Your challenges may be different from mine — an inability to open up to others, long-lasting issues relating to a difficult upbringing, general self-destructive behaviour — but the central concept always remains the same. Fighting your demons is always a hard task, and committing to do so, perhaps over the course of your entire life, is all-the-more daunting. Maybe there’s no set end date to our struggles, maybe we never fully overcome our bad habits; we just learn to live with them in a more manageable way. But it’s the little milestones along the way — like finally being able to look at old pictures of your body after spending your adolescence actively hating it — that make all of the challenges worth it. 

At the end of the day, self-care is an intrinsic part of living a fulfilling life. I’m not here to make the argument that the smaller, more material acts aren’t beneficial for your mental health; just that the grittier, “hard-truths” side of self-care is a long-disregarded practice that is arguably more important in our self-improvement journeys. While it may be difficult to come to terms with, and requires a lot of work to overcome our own self-destructive parts, it is also endlessly rewarding. As a society, we need to confront this over-simplified, materialistic approach to self-care and instead place more of an emphasis on the internal work. After all, what’s the harm in having our brows down while we work on overcoming our self-destructive habits and inner demons?


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