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Give yourself some love

Whether or not you have a sweetheart to dote on this Valentine’s day, there’s likely room to up your self-care game. The concept of self-care gets a lot of lip service – and you can probably recite a laundry list of reasons why you should do it. But how’s your follow through? All too often, our good intentions come up against a brick wall. If this sounds familiar, know that you’re not alone.

My own academic research has focused on what gets in the way of us doing the things we know are good for us. Read on to learn how other people experience self-care and pick up some tips for creating a personalized program that works for you.

Mixed meanings

Although you know what self-care means to you (and if you don’t, take a moment now to think about it), you might be surprised to learn that other people don’t see it the same way.

It’s a relatively new concept and the term self-care has only been used since the 1970s. In fact, the idea of self-care was originated by a nurse, who was concerned about the ability to take care of ourselves if we get sick or injured.[1] The idea of preventive health wasn’t part of the picture 50 years ago.

Now, of course, self-care is so much more. Having evolved beyond nursing to disciplines including nutrition, psychology and social work – as well as in popular media – self-care includes any activities that support the holistic concept of health, including physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual well-being. [2] With so many different aspects of well-being being impacted, the importance of self-care becomes obvious. But what’s the best kind to do?

What do you want?

My research showed that we don’t have the same end-goal when it comes to self-care. For example, some people like rock-climbing, because it makes them feel alive. Some people like weight-lifting, because they feel powerful afterwards. Others enjoy a walk in Nature to feel connected or peaceful. Still others enjoy a massage because it makes them feel calm or relaxed. Even self-care like food selection is made based on how people want to feel in their bodies.[3]  For example, we may not choose to eat (or drink) a food today that we know will make us feel tired and achy tomorrow.

In other words, we choose our self-care based on how we want to feel. And, of course, we want to feel different ways at different times, depending on our other life goals, like having healthy relationships or succeeding at work. No wonder self-care doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone or even to us all the time.

So why don’t we do it?

Self-care is different for men and women. Besides the reality of jam-packed calendars that impact everyone, there are some social expectations that get in the way of women fully embracing self-care. For starters, and despite many improvements over previous generations, women are still judged for taking time away from looking after others to focus on their own well-being.[4] And so many women don’t. As an example, research of women who were diagnosed with breast cancer found that they continued prioritize mothering over their own self-care.[5]

There is also a pervasive belief among many women who consistently practise self-care that they do it to “fill their own cup” so they have more to give to others.2 This idea certainly begs the question of whether it’s really self-care if it’s done to benefit other people.

And, in an odd paradox, women are also judged when they don’t take time to exercise, look after their stress or spend time alone. The judgment is so common, in fact, that participants in my research inspired the term “self-care shaming” to describe what they felt both from people they know and anonymous strangers on social media about their self-care – or lack of it. Talk about a no-win situation.

Blame the name?

Another factor that may impact a woman’s decision to engage in self-care is that she may not be thrilled with the actual word. For some women, the term self-care belittles the serious health implications that can happen if we don’t take care of our well-being. Other women have told me that self-care implies luxury activities like a spa day that aren’t an option for everyone. It appears that the word itself has become an obstacle to doing it.

Men seem to avoid the weird association with the word and instead simply refer to their self-care by the name of the activity they’re doing. For example, “Thursday night hockey with the guys” provide men with social and physical self-care. Men are also likely to “get a massage” or “get a hair cut” and not brand the activity as self-care. Same outcome, but without the same social critique that women get.

If the word self-care stops you in your tracks, take a page from the men’s health-book: call the activity you love by its name. Just be sure you do it.

Life gets in the way

We’re all busy. With work, family responsibilities and being a good neighbour, self-care often drops off the to-do list. If this sounds familiar, consider making simple tweaks to your routine so you don’t get overwhelmed by the thought of big changes. If you want a tidier house, for example, start by cleaning your junk drawer. Small successes boost confidence.

Simple self-care

We all need a little help sometimes, and therapeutic mushrooms are the perfect silent partner in your well-being goals. Start your day with cordyceps if you would like an energy boost. Lion’s mane can help you with mental clarity and focus. Want stronger immunity? Turn to chaga. If you’re not sure where to start or would like some well-being insurance, try the Optimi Formulation with a blend of five next-level therapeutic mushrooms. What could be easier?

Getting to it:

It’s time to do some planning, so grab your journal. Research has shown that self-care involves achieving a certainly feeling. So:

  1. The first step in customizing your own plan is to decide how you want to feel.
  2. Next, think about the things that help you feel that way (activities, place, people).
  3. Now, choose one non-negotiable commitment you can make to your well-being.
  4. Life isn’t always a smooth path, so think about what’s likely to get in the way.
  5. Problem-solve the support you need to make this happen: child-care, waking up earlier, etc.
  6. Go!

Let us know your must-have self-care, and how you make it happen. 

Lisa Petty, PhD earned her doctorate investigating how women navigate the obstacles that get in the way of taking care of their well-being. Learn more here.

REFERENCES

[1] Orem, D. E. (2001). Nursing concepts of practice. St. Louis, MO: Mosby.

[2] Petty, L. & Trussell, D.E. (2019). Leisure self-care, health and well-being in women’s lives, Annals of Leisure Research, DOI: 10.1080/11745398.2019.1652661

[3] Petty, L., Engel, J., Salfi, J., & Trussell, D.E. (2018): Food, Body Function, and Leisure for Midlife Women: “If I Partake in That, I Will Suffer Consequences”, Leisure Sciences, DOI: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/01490400.2018.1483849

 [4] Gonyea, J. G., Paris, R., & de Saxe Zerden, L. (2008). Adult daughters and aging mothers: The role of guilt in the experience of caregiver burden. Aging & Mental Health12(5), 559-567. doi:10.1080/13607860802343027

[5] Mackenzie, C. R. (2014). 'It is hard for mums to put themselves first': How mothers diagnosed with breast cancer manage the sociological boundaries between paid work, family and caring for the self. Social Science & Medicine11796-106. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2014.07.043