“Taking care of yourself doesn’t mean me first, it means me too.”L.R. Knost
Self Care: Overindulgent or Over-dramatized?
Let’s start with the basics. Self care is taking action to improve or maintain your health, mentally or physically. Recently, it has become an online joke especially among students. For example:
More often than not self care is perceived as a type of procrastination. Considered honestly, it’s true that self care can be taken to an extreme at the expense of responsibility. However, in moderation and for the right reasons, self care is an essential part of living a healthy life.
Let’s get real. When is self care appropriate?
Self care is justifiable anytime your work, social life, mental health or physical health suffers due to some kind of stress. Pretty broad justification for sure, so I’ll use my personal experience as an example.
Until recently, I was training as a 911 dispatcher. Due to the constant interaction with people in crisis, the consequential delivery of information with to other first responders and a generally over-stimulating environment, I frequently left work feeling drained and irritable. I get the sense that many of my coworkers had a similar experience, and the consequences of going five days a week without thinking about my own well-being began to surface. Here’s what happened:
- I stopped being social outside of work
- Little things my roommate did started irritating me
- I got snippy with people over things that usually didn’t matter to me
- My anxiety got worse, despite an increase in my dosage of medication
- Pretty much all I did outside of work was sleep or lay in bed
- I began to dread going to work, but told myself I was just tired
Basically, this was me:
Would I have benefited from some self care?
The short answer is yes, but it wouldn’t have solved my problems. Long answer: I was not well suited to the job, and no amount of self care would solve that. However, self care may have saved me from the anxiety induced nightmare that became my life for several weeks before I resigned.
Self care is the equivalent of turning your phone or computer off and back on again to help it function better. I’ve heard the argument for naps being the human equivalent of this, but naps are part of self care so my point stands. Doing something as simple as washing the dishes while listening to music you like can help you take a step back from whatever is stressing you out. Sometimes noticing stress can be difficult, and people ignore the signs until they are overwhelmed by it.
Clearly, my response shows through exhaustion or irritability, which is fairly common. For others it surfaces as depression, anxiety, general unrest, insomnia, or hyper-focus. Response to stress is as unique, just like an individual’s triggers. Since there is no universal “you need self care” indicator, stress often goes untreated and results in situations like mine. Best practice is to engage in self care regularly whether or not you think you need it. If you’re not sure where to start, the basic idea is to do something that is fun for you or helps you relax. Here’s my go to de-stress activities:
- Put on some music in my apartment at a loud volume and lip sync or sing along energetically when no one else is home.
- Take a steamy shower and take my time instead of rushing through (My showers are typically 5 min or less).
- Do the dishes. This may seem weird, but it’s a mindless activity and gives me time to just chill but still feel like I’ve accomplished something.
- Go to the gym. But only if it’s not busy. I know people aren’t actually watching and judging, but I still prefer there to be less people around. Alternatively, go for a walk.
- Put on my headphones and listen to music in my own little world while writing.
- Go to a coffee shop and watch a movie or show. Sometimes I need to be around people while re-charging, and this is a non-interactive way to do it.
What do you do to de-stress? If you don’t know, maybe think about it.