Self care – what has gone wrong and how to make it right again?

Echoing around our world, everywhere we look, every wellbeing site, every trip to the doctor one hears about, every bookshop, every conversation with friends, I encounter the words “self care”. And with them an array of suggestions, and reactions. Sometimes I think that if I hear or say those words One More Time I will explode into a million pieces that all the yoga and sour dough in the world wouldn’t be able to put back together again.

How is it even possible that we have got to a point in our development as a society that we have to be told or reminded by others to do things that we enjoy as an antidote to the stresses of life?

Why do we have to be told by a doctor to go out and run? Or take up yoga? Why as therapists are we having to advocate for pauses, breathing, reconnecting with nature? Why are we having to be reminded by our friends that we enjoy knitting and maybe it would be a good idea to start a new project?

What has happened that we need other people to tell us to do the things we enjoy and from which we derive pleasure? Things that people have been doing since time immemorial, naturally. The normal, wonderful hobbies and activities that should be so ingrained in our lives that they barely need commenting on.

What is going on that people are now feeling pressured and burdened by “self care”…that they are doing it wrong, or not enough! Oh the irony…

I am not sure I have got any answers to these questions. But here goes, and of course I am open to further debate on this matter.

As a society, as individuals, maybe we have lost the ability to self regulate. Work has become all consuming, and you either stay on the train which runs on constant reviews and late night urgent emails, or you burn out and face the economic, health, and social consequences.

How hard it is to ignore that message from your friend when you are also cooking tea and trying to get your Easyjet refund? And almost impossible to avoid the hypervigilant drama of the world’s trauma, piped into our very hands 24/7. Brexit, BLM, environmental disaster, Sudan, Yemen, and, the cherry on the icing on the top, our good friend Covid-19.

Is it even possible to maintain an equilibrium, a healthy relationship between ourselves and the world, when our body, minds and souls are hyperware and primed for the next threat?

So maybe that is why we need others to tell us to look after ourselves. Because others see our needs more clearly than we can. Because we are primed to react to others. It is easier to see the drama, trauma, needs of others as they play our before our eyes than to witness our own drama. Hence the burnout doctors, the compassion fatigued therapists, the stressed executives. All helping others and suffering for it.

Maybe we need to relearn to pause, look inwards, and ask ourselves, “What do I need now? What is right and natural and nurturing for me to do in this moment to invite balance into my life?”

Maybe we need to care less about every news story. Contentious. Of course, I do not mean not to care. But we cannot save every refugee personally, we cannot take on governments individually.

We do need to take personal responsibility. Sign petitions, reduce our comsumption, check deeply our beliefs and explore and educate where we fall short – both our selves and others.

We might want to try to contribute to society (as much as we personally can manage) through our work (of whatever nature) and relationships with others.

We might want to try to maintain compassion for the world’s problems, and try to carry a hope that we can make things better.

But this needs to happen at the same time as keeping ourselves well. I love the Buddhist way of thinking. When you feed your cat, send a wish that all cats will be fed. When you feel content, send a thought for all beings to be content. When you appreciate your democracy, send a prayer for all beings to live in relative freedom. Compassion for all beings, and an appreciation of your own fortune.

This in itself is an (ahem) self care practice. It also, I think, sets up an internal motivation to be useful, where possible, within the bounds of our ability to respond.

If we are feeling strong and well, maybe we will have more time to fundraise for refugee charities, or aim for a promotion to use our skills and experience for our satisfaction and the good of others.

What do you reckon? Is it time to take more personal responsiblity for self regulation? Is it possible? What would need to happen for us all to get to a place where we know how to balance our own lives? Can we get to a place where we understand the boundaries between us and the world and know our ability to respond without needing the doctor to tell us to go for a run?

Cloud watching. We innately know what is good for us.

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