Are we romanticising self-care?

We’ve seen it everywhere. The plethora of bright and colourful literature littering ookshops in the hope to capitalise on the vulnerable. The online courses promising the climatic harmony of success and true contentment. The influencers infesting our feeds, cooing from their social media dwellings the secrets of productivity or the means of which to manifest ‘Life Changing Habits To Make 2022 YOUR Year!’. The harsh truth is that ideals surrounding ‘self-care’ have mutated from being conscientious of our emotions to perhaps the most surreptitious villain society has faced since the last ‘fat-free’ fad in the ’90s.

What was once indulging in the escapism of bubbles in a salt-bath as it cradles you into calm, or asking the taste of chocolate to melt the pain away, has now become a ritualistic cult for instant gratification. It may have become as drastic and all-consuming as the dreaded Covid plague if its creators hadn’t been too busy procrastinating world domination by scrolling through the mind-numbing abyss that is Tiktock and Instagram. Like a toxic lover that pleads they are good for you, we need to ignore the false sentiments and return back to reality – even if it’s a difficult one. 

However, lecturing you, dear reader, on the idea of greed being bad, is hardly original. In childhood we discovered early on that you can have too much of a good thing or at least I did. Take binging on Halloween sweets for example. You learn the hard way that nausea is the consequence of overindulgence, take it as a life lesson and move on. But there is a more sinister nature to self-care than originally meets the eye. Constantly taking time to be in our own company risks isolation from the outside world, aggravating poor mental health, which in turn makes us feel worse and so we hide ourselves away further. Potential friends are never met, experiences never had and opportunities never followed. As people we are always waiting for a better ‘tomorrow’ – but what if that was today? 

It has occurred to me that in criticising the consumers’ self-care, I must endeavour to provide an alternative. Saying that, dogmatic belief has never been my strong point. Maybe we should be following the example of philosopher Zeno of Citium’s idea of Stoicism, breaking virtue into wisdom, justice, courage, and moderation. Through this perspective, self-care’s tendency to lick its own wounds becomes even more problematic. In the constant gratification to console our anxieties, we become simultaneously an overbearing and idle parent to our own lives. The screaming child with an iPad is not dissimilar to ourselves with our favourite comfort show or yoga sequence.

 Rather than dealing with the predicament at hand, we appease and force it onto another day whereby the vicious cycle of inconvenience continues. We still have our troubles; we are still unhappy, and we still have nothing to show for hours of time haemorrhaged away from our finite existence. Just like a dog who pees on furniture, we attempt to train ourselves with tiny rewards. Such pleasures enviably lose their value and become stagnantly standard, leaving us to become entitled narcists who insist today’s favour becomes tomorrow’s expectation. Hardly productive is it?  

I believe, like most things in life, there is a balance. Cake and movie nights are not intrinsically evil and all things wrong with society. Sometimes a quiet day as a cosy burrito in blankets is perfectly okay and just the thing you need to rejuvenate your social battery. The problem only occurs when that burrito blanket becomes a hideout from life’s responsibilities as societal expectations threaten to suffocate from all sides. Self-care is individualistic and personal. It may seem unattainable to strike an even keel. But please keep in mind there is no correct way to be kind to yourself. You do not need to learn the perfect method or throw money at your worries. As long as you are happy and feel well within yourself, that is paramount. Right, I’m away to live vicariously through my comfort characters in ‘Friends’ and eat my own weight in popcorn….  

[Sophie McBain]

[Photo credits: Anna Shvets]

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