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Search #selfcare on Instagram and I guarantee that you'll be inundated with pictures of bubble baths, motivational quotes and an abundance of aesthetically pleasing smoothie bowls all within seconds of hitting enter.
In recent years, the concept of self-care has seen a huge rise in popularity and so today, Gymshark Central are chatting with self-care expert and Chartered Psychologist, Kimberley Wilson to find out whether there's more to self-care than Instagram has us believe.
With the rise of social media, self-care seems to have popped up out of nowhere. Where does the concept of self-care actually come from?
Self-care has its roots in physical and mental health management, particularly for people who have to be supported to manage chronic or severe conditions such as diabetes, PTSD, panic disorder or schizophrenia. Self-care techniques are important for helping people with these conditions to minimise the risk of decline or relapse, so health practitioners will coach them on how to reduce their exposure to risk factors such as poor sleep, excess alcohol or stress.
'I think the term made its transition to social media when people with health conditions started to use blogs and social media accounts to chart their recovery.'
Then at some point over the last five years or so the term ‘self-care’ started popping up on social media in the form of bubble baths, smoothies and scented candles. While, of course, it is important that we all get into the habit of taking enough time out for ourselves, I think people who are trying to manage a mental health condition should remember that most of the time self-care isn’t very glamorous at all.
If self-care isn’t this glamorous concept we see on Instagram, what would you describe it as?
I describe self-care as making life easier for your future self. Often it is about doing all those mundane things that it’s easy to ignore in the moment but end up piling up and causing problems later on, like opening your bills, paying parking fines and even brushing your teeth. Sometimes, if someone is particularly vulnerable, self-care might be as tiny as making their bed, which can provide a sense of satisfaction and reduce the chances that they will spend the whole day in bed.
So, it’s important to understand what activities will actually help make things better for that person in the long term. Sometimes that’s going for a walk, and sometimes it’s calling a debt support helpline.
Self-care isn’t just hedonism (in other words, it’s not just about doing what makes you feel good in the moment), that actually has negative long-term consequences. It’s less about the activity and more about the outcome and its impact on the condition we are trying to recover from or prevent returning.
Is self-care a legitimate way to look after your mental health, or it is just a social media fad?
Self-care in the way I’m describing it is an essential way to help protect your mental health. Most of the time mental health conditions develop slowly; they are a build-up of pressure that finally becomes too much to manage. Self-care is about identifying all of the many sources of stress and making sure you are addressing them as you go along to prevent that build-up of pressure.
From my perspective and for the people I work with, the generic kind of self-care that I see promoted on social media doesn’t really cut it. It’s great to get into the habit of slowing down and making time for rest. However, if a major source of stress in life is your debt or your relationships then having a bubble bath, while it feels good in the moment, isn’t going to help resolve those issues. In fact, for some people, those activities could be used to distract them from other more helpful, but more boring forms of self-care.
So, should we avoid the information about self-care that we see on social media?
I think for most people, the self-care info you find on social media is fine. It’s not going to cause any problems. But obviously, I’m always going to be thinking about the people who are struggling, and I wouldn’t want them to neglect more important activities like brushing their teeth, taking their medication on time or making sure they go outside every day for a few minutes.
All of those things will be much more beneficial for their mental health than a home manicure and a face mask.
What would you recommend for someone wanting to practise self-care, but have no idea where to start?
So, for everyone, the principles underlying self-care are the same: sources of stress. Maybe you’re not struggling with a mental health condition, but you’re just finding yourself feeling frazzled on a daily basis. The key is to find out what is contributing to that feeling. Are you doing too much? In that case, self-care might mean saying no to a few nights out or asking for help at work. Are you working really long hours and running out of time to eat nutritiously? Self-care here might look like weekend meal prep or delivery meal kits. Do you have money problems? Then your self-care will be more like drafting a budget, setting up a direct debit to pay off your credit cards and making your lunches every day to save money.
It’s really about identifying the sources of stress or harm and doing what you can to address them head-on.
At what point is self-care not enough? How does someone know if it is time to seek external help?
Great question. Modern life presents us with way more stresses, distractions and pressures than ever before, so it’s not always possible or sensible to try to manage everything by yourself.
If you’ve been feeling tearful, physically tired, irritable or demoralised for more than two weeks it’s a good idea to talk to someone you trust and/or ask your GP for advice.
With thanks to Kimberley Wilson. You can see more from Kimberley over on Instagram here.