Self-care has a lot of associations these days. It’s often tied up with a “treat yourself” mentality, where it means taking elaborate bubble baths with lots of products, having a drink a little too early, or buying something that you otherwise wouldn’t give yourself permission to buy. In these associations, self-care is inherently linked to capitalism, consumption, and a superficial narcissism that suggests eye cream and personal diet – excuse me, “wellness” – are a solution for the anxiety of living in a climate emergency, pandemic, and close-to-authoritarian state.
In an interview with the New York Times, Leigh Stein, author of the novel Self-Care about the irony of the same, notes on how self-care can go wrong: “I think there’s a lot of systemic problems right now that our country faces. There’s the national reckoning right now with racial injustice, among other issues of social justice. There are so many huge problems that feel overwhelming, so if there’s a product I can buy or a book I can read that tells me how to work on myself, I feel like that’s doable.” It’s also not real. Buying The End of Policing won’t help to bring about the end of policing unless you follow it up with self-reflection and concrete action. We all know this on some level, but in moments of feeling overwhelmed it’s easier to default to short-term and comfortable solutions rather than more challenging practices that stick.
Below are some strategies for self-care that aren’t wellness-industry solutions, that don’t suggest you need to buy a product or book or anything else, and that look beyond consumption and towards relationships with ourselves and our communities.
Take Note of How It Feels to Live in Your Body
Sometimes, we maintain the status quo even when it doesn’t make us feel very good because we don’t even realize how we feel or that we can change it. Other times, we think that things that are supposed to make us feel better must be making us feel better, and don’t pay attention to what’s actually happening in our brains and bodies. There are multiple ways to check in with yourself, but I like to keep it simple: a few minutes a day jotting down the top things that come up and any significant changes in how you feel. Over time, you might notice patterns that can show you where you need to make changes. Even if you don’t, your notes can be a helpful reference if you notice a sudden shift and want to see whether you’ve always felt that way.
Take Care of Your Body in A Real Way, Not an Influencer Way
Some self-care does involve the physical body – but not in a way that is (as) Instagrammable. Getting your flu shot, teeth cleaned, annual physical, bloodwork and more isn’t sexy, but it’s important to your overall health. If you have something going on, whether physical or psychological and haven’t made an appointment to address it with a medical professional, do so.
Make a List of Things that Recharge You That Don’t Involve Consumption
How do you celebrate successes, reward yourself after a hard day, or recharge when you need a boost? Brainstorm a list of 20 ways to do these things that don’t involve spending money.
Care for Your Social Support System
Social relationships should be reciprocal. Sometimes, we get so wrapped up or so used to others checking in on us that we forget to reach out to them. Other times, we fall into patterns of checking in on others without leaving room for them to check in on us. If you realize you only talk to friends when they text you first, try being the first to reach out. If you realize you only talk to them when you text them first, the next time you talk say, “Hey, it feels really nice when you text me out of the blue sometimes. Can you do that a little more frequently?” Make sure that when they do text, you engage.
Make Giving Back to Your Community Part of Your Routine
A lot of us feel moved to act in moments of stress or upheaval, whether that means making donations, phone banking, or heading to a protest. But once the moment wanes, so does our participation. Building community work into your routine can ensure that it remains a priority over the long-term. Setting up recurring monthly instead of yearly donations can be a start. But so can seeking out in-person opportunities locally. Does your local community garden have a volunteer sign-up sheet? Does your local food bank need regular restocking? Is there a local organizing block that you can not only join, but regularly show up in support of? If you are high-risk and not leaving your house whatsoever, can you develop a penpalship with an incarcerated queer person? We don’t exist in a vacuum. Taking care of our communities is an important way to build relationships, support mutual aid networks, and care for the community we’re a part of. Look to what the folks who already do this work communicate are their needs, listen to them, and figure out where your skills and resources can support them.