Try to imagine yourself when you were only 5 years old, learning to tie your shoelaces. It was surely challenging at the time. Imagine calling yourself stupid and worthless when you couldn’t do it right. Somehow, even if nobody told us that when we were young, we still manage to internalize certain negative beliefs about ourselves as we grow up and encounter different challenges, and compare ourselves to others.
We become really quick to criticize and deprecate ourselves. That’s the opposite of self-care. That’s building an unhealthy relationship with yourself, instead of nurturing self-compassion and self-esteem. Brené Brown, American professor and author, in her book The Gifts of Imperfection writes:
“In a society that says, 'Put yourself last,' self-love and self-acceptance are almost revolutionary.”
Between balancing work or academic responsibilities, as well as social life, while also having to factor in distances and traffic (if we’re talking about the busy streets of Cairo) and everyday basic needs like food, sleep and hygiene, it doesn’t feel like there is much time for anything else.
However, Before diving into what self-care is and what you can do to take care of yourself, let’s talk about what self-care.
Self-care is NOT selfish.
Self-care is not neglecting others and your relationships with them, it’s simply not neglecting yourself. Self-care doesn’t need to be at the expense of others' needs. It’s just a conscious decision to take care of yourself and pay attention to your needs, because sometimes they’re forgotten and/or set aside for later. Also, think about it - how much can you do for others if you’re emotionally and physically drained yourself?
Self-care is NOT about spoiling yourself.
Self-care isn’t a form of indulgence, nor is it a treat. It’s much more basic and fundamental than that, not an extra thing you reward yourself with. It’s not something you need to earn; “I will treat myself to some self-care now because I've finished my presentation” no! But also, it’s also more than eating three meals a day and getting 8 hours of sleep. It’s about doing things that nourish you, and bring you new energy.
Self-care is NOT an occasional thing, but is also NOT time-consuming.
Self-care happens on a daily basis, not just occasionally, not just on weekends. Ideally, it is incorporated into our everyday lives in small discrete ways that simply involve checking in on yourself. Your body is always present with you, so don’t postpone its needs for later. Don’t ignore the signs that it may be telling you something. Pay attention to any changes, any pain. Pain is there for a reason! And part of self-care is preventing illness to the extent that you can. It’s your own responsibility towards your health, far before a doctor comes into the picture.
Self-care is NOT a predominantly feminine act.
It may seem like a gendered concept associated with avocado face masks and getting your nails done. But the true meaning of self-care clearly got lost somewhere along the way! Again, it’s not simply a form of pampering yourself. Self-care is a choice you make every day to maintain your physical and mental wellbeing. It encompasses all the little and not-so-little acts and practices that encourage and pedestal your wellness, whether they are subtle ways of being kinder and gentler with yourself, or a conscious and deliberate effort to prioritize your needs and improve your lifestyle.
Now, actually doing the self-care:
First, one needs to be aware of their needs. What they need more of, and what is missing from their daily life. It can be rest, laughter, exercise, creative activities, human connection, healthier food, or more time spent outdoors. It can also be needing less stress, carrying lighter handbags, and consuming less salt at meals.
Next, it's time to actually make room for these needs. Naturally it may require practice in order to become more and more effortless, especially if you're working towards a big shift in daily behaviours, and your internal dialogue with yourself. For example, if you're urgently advised to stop smoking self-care is what will allow you to do that. Nobody else can make you quit, but it definitely isn't easy and others can help you with your self-care too. Self-care may be self-initiated, but remember, it doesn't need to be done alone.
Self-care is, simply put, to be more mindful of taking care of yourself, the same way you would a loved one, or someone who is dependent on you. The same way you would ask them if you are concerned or worried about them:
“Are you okay?” “Are you managing?” “Do you need a break?” “Are you certain you aren’t spreading yourself too thin?”
And then, the same way you can suggest:
“What can you do to relax?” “What would help you feel better?” “What changes do you need to make to your lifestyle?” Ask yourself these questions too. Check in on yourself like you would on a friend after a hectic week. Extend the same compassion you show towards others, to yourself. The same kindness and understanding towards their flaws and mistakes, to your own, instead of using harsh words of self-criticism. Self-compassion is a constant element of self-care. It’s using some positive affirmations and words of encouragement alongside the inevitable frustrations. It’s how you can learn to comfort and reassure yourself when things don’t go perfectly, instead of judging yourself for your shortcomings.
“Talk to yourself the way you would to someone you love.”
Also a quote by Brené Brown. Her work is truly worth a read! Remember, it’s more about how you treat yourself then about what you do. Because, if you treat yourself kindly, with patience and compassion, the way you would want to treat your 5-year-old self, learning to tie your shoes, the rest will follow. If you want the best for yourself and for your health, you’re bound to incorporate lots of the things that are good for you into your daily life.