Before the pandemic, America’s “always-on” culture convinced many people to either write off self-care as an indulgence, a luxury, or completely ignore their need to recharge in favor of the often rewarded busy lifestyle.
This past year (and counting) showed people the importance of taking care of themselves, not just physically but mentally and spiritually. With priorities shifting, nowadays, you would be hard pressed to find a publication that doesn’t tout the numerous benefits of daily self-care, offering plenty of tips and tricks, practical or otherwise. There are weekly seminars and conferences on the subject, too. In other words: self-care is a hot topic that shows no signs of cooling down anytime soon.
A few weeks ago, I encouraged my direct report, Evan, to attend the 2021 Virtual Conference held by the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network (I sit on its Board of Directors). There was a session dedicated to self-care that he told me about in our weekly 1-on-1. He noted one slide from the presentation that asked the audience to consider: “What assumptions do you have about self-care?”
The answer that stuck out to him? “It’s for white women.”
Of course, self-care isn’t exclusively for one specific demographic — it’s for everyone. What isn’t immediately apparent, however, is that just because self-care is for everyone doesn’t mean that it’s accessible; at least, not accessible in terms of the activities self-care gurus often propose.
Changing the Self-Care Narrative — For Everyone
Just like you, my life has ups and downs and moments that require me to focus on me. Practicing self-care allows me to maintain a healthy relationship with myself, which in turn allows me to be more present for my colleagues, friends, and family. For example, my self-care routine involves sweating it out at the gym, treating myself to a nice dinner with friends at a local restaurant in Phoenix, pouring through my ever-growing stack of books, and regularly speaking with a therapist and an executive coach. By no means an exhaustive list, these are deliberate acts that help keep me grounded and help me be the best Sentari I can be (a line I use often).
That’s just my self-care routine, though — there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution. People get joy and positive energy from a wide variety of sources, but what’s more important to acknowledge here is that some have the means to do so while others do not. While I enjoy the privilege of speaking with a therapist and a coach, I am very well aware that because of a number of reasons, this is simply not feasible (or even attractive) for everyone.
While just one example, it begs an important question: how can we make self-care more accessible?
What Can You Do to Help Change the Self-Care Narrative?
Stock images of people basking in paradise, applying expensive facial creams, or enjoying deep-tissue massages are common as we scroll through Instagram, flanked by expensive and complex self-care activity suggestions. While certainly well-meaning, they risk alienating the average reader looking for simpler, more accessible ideas. An aside; if you like doing those things, and they keep you centered, kudos to you. This isn’t to shame or criticize, your journey to wellness is your own.
However, broadening the conversation will benefit everyone — including you. From my vantage point, this can easily happen by practicing the following steps:
1. Make An Individualized Self-Care Routine That Works For You
It’s always a great idea to source ideas wherever and whenever you can, but ultimately, it’s important for people to develop an individualized self-care routine that makes most sense for them. Self-care doesn’t have to look like taking big vacations or spending money on monthly massages; in other words, it doesn’t need to be anything grand at all. It can look like journaling the highlights of your day, taking 15 minutes during the work day to go on a walk, or reading a good book outside. As long as it keeps you centered and nurtures you with the energy you need to take on the day, your individualized self-care routine will be a success.
2. Embrace the Trial-and-Error Process and Adjust Accordingly
Your routine is likely to evolve over time aligning with your life and as you discover new ways to practice self-care. Depending on time, cost, and a host of other factors, these activities as they are may not fit into your self-care routine, and that’s okay. Even though “one-size-fits-all” routines don’t exist, you can tailor activities to meet your needs. For example, let’s say you read an article about the benefits of yoga, but you can’t afford to attend a weekly yoga class because it requires a monthly gym membership, nor can you find time during the workday to break free and attend. Instead, look on Instagram or on YouTube for videos that are both free and available 24/7, all while reaping the same health benefits.
3. Share and Enjoy Self-Care Activities
For many, self-care is best practiced with others. Let’s say you have a friend or colleague who’s struggling to identify affordable methods of practicing self-care. Or for one reason or another, they don’t feel like they have a safe space to practice self-care alone. With compassion and understanding, you can invite him or her to join you in one of your favorite routines. Do you practice guided meditation? Have them join you in a session. If the outdoors is what you love, join a local group that goes on nature hikes every weekend.
4. Engage in Mindful Conversation and Offer Support When Asked
People don’t always want to be lectured to or spoon-fed advice (raised hand). Instead, opening your heart and listening intently can make a world of difference in anyone’s self-care journey. Not only will it make them feel heard, but it can also help them validate their own feelings and understand what they need out of their self-care routine.
In the simplest terms, self-care can be defined as taking an active role in protecting your own physical, mental, and emotional health. The key word here being “your.” Rather than imposing what self-care could or should look like, we can broaden the scope of what it means to take care of ourselves by encouraging everyone to find what works for them. Even a 10-minute walk around the block should not be dwarfed by something grand, extravagant, or expensive. At the same time, if something grand, extravagant, or expensive is core to someone’s self-care routine then it, too, should be celebrated. What’s important is that if you’re reading this, you’re prioritizing you and giving yourself the space to take care of your mind and body.
I have the great honor of serving evolvedMD as Head of Strategy where I get to be part of a team reimagining modern whole-body care as the market leader of behavioral health integration. With a mission to reduce stigma and increase access to behavioral health, self-care is core to our culture. Recently our team shared their own self-care routines, so I hope this list sparks some inspiration that helps you begin yours.