In recent years, self-care is a topic that has become popular—it comes up on our newsfeeds, in gifs, in memes, and in daily conversation. We say “treat yourself” when we get a latte instead of a drip coffee or when we take a night off from studying. The idea that self-care means treating yourself better is fundamentally true, and reminds us all to focus on ourselves even if we have others to care for—this is undeniably important. But the depths of meaning behind the idea of self-care gets lost in our soundbite sized quips.
Self-care is about more than just a glass of wine and chatting with friends, a beer with buddies, or a nice latte. It’s also about doing the things that will help you in the long term, especially with mental health. I used to confuse self-care with indulgence—if I feel too busy or anxious with work I deserve to watch TV and ignore friends—it’s self-care! It got dangerous for me, and in the long term it was detrimental to my mental health. Ignoring problems and isolating myself did not, surprisingly, help with any anxieties.
So now, I think of self-care as two-fold: the littler things that make me happy in the short-term, but also the hard work and difficult things that give my life meaning and happiness in the long-term. I try to find the right balance. Trying to achieve and maintain a healthy diet and regular exercise are some of the ways I’ve tried to implement the idea of self-care into my life now, but those are only two of the many, many, ways to use self-care as both well-deserved indulgence and a form of accountability. By doing these things, I am happier and healthier. But I’m also a better friend, daughter and sister.
I am not going to lie to you. It’s hard sometimes to keep the long-term in sight, to keep thinking about how great you’re going to feel by eating that broccoli and doing those jumping jacks at the gym. It’s even harder to remind yourself that those feelings will then translate to being a better support system for someone else in your life. Sometimes I don’t do the long-term things. Sometimes I feel guilty about it. And I think that’s ok too. The thing with self-care is that it is a constant balance, and any extreme, of either overindulgence or excessive restrictiveness, negatively influences mental health. This makes self-care itself seem like a lot of work, so I try to simplify it to just one statement, told to me by my mother (who is always right): Everything in Moderation.
Eat things that make you happy and healthy, but eat some chocolate cake or mac and cheese too. Everything in Moderation. Exercise in ways that are fun, but skip the gym sometimes to stay home and finish work or hang out with friends. Everything in Moderation. Shoot for the things that you know will work, short-term and long-term, and cut yourself some slack if they don’t always work out. Everything in Moderation.