Self-care: Why we need to keep talking about it

By: Valerie Papillon

What do you do for self-care?

This question seems to reverberate like a refrain nowadays. Whether I am at a meeting, spending time with friends, or scrolling down my social media, it is hard for much time to pass without the subject of self-care being raised. As a clinical social worker, I believe the increasing talk about self-care demonstrates a positive shift in our society. Both in clients and with people in my personal life, I witness how a lack of self-care practices can lead to issues with mental health. In a country where we are perpetually evaluated for what we can produce, and then assigned value according to that work, the fact that self-care is being brought into the fold is something I consider a positive change. This demonstrates we are affirming that we deserve time and space to simply tend to our needs.

However, self-care is oftentimes narrowly defined as simply engaging in behaviors that avoid the real issues at hand. Self-care is much more than indulging in your favorite dessert after a stressful day, or binge-watching a series on Netflix while you procrastinate on a looming task. More often than not, self-care is tuning into to an unaddressed need so you can first, identify it, and then solve it. This conception of self-care is very different from avoiding issues, rather, it is taking responsibility to deal with our needs in that moment. Stress can cause us to try and suppress feelings that are difficult to sit with. This is tempting when we are feeling down about something. However, when we suppress what we are experiencing, it could actually prolong the healing process.

The way in which I understand self-care, it is very broad and multifaceted. Self-care can be physical, emotional, psychological, professional, and even spiritual.

Here are my go-to tips for practicing self-care:

  1. Tune in. Spend some time each week reflecting and asking yourself how you feel.
  2. Make time to do fun things with people you like and make you laugh.
  3. Hunger is a real thing. Put some food in your tum tum.
  4. Try to get 7 or 8 hours of sleep each night.
  5. Exercise in whatever way that looks good for you. Try not to go four days without moving your body in some way. Exercise can alter your brain chemistry and equips you to handle stress more efficiently.
  6. Call a person you trust and name that you need support. A little vulnerability in a safe relationship can go a long way.
  7. Don’t underestimate aromatherapy. Consider purchasing essential oils such a lavender or eucalyptus. One sniff can have an immediate positive effect on your mood. Truly!
  8. If you find yourself constantly feeling down or anxious, consider starting therapy. There may be an ongoing issue that needs to be addressed with professional help.

We know that stress is a given because dealing with difficult circumstances is a part of what it means to be human. If we never take the time to center ourselves and refuel, we will not be equipped to deal with issues that come our way. So the next time you are telling yourself you are doing self-care, ask yourself if you are meeting a need, or if you are dodging a problem. Be well!

Valerie Papillon is a clinical social worker and a community organizer. She conducts both individual and group therapy with youth in Chicago primarily on issues of mental health, trauma, oppression, and conflict resolution.

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