I never considered myself to be someone who practiced self-care. For a while, I turned to self-sabotage to cope with my depression and anxiety. The pressures and angst from my early adolescence consumed me, and the thought of being reckless always sounded more appealing than doing a face mask and watching trashy reality TV.
Then, I grew up a little. Don’t get me wrong, I sometimes still succumb to the idea of getting so drunk that I can’t remember my name or where I came from, and I still have unhealthy coping mechanisms that I try to escape from every day. But what changed wasn’t my ability to practice self-care; instead it was my mindset surrounding the act of self-care. I had to come to terms with the fact that self-care is not only viable and effective but also imperative to mental wellness.
There are many misconceptions surrounding what self-care is and isn’t. Self-care can be anything from lighting a sweet-scented candle to wind down after a long day to cutting off a long-winded toxic friendship. Like anything else related to mental health, there is no “right” path, and everyone’s journey is different and specific to them. What may help a person on their self-care voyage may have the opposite effect on another. That is where the misconceptions of self-care lie.
The question remains — how do you find what’s right for you in practicing self-care? Sadly, the answer isn’t as cut and dried as we’d all hope it to be. It takes a lot of self-reflection, time, experimentation and sometimes even research to discover what works best for you. It may be as simple as dedicating 10 minutes of your day to meditate, or it may be as complex as coming to the realization that you need to change your living situation.
Again, there’s rarely a formula for self-care that is synonymously effective for all people. This is because we are all unique human beings with different life experiences, routines and goals. I stress this aspect of self-care as my early-adolescent misconception that self-care was a sort of “one-stop shop” that led me down the dark route of self-sabotage. I had tried what was advertised as self-care, and when these strategies didn’t aid in easing my anxiety or depression, I threw my hands up and said, “Oh well!”
My point is that self-care must be practiced on a daily basis in order to see positive outcomes. Just as it is with breaking a habit, forming one takes time, effort and consideration. An attempt at self-care may fail, and that’s OK. Understanding that your expectations for self-care won’t always come to fruition is part of the journey toward wellness. You have to understand what doesn’t work for you to find what does.
So, where do you start? Again it’s not always as simple as it may seem — but it can be. I started my pursuit of self-care by identifying the small things in life that distracted me from all the so-called “noise” that can accompany stress and mental illness. In hindsight, I realized I had been practicing self-care on the microscale for years. I had formed little habits that eased my depression and anxiety — healthy little habits — and all it took to understand what they were was self-reflection.
For me, it started with taking a bubble bath and lighting a scented candle — something I had loved to do for years but rarely ever practiced. To make this an act of self-care, I dedicated one day a week where I would block out the time to do it.
The results were pretty staggering. I actually began to feel less stressed, anxious and depressed after months of implementing this into my weekly routine. It started to become something I looked forward to, despite being such a small act.
I am still searching for more ways to practice self-care. The most important detail that I’ve learned throughout my self-care journey is to not compare what acts of self-care work for me to those that work for my friends. I also learned to go easier on myself as an act of self-care. Understanding that you are only human and that being human requires taking care of yourself is vital.
Self-care doesn’t need to be a super calculated effort. It is specific to each person and boils down to an act that is grounding and freeing from the stresses of everyday life — even if it’s only effective for a short period of time.
It is a conscious act that needs to be implemented into everyday life to be effective. With that said, it’s not as daunting as it may seem. Once you start consciously implementing one aspect of self-care into your daily life, your journey towards self-love and self-care will flourish. I promise.
Adriana Zraly is a junior writing about mental health and well-being. Her column, “Piece of Mind,” runs the last Wednesday of every month.