What does self-care mean to you? For many people and brands in the beauty, wellness, and lifestyle industries, self-care gets defined in many ways. It can mean taking some time to apply face masks or painting your nails on a Saturday night after a long week at work. It can mean soaking in a bathtub full of warm water and a scented bath bomb to unwind after a stressful time. It might mean giving yourself a gift, because you know you deserve it. And let's be honest: sometimes self-care can be as simple as binge-watching your favourite shows on Netflix while indulging in some tasty snacks.
There's nothing wrong with doing these things to take care of yourself and to make yourself feel better. I admit I like doing these things, too. When I'm feeling down, I like to chill out and relax, listen to music and inspirational podcasts (to help me feel more positive), indulge in beauty treatments (face masks, deep-conditioning treatments, and DIY manicures), and treat myself to a tasty meal and some chocolate while binge-watching The Real Housewives. I love special "just because" gifts and a hot bath full of pretty-scented bath bombs.
But after having been on an intensive personal development journey over the past two years, I am aware that self-care isn't always glamorous. In fact, self-care is tough and challenging.
As someone who experienced severe trauma in childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood, I've always suffered with poor mental health, and I find self-care (and trying to learn to love myself) to be very difficult at times, because I internalised a lot of toxic beliefs about myself. When you spend a big chunk of your life being mistreated, feeling unheard, and believing that you don't matter, it's hard to prioritise yourself and feel good about yourself. Caring for myself and trying to nurture myself is something that doesn't come naturally to me. But it's got to be done, no matter how hard it is.
Sometimes, self-care is about making tough and difficult decisions in order to protect and boost one's mental health, and it's important that we don't minimise or forget that."
I often feel as though the beauty and wellness industries capitalise on self-care. To be honest, it can seem as though self-care is treated as a commercial and profitable tool and that can feel uncomfortable and uneasy to me since self-care is supposed to be an essential part of being a human being and personal development.
Sometimes, self-care is about making tough and difficult decisions in order to protect and boost one's mental health and it's important that we don't minimise or forget that. For me, self-care is challenging but absolutely necessary for my mental health and overall wellbeing. Self-care has meant making difficult decisions to improve myself and my life on a long-term basis.
I started going to intense therapy two years ago. I made the decision to go private after struggling to access the mental health services on the NHS. I am very well aware of the privilege that comes with being able to do this, and I don't take it for granted. My therapist, who takes the person-centred approach to counselling, has worked really hard with me to equip me with the tools and mechanisms I need to process my trauma and become a better version of my true self. Thanks to therapy, I've been able to learn to let go of harmful coping mechanisms, self-limiting beliefs, and poor behaviours that no longer serve me and are causing me mental, emotional, and psychological harm. Therapy has been very challenging, and reliving traumatic moments has been incredibly distressing and left me in tears many times, but it's been worth it. It's been the perfect release, and it's been empowering. It's been a slow process (and the process slowly continues), but I've been able to regain a sense of humanity, which is something I've never felt before, and I have so much compassion and respect for myself because of it.
Another self-care practice I've had to adopt is cutting off (or distancing myself from) toxic people out of my life, and that includes certain family members, friends, and acquaintances — people who I thought would stay in my life forever. That's been extremely heartbreaking and painful to deal with, but I feel as though it was absolutely necessary, because I feel free and at peace, and my life is better off without the misery, chaos, dysfunction, and unnecessary drama. I used to put up with so much nonsense, but after the start of the coronavirus pandemic, I've come to realise that life is short and precious, and so there's no point in putting up with situations that don't fulfil me and no longer serve me. Instead, I have the strength to walk away.
I've had to get real with how I was treating my body. When you've been through trauma, sometimes you might find it hard to value and care for yourself. Over the years, I became accustomed to putting myself last and having my needs dismissed. But when you embark on a self-care journey, you cannot continue to neglect yourself, and I realised that by doing this, I wasn't doing myself any favours. So I decided it was time to adopt healthier habits, such as getting plenty of sleep, finding ways of being physically active (I like going for walks), taking my supplements, and slowly transitioning to a plant-based diet.
Self-care is not just about looking after your body though. Self-care is about making the choice to take responsibility and accountability for your life, making the right choices, and taking action when required. I've made the choice to create a life full of happiness and peace instead of wallowing in misery and self-pity. I've learned to listen to my intuition and trust my gut instinct (thanks to the book The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker) so I've developed the important skills of discernment. I've had to learn to advocate for myself, be assertive, and set boundaries thanks to therapy and the book The Joy Of Being Selfish by Michelle Elman. I'm introspective and have a high level of self-awareness, so self-care has meant focusing on becoming clear about my values and personal bill of rights and focusing on myself to be the best version of myself and live the best life possible.
As a beauty-lover, I don't mind spending the odd evening grooming myself, doing my nails and hair, wearing a face mask, and taking a hot bath to make myself feel a little bit better. Ultimately, self-care is all about doing the tough, hard, and challenging work to improve my mental health, physical health, and quality of life. But, overall, it's worth it. Thanks to self-care, I'm gradually becoming authentic and designing a life that is true to my values and brings me joy — and I've never felt so glad.