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Self-Care is Elitist, But it Doesn't Have to Be

“Nothing can bring you peace but yourself." Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1841
As I wrote earlier this week, humans search for peace in many different places and in myriad ways. Our search for peace can manifest healthfully, or not. In a world where busyness is praised and quietude is synonymous with laziness, we've taken "self-care" to a whole new level. People who are Type-A (like yours truly), can be especially obsessive and aggressive in our pursuit of self-care, so much so that our leisure time becomes scheduled, and begins to feel like work. There is no "best" way to incorporate self-care into your life, but that's probably not the message you're being sold.
I recently came upon an article by a journalist named Amy Larocca about the "wellness epidemic" in which wellness and self-care have become glamorized and over-consumerized in an incredibly damaging way. Luxury workout boutiques, expensive cleanses, beauty pamperings, trendy outings, cosmetic surgeries, wellness retreats, books, workbooks, and expensive life coaches are all heralded as necessary avenues to optimal wellness. I should note that the words "health" and "wellness" are often conflated, but they do not mean the same thing. Health is "the state of being free from illness or injury" while wellness is, "the state of being in good health, especially as an actively pursued goal." In sum, you can be in poor health by no fault of your own, but wellness, we are told, is entirely changeable. And the best way to be well is to purchase an at-home sauna, or spirulina powder, or retinol eye cream.
The obvious irony here is that the wellness industry is based upon comparison and perfectionism, both of which are inherently antithetical to wellness. Removing judgement of the self is the first step toward wellness, and that costs nothing. The following self-care activities and tips are 100% free, and all contribute to overall wellness.

Do Less: Doing less is undoubtedly free, but might seem difficult, especially in a hyper-productive world. However, working less may help you do more by making you more productive and focused. My therapist recently told me that if self-care feels like a chore, I probably shouldn't do the thing (barring the necessary bits, like eating or sleeping). Further, the pressure to produce is a bit arbitrary in an impermanent, imperfect world. The desire to make sense of life should not interfere with your own health, happiness, or wellness.

Laugh: Ideally with someone(s) close to you, but you can also watch your favorite comedian on YouTube or listen to a podcast (also free, if you have access to the internet). "Laughter is soul food," said somebody, maybe.

Practice Gratitude: This is pretty vague, but could be as simple as writing a list of things you're grateful for (like I did for Thanksgiving, HERE).

Go For A Walk (or Run!): Moving your body is absolutely free, and can give you a much-needed reprieve from the constant inter-connectedness of our everyday lives. Plus, you'll get your heart pumping, you'll (hopefully) be outside getting some vitamin D, and you'll get a healthy dose of feel-good endorphins.

Read a Book: The book you read does not, I repeat: does not, have to be informative. You don't have to read a self-help book, or learn something new, or be productive all the time. Read something you like, whether that's a memoir, a mystery, a romance novel, or a religious text. The simple act of reading will keep your mind active while helping you relax and de-stress.

Do a Yoga Video: You don't have to leave your home to do this, and there are literally millions of free yoga videos on YouTube, from short, 10-minute flows to 90 minute workouts. Yoga enhances bodily proprioception or awareness in and about your body, which can help you tune into how your body feels. Further, the breathing techniques that accompany yoga can calm your mind as well as your body.

Meal Prep: I try to meal prep on Sundays, not only because it helps me feel prepared for the week, but because the act of chopping and roasting vegetables, for instance, is soothing. Any mindless, repetitive motion can be a good mental break, like knitting, doodling, or cleaning.

Volunteer: Volunteering your time might seem a lot like a check-list item to add to your resume or LinkedIn profile, but giving back has a few tangible benefits. It brings you community, makes you feel good while doing good, and usually isn't stressful. People like to feel useful, and volunteering is a direct conduit to altruistic usefulness.

Call a Friend: Sometimes going out with friends or making plans can seem a lot like work, so calling an old friend to chat is an easy way to build and maintain connection without leaving the comfort of your home.

Nap: There are millions of reasons to nap: increased alertness, boosted creativity, reduced stress, improved concentration, better stamina, reduced risk of heart disease, weigh loss, and brightened moods to name a few. The real trick is finding time to nap, but even a short 10-minute snooze can help you feel better, especially during the notorious mid-day slump.

Turn off your phone: I've written many times about living a distracted-free life, limiting social media, and using cell phones less (read more HERE). In a nutshell, social media breeds dissatisfaction with the self via constant, unrestrained comparison, and frequent phone use is linked not only to social isolation but negative health effects.

Listen to Music: William James said, “I don’t sing because I’m happy; I’m happy because I sing.” Music is totally free, if you have access to the internet (or a radio), and there are so many types of music that you're sure to find someone you love. Bonus points if you sing, play an instrument, and/or make your own music.

Say "No": Many people (women especially) find themselves saying "yes" to things they don't really want to be doing. It's okay to say no, and you should in fact say no to activities or people that don't enhance your life in some way. A friend of mine once joked that he likes to cancel at least one plan a week. Self-care is really about prioritizing yourself in order to be fully present, mindful, and compassionate in and with the rest of the world.

P.S. I do realize that some of these items are inherently privileged and not truly free. Any item on this list requires time, which is especially hard to come by for those working multiple jobs to make ends meet. Similarly, access to internet or a cellphone is not gauranteed. Ted Hughes said, "Nothing is free," and Benjamin Franklin said, "Time is money." Time is the money that buys self-care, so carving out even a tiny bit of self care time can be advantageous.


Sarah Rose

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