By Indira Das-Gupta
Few have done more than the preternaturally youthful Gwyneth Paltrow to make the terms “wellness” and “self care” bywords for smugness and ning nang nongery that make most normal people want to reach for the Big Mac and fries instead.
I have nothing against Gwyneth, nor would I describe myself as a fan, although you have to admire the chutzpah of anyone who can produce a candle that allegedly smells like her vagina and then literally charge through the nose for it. But I can see why these terms have become a huge turn off for so many. They conjure up images of impossibly slim, attractive women with expensive blonde highlights sipping kale smoothies while doing the splits on the beach in an over priced bikini.
This is not self care in my book. To me self care is simply looking after yourself, not putting yourself at the bottom of the list. If you are a working mum juggling the kids with a demanding job then perhaps even the thought of doing a bit of self care is scary. But self care doesn’t have to mean going for a 5 mile run then having an egg white omelette with steamed veg for dinner. Although if that’s genuinely your idea of fun then go for it. Self care can be as simple as having a nice, long soak in the bath or having an uninterrupted cup of tea on your own or reading a good book instead of fretting about all the laundry you haven’t done.
All too often women put themselves last. The kids, work, housework, everything else seems to take priority, but you can’t pour from an empty cup. There’s a saying,
“Make time for your health or you’ll be forced to make time to be ill.”
We tend to only make time for our health when things start to go wrong or maybe because we can’t get into our favourite jeans any more. Then exercise can feel like a punishment for over indulging, no wonder it becomes so hard to stick to - unless you’re a masochist who enjoys punishing themselves on a regular basis?
Or maybe the trigger is that we feel stressed out, grumpy and overwhelmed. Looking after yourself means looking after your mental health as well as your physical health. Why wait until it gets to the point where you start to struggle? We know that prevention is always better than cure. That’s why self care needs to be part of your every day routine, to avoid getting to breaking point in the first place. How often do you think, “I haven’t got time to brush my teeth today”? Never, because you know it’s important. If you start your day with a cup of coffee, you probably never forgo that, even if you are running late, because you probably feel like you can’t function without it. We can’t function well if we don’t look after ourselves properly on a regular basis either.
As a mum I take my children’s health very seriously and make sure they get out in the fresh air every day, eat well and also have time to relax. So why wouldn’t I do the same for myself? If I get sick, who is going to make sure they are alright? But also what kind of example would I be setting them if I didn’t make time for my own self care?
If you struggle with the idea of making time for your health then just try to think what advice you would offer to someone you care about, it could be a partner, good friend or someone in your immediate family. Wouldn’t you say,
“Sod the hoovering, you’ve had a hard day, you can do it tomorrow, go and have a nice bath/run/cup of tea or whatever it is that will make you feel better.”
I just need to add the caveat that I’m not saying go and drink a bottle of wine if you have had a hard day. Sorry. Maybe a glass or two. Would you feel better the next day after a whole bottle? I’m not advocating hedonistic pleasures that have a negative impact on your health over time. But I am advocating making time for the things that give you joy and genuinely have a positive effect on both your mental and physical health.
That doesn’t mean that wellness and self care are about denying ourselves pleasure. Dancing round the kitchen until you’re sweaty and laughing might not feel like self care because it’s fun, and that’s the point. Looking after yourself shouldn’t be another task to add to your never ending to do list of jobs you’d rather not do. It should be enjoyable. The more enjoyable it is, the more you are likely to stick to it.
Self care is a personal thing. We are all different, we have different needs, likes and responsibilities. Much as I enjoy Yoga, I don’t have time to do 2 hours of it every day, but I make time to do 20-30 minutes. I don’t like going to the gym so I run and cycle instead. I actually genuinely like kale, but not in smoothies! I also like chocolate. Your self care routine might be very different to mine. Find something that works for you, start simple and stick to it. You deserve to feel your best so start making time for you.
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