Tag: Self Care

Four Burners

“It is really wonderful how much resilience there is in human nature. Let any obstructing cause, no matter what, be removed in any way, even by death, and we fly back to first principles of hope and enjoyment.” 
― Bram Stoker, Dracula

Pull up a chair, kittens, and let’s chat about how you prioritize your time and emotional resources. This has been on my mind lately as I’ve taken on new work, observed friends go through highs and low, cheered triumphs, and commiserated during setbacks.

Pandora Sykes and Dolly Alderton had a discussion on their podcast, The High Low, which touched on the notion of “having it all,” as being antiquated or inadequate to the various tradeoffs women (and indeed everyone) make in navigating modern life. A part of the conversation stuck with me in which they referenced a piece by author David Sedaris which, paraphrased, goes along the lines of: “A person has four hobs: work, family, friends, and health, and you can only have two or three of them going at any one point before things start boiling over.” It’s called the Four Burners theory and I have not been able to stop thinking about it for days now.

I think it’s made such an impression on me because it strikes me as generally accurate, but it also was a handy way to summarize a lot of my own thinking and struggles. In fact, looking back over recent years, I can see exactly which hobs I’ve had cooking and at what heat levels. I can tell when I’ve tried to have too many going at once and I can also tell which ones I’ve switched off.

I’ve called 2018 my Year of Health because I’ve made dedicated time and space in it to improve my wellbeing. It’s been a roaring success in many ways, which I’m sure I’ll get to writing about as 2019 looms, but I have switched off other areas of my life to provide the time and attention that I needed to get healthier. Some aspects of my friends and family relationships have changed as a result–I am less social than I used to be and treasure a smaller number of close friendships more rather than trying to constantly make new ones.

My work burner has been on full throttle for a couple of years now…because it’s had to be. London is not a place in which you have the luxury of getting complacent and as I’ve made certain choices around freelancing and contracting, I have had to stay hustling. Other passion projects have taken a back seat as I’ve needed to establish and reestablish myself over and over again, other priorities have had to give way in order for my work (and bill-paying) ambitions to be realized. I’ve had some amazing jobs and opportunities as a result…but might I have done something different? Or would I have needed to focus on my health the way I have if a few toxic scenarios hadn’t bled from my work life into my personal and wreaked havoc with my wellbeing?

The trouble with this metaphor is that I think it’s fundamentally correct–at least for me–in that it honestly deals with humans beings as somewhat limited creatures. I want to turn other burners on, but know I might have to switch others off first. Which do you pick?

I don’t have the answers, but I am thinking about this a lot at the moment.

Which burners do you have “on” at the moment? Which have you switched off, recently or in the past, and why?

Monday Musings: the Commoditization of Self Care

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” 
― Audre Lorde

This is a bit of a free flow post, ducklings, but it was a topic I kept ruminating on over the weekend and wanted to organize my thoughts around. Last week I was wondering if social media makes me/us unhappy, this week I got annoyed at society for ruining something I think is a small but active force for good in the world. I’m a big believer in the idea of self-care (no matter how ubiquitous a term it’s become lately); I was glad when the language around it became mainstream, and I’m bummed now to see it start to be co-opted.

Self care could be loosely defined as any personal act or decision that is deliberately made to ensure one’s mental or physical health maintained, and one’s emotional state is kept balanced and harmonious. It’s a deeply personal thing because everyone has a different set of preferences and actions that make them feel a bit healthier and safer.

I am firmly supportive of self-soothing and I’m not going to be too judgey about what that looks like to other people, as long as no harm is being done. One person’s “me time” may be yoga, someone else’s might be violent video games, and someone else will find underwater basket weaving to be their personal happy place. Knock yourselves out. I personally like to ensure I have regular night time baths (which help me sleep better), I try and limit my interactions with some people/situations which cause me to get anxiety attacks, and I make an effort to carve out some “down time” during the weekends since I often work long hours during the work week. A hot bath, a trashy novel, quiet time by myself, date nights or weekend brunches with my husband…all these things keep my emotional batteries charged.

But like many other people, I’ve noticed how the language of self-care has gone from being almost a radical notion for people and mostly women (often primed and socialized since childhood to be nurturers, givers, and carers of other people) to insist on making their own wellbeing a priority…to a marketing term. This irks me. The amount of emails, newsletters, and targeted ads I’ve seen proclaiming that I, the buyer, “deserve this,” or should “treat myself,” or have “earned this [insert completely unnecessary and expensive item here]” are getting out of control.

Retail therapy is a real thing for many people and I don’t enjoy looking back on the past decade realizing how much money I’ve spent when stressed or unhappy. I’m a very happy and pretty healthy makeup and beauty lover now, but the truth is I first got into it and accumulated most of my beauty arsenal in a period of my life that was hugely stressful and unhappy for me. I was killing myself as a freelancer who almost never left the tiny, crappy apartment we lived in at the time, earning money in one currency while having to pay bills in another, and going through the final pangs of a protracted breakup with the religious tradition and community I had been born and raised in. Those were not my favorite months and years. Makeup and beauty, however, were pretty things that made me feel better.

In my early 20’s, as I’ve written before, I spent too much money on clothing I didn’t actually need or probably want because I liked the idea of what those items represented (a competent, successful woman) rather than what I felt like most days (a newly minted adult with crippling imposter syndrome and a vague but increasing that a lot of the other adults didn’t have much of a clue what they were doing either and oh-god-now-what?!). It’s only been as I’ve gotten older and more settled into my own body and brain that I’ve really become aware of how hard the notion that “Buying/having stuff will fix your problem” is sold to people.

These days I’m particularly annoyed that a reasonably good concept like self-care has been commoditized. It should be good for people to identify things that make them more stable and healthy as a person and to make time for those actions or items. But if your self-soothing seems to require significant amounts of spending, then someone is profiting from your stress, unhappiness, anxiety, or discontent. This bugs me. First of all by equating health/happiness to new lipstick, I think society is programming people with deplorable messages about unhealthy consumerism that equates stuff with wellbeing. This is financially dangerous. And on the flip side, genuine self care can be trivialized as its language is co-opted to sell crap, while people who openly engage and talk about practices that make their lives marginally better can be easily dismissed or mocked.

I don’t have a solution to this problem except to identify it and block it wherever possible, and to continue to say that I think self care in its original form is still important.  I wish I had discovered the notion that committed care for my brain, emotions, and body is not a selfish act much earlier in life; I think I might have avoided some major bad habits if I had. But I suspect that if we don’t watch out, we’re going to have to do the cultural work of inventing a whole new term for and redefining self care all over again someday because our current language will be no good to anyone anymore. That would be a loss. I think it’s taken a lot of social development, and especially for women, to create the terminology for and gain the social clout to claim the notion that we have a right to our own wellbeing. I’m not eager to surrender that to advertisers.

Weekend Manicure: My Moment of Zen

“You can tell a lot from a person’s nails. When a life starts to unravel, they’re among the first to go.”
― Ian McEwan, Saturday

We spent this Bank Holiday weekend in the Lakes District, a somewhat impromptu holiday decision that I regret not a whit! Travel is therapy for me, and we had a couple of conversations over this trip of how we can do more of it, as it’s something we value but have not prioritized as much as we would like in the last few years.

Self care has become a very overused term in recent months and years, but I believe the concept is an incredibly important one. Which is why I wanted at least a couple of posts this month to be on the ways we use beauty products and routines for the purpose of literally caring for our bodies.

Beauty has therapeutic benefits for me as well. For example, rare is the weekend that I don’t slap at least one mask on my face to treat the week’s stresses–usually dehydration from not watching my diet, pigmentation from not minding my SPF, or a minor revolt on the part of my hormones. I enjoy the process of forcing myself to stop moving, rushing, and generally stressing, and so something that feels good for me.

The best use of beauty-as-therapy for me, though, is probably my weekly manicure. Some people really enjoy going out and getting their nails done professionally, but I’m not one of them. For one, I’ve never really been able to wrap my head around paying for something I can do for myself unless a special occasion is involved. Secondly, I’m awful to my nails. I bit them compulsively through childhood and can still pick at or tear them in times of stress. They aren’t particularly strong to start with and all my mistreatment certainly does them no favors, even in adulthood.

But do you know what helps? Nail polish. Seriously. I’ve found that I’m much less likely to mess them up if they look nice, even in moments of stress or distraction, and if a nail lands unwittingly in my mouth for an unintentional nibble, the immediate taste of the polish reminds me that I need to not muck up my own handiwork.

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Like unto a face mask, doing my nails once a week also forces me to not do anything else for an hour or so while the coats of varnish dry. I can’t work, clean, or even make lists without the risk of ruining my manicure, and so it compels me to do something that I’m actually pretty bad at: being still and switching my brain off. Often I’ll turn on an Agatha Christie mystery or documentary to watch while I paint and dry, which keeps me from falling prey to the Sunday Night Blues/Scaries and helps me being to wind down the weekend in an enjoyable way. It’s a small, trivial thing, but it’s a valuable part of my weekly routine.

Nail polish is a cheap way to make me feel a bit more put together (not unlike a swipe of lipstick), and it’s been a helpful tool in keeping bad physical and emotional habits in check. I can’t buy that a salon.

 

Your turn. Is there a product or tool that you’ve used to overcome (or indeed, introduce) a habit? Do you have a beauty self care routine–manicures, baths, regular massage, or something else? If so, what benefits have you drawn from it?