I’ve been thinking a lot about self-care recently. Mentally, physically. I don’t think it’s something that comes naturally to us Brits. It seems vain, selfish – the opposite of a stiff upper lip, of “getting on with it” where “it” is work, social life, home life, family life and everything in between. A true “first world problem”. We have to keep on at that daily grind, sometimes feeling just that – ground down. A dimmed version of ourselves as we muster the energy and positivity we need to meet that deadline, make it to those drinks, be there for that friend in need, make a success of that meeting, etc.
This paints a bleak picture. Please don’t misunderstand me, life is good – wonderful in fact. How motivating it is to have deadlines, how fun it is to go for drinks, what a privilege it is to be there for a friend and how rewarding it is to make a meeting a success. But if we don’t look after ourselves too, all these things can feel like an uphill struggle.
I learnt this lesson again this week as my body succumbed to tonsillitis, and I wouldn’t listen to it, frustrated by its weakness and determined to push on, afraid of letting anyone down. Of course, denying myself rest only made it worse and it took my mum telling me to stop for me to actually hit pause. At 27 years old I should probably have figured this out for myself; needless to say, I haven’t.
The same goes for mental health. How easily we can push it to the bottom of our list of priorities, ignoring warning signs as we endeavour to keep pace, embarrassed and ashamed at our self-perceived “failings” that make life feel like too much to handle. Current figures show that an estimated 1 in 4 of us will experience at least one diagnosable mental health problem each year in Britain, though over 20% of those who need help won’t visit their GP.* This figure could be worse – as awareness improves more and more people are seeking help. Yet still the stigma remains and it can often feel terrifying to admit to ourselves, let alone others, that we’re overwhelmed and in need of help.
We forget that there are small things we can do before we even reach breaking point, physically or mentally, the two in truth being interconnected. Giving ourselves rest, the chance to sleep, spend time with friends, take long hot showers, sit in coffee shops, cook nourishing food, watch films, bake, paint, read books, run, walk, stretch. This spoken by a girl who does no exercise – a true hypocrite! But I’m learning gradually the importance of these small things, and most importantly of all, to RECOGNISE when all is not okay. To pause and be honest. That is self-care I think. “You can’t pour from an empty cup, take care of yourself first.”