If mental health is everyone’s problem – which it is – then self-care is everyone’s responsibility. The oxygen mask on the plane metaphor may feel tired. But. They’re right. We need to put our own on before we help others. As a society, as a parent, as a friend, as a sibling, as a child we have a duty to ourselves and those around us to look after both our physical and our mental health . And how do we do this? Self-care.
A little bit of self-care is a powerful thing. It’s a brilliant thing. If only we had the time.
As someone who goes out into the community talking, nay, encouraging self-care the biggest obstacle I hear is time. Many of us know that less time working + more self-care = better results. We know it but we don’t listen or absorb it, or society won’t let us. There’s an expectation that we all live within. The trouble is getting out from under it. We’re overstretched like “too little butter over too much bread”, to quote Bilbo Baggins/J.R.R. Tolkein. What we need is more societal change. Less expectations and pressures. Our own definitions of achievement. But until that time maybe this will convince you.
We’re very good at saying yes to everyone else except ourselves. I’ll happily tell anyone who listens that they need to look after themselves. That the cleaning will wait. That they don’t need to go to that party . That it’s ok to be too busy to do x, y or z. That if they’re ill they need to stay home from work. I’m the worlds biggest hypocrite. If only I followed my own advice. I don’t think I’m alone in this. If self-care for your own sake isn’t enough of an argument perhaps you’ll do it for the sake of others. Self-care is a duty. A responsibility. When others see us looking after ourselves it gives them ‘permission’ to do it too. Self-care is a big ol’ green light. If only we’d turn the light on.
The more we do self-care when we need it the more it becomes a learned behaviour. Eventually (hopefully!) we’ll stop feeling guilty for looking after ourselves. If you feel you can’t do self-care for self-cares sake do it for the sake of others. When we look after ourselves we inspire the concept in those around us. We know what to do if we cut a finger or burn our hand. But do we know what to do when we’re stressed or angry or upset? Often we don’t know where to start because we’ve not grown up seeing it in the world around us. And we need too. Mental health has finally been given a seat at the table. But it’s the start of the discussion not the end. If we really want change the responsibility rests on all our shoulders.
Because self-care isn’t selfish. It never was.