Lying back in a luxurious bubble bath, nursing a cup of hot chocolate and listening to whale sounds whilst stressing over a looming deadline, I wonder if the “self-care” website I just visited really gave the best advice. I check again, and it tells me to go for a nap after my bath. Unfortunately writing whilst asleep is a little difficult. Despite feeling tired and a bit ill, I decide to get off my lazy back and asked a few experts for their opinions… 

Every time I read a self-development or parenting book my heart sank when I arrived at the chapter on self-care”

Kim McCabe

Kendall Platt, 34, is a mindful gardening coach. “I feel that the term self-care has been grossly overused in marketing campaigns to encourage people to buy more stuff,” she says. 

“My personal definition of self-care is showing myself compassion and kindness and to me that means half an hour in my garden finding some headspace and giving my brain a rest from the information overload that it is currently experiencing.”

However, she remains a firm advocate of the concept of self-care – albeit with some caveats. “My personal view is that self-care is exactly that, whatever that person needs to do in order to care for themselves.  I don’t think its self indulgent to allow yourself 30 minutes out of nearly 1000 that we are awake in a day to do something that helps you to feel healthier and mentally stronger- especially right now.  However this only applies if the self-care activity is actually beneficial for the person’s health and wellbeing.”

What kind of self-care does she believe harms a person’s wellbeing? “I feel that marketing has taken the term self-care and slapped it on to anything they want to sell that has a vague connection which has unfortunately led to potentially unhealthy practices or pastimes being described as self-care,” she responds. “Whether you can lay the blame for that at the door of the term ‘self-care’ is dubious.  I think marketing professionals and brands have a responsibility to use appropriate words and phrases with which to sell their products. But I also feel that we as consumers have a responsibility to fully question and research a product or service before we spend our money on it.” 

“Self-care for me is taking deliberate action to really take care of your own wellbeing,” agrees Lisa Phillips, 50, a confidence expert. “It is about being your own best friend, not your own worst enemy!  This includes being caring to yourself when you may not feel like it or when you are feeling upset or grumpy.” Like Platt, she also includes a disclaimer. “However, this ‘ deliberate action’ is far more than taking regular exercise or grabbing a massage. That is just external self-care.  Real internal self-care can be uncomfortable as it may include standing up for yourself, honouring your own needs, and refusing to beat yourself up. It can also include making decisions and choices based upon what feels right for you (rather than what other people want you to do).  Real self-care takes effort and deciding to care more about how you feel on a daily basis.”

Kim McCabe is the author of From Daughter to Woman and founder and director of Rites for Girls. She used to feel that the advice offered under the banner of self-care was not sufficient to help her. “Every time I read a self-development or parenting book my heart sank when I arrived at the chapter on self-care. It enraged me because I was failing so badly at what was being suggested.  There was little help in how to actually make myself take better care of myself.”

However, she has altered her view. “Ironically, I’m now one of those people guiding parents towards the essential importance of self-care. ‘Put your own oxygen mask on first’ and all that.  My kind of self-care though is down-to-earth and practical, and while it might include a spa day, it generally looks less luxurious. Self-care can be walking away from a situation to give yourself a moment to gather yourself, or giving yourself five minutes peace locked in the bathroom away from kids, or getting down to that daunting chore that just needs to be done for you to truly relax.”

She admits, however, to a belief that: “Some advocates do, if they have a superficial understanding of what self-care is. Some people misinterpret advice because they are desperately looking for an excuse to numb out and call it self-care because they’re overwhelmed.  Over-eating and over-spending are never acts of self-care and instinctively people know when they’ve tipped over into self-destructive behaviours. But hey, we’re all human.  We mess up. Most people are doing their best under really challenging circumstances and sometimes numbing out behaviours is the best we can do for a bit.  That’s when we need support with the overwhelming feelings first, then we can turn our attention to a bit of self-care.  That’s my job – supporting parents to do their best parenting in times of difficulty!”

As I approach the end of this article, McCabe’s words in particular ring true in my ears. Self-care isn’t necessarily about staying in the bath all day, sitting in bed with an adult colouring book or eating all the pie. It’s actually nice to get tasks out of the way instead of fretting about them under the often gimmicky guise of “self-care”. And given the stomach ache I’ve got from all the fretting, I definitely don’t want any pie. 

Kendall Platt: www.adventureswithflowers.com

Lisa Phillips: www.amazingcoaching.co.uk

Kim McCabe: https://www.ritesforgirls.com/

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