Self-care is not self-indulgence

I spent the better part of last week getting over a nasty cold.

(This might have had something to do with too much adventure and not enough sleep. Basically, I regret nothing.)

When it comes to illness or stress, I tend to notice a significant lack of self-care in my friends, family, and coworkers. So often you hear “It’s just a cold” or “I can’t afford to lose a day” or “I don’t have time to be sick.” So even though labor laws require mandatory sick and vacation days for salaried positions*, Americans don’t use them.

It goes without saying that the above mentality and culture is the cause behind a whole host of problems. When sick people come to work, other people get sick–not just coworkers but also clients and customers. When you don’t stay home and take care of yourself, it’s significantly more likely that a minor illness like the common cold could become something more severe like an infection. And on top of that, your productivity and quality of output suffer anyway.

The body needs time and rest to overcome illness. Which means sleeping more, getting enough fluids, eating right, and generally taking it easy–which are all principles of self-care. Of course, we can avoid taking a lot of sick days by performing self-care in advance of illness. It is, essentially, something we should all be doing on a weekly basis.

So, why don’t we? I think a lot of it plays into our workaholic culture (blame capitalism!). Very plainly, it feels selfish and wrong to us to take time for ourselves. But it’s not that. It’s actually essential to our wellbeing.

Junior year of college, when I got back from studying abroad, I was overwhelmed. I was taking 18 credits worth of classes, most of them advanced level. I had a host of extracurricular activities on my plate, including stage managing a play. And I was still coping with reverse culture shock after my time away. I didn’t have a lot of opportunities for self-care, but I made myself take 10 minutes every day to sit quietly and not think about anything I had to do.

I’m pretty sure those brief periods saved me from having a daily anxiety attack instead. They were the minimum amount of self-care I could manage and they did a world of good. It’s a practice I continued in graduate school, too.

And many of us feel overwhelmed, not just in college or grad school, but in our daily adult lives. There’s a lot going on. And everyone deserves the opportunity to take care of themselves. To get 7-8 hrs of sleep every night. To eat three balanced meals a day. To engage in positive interpersonal relationships. To meditate or practice yoga–or use whatever other tools to relax. To, if need be, engage the services of mental health professionals. To exercise your body and mind (to healthy degrees–I’ve seen this one backfire). To self-express. Creativity is one of the great tools for self-care. Next time you feel stressed, consider making something.

It’s not weak or self-indulgent to do so. It’s necessary. If you need permission, I’m giving you permission.

How do you engage in self-care? 

*Most hourly employees still don’t have these benefits. Which is a huge problem and exacerbates all of the above. And obviously this doesn’t begin to touch the issue in countries without fair labor practices.

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2 thoughts on “Self-care is not self-indulgence

  1. Yeeeees! After living in Dublin last year and being surrounded by friends from all over Europe, I really *got* this idea of self care and well being. I’ve always moved and lived at a slower pace than most people here at home, but I was still seen as going faster and harder than necessary (especially by the Mediterranians—my life-pace people!). The thing I miss most about being back is the acknowledgement that you work to live, not the other way around. Life is celebrated so much more, and if you’re not feeling well? For god’s sake GO HOME! Nobody was putting up with that American “but I need to work” excuse. If we took better care of ourselves and had a little more balance, we’d all be doing better ❤

    • Completely agree! I learned so much about self-care in Italy. The “work to live not live to work” mantra is incredibly important. It’s not something I ever saw addressed in school until I was in college and even then, it only popped up around finals. But if it’s a daily practice, it’s so much more successful!

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