Life&Style writer Emma Curzon discusses the concept of self-care within an age of consumerism
Self-care. It’s one of those phrases that we hear so often, it can be hard to remember what it was originally supposed to mean. It isn’t just the latest cool fad or trend. It’s also not about chasing a pleasure high, like eating your bodyweight in chocolate or having so many shots that you lose count (sorry). And it’s not something that you need lots of money to be able to do.
Simply put, self-care means understanding what’s actually, properly, seriously good for your mental health, and trying to make it a regular part of your life. That way, you won’t end up stressed and exhausted all the time, your immune system won’t be shot so you’re less likely to get sick, and having a regular pattern of doing things that are good for mental health will help to manage conditions like depression and anxiety. It can be setting time aside for yoga or meditation or going for a run; it can be curling up with a book or making a playlist of your favourite music and just listening for half an hour. It can be tidying up your room (for the record, I suck at this), or cooking something yummy but healthy for yourself. And it can be as simple and as mundane as brushing your teeth or going to the doctors. It’s not something you can get just by buying stuff.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of companies and so-called ‘influencers’ who’d prefer you not to remember that. Case in point: while I was researching for this article, a website popped up for a business that’s literally called Self Care Company. How can you practise self-care with them? By buying their scented candles, plant-based reed diffusers and t-shirts, of course. Then there are the cheery lists on every website from Bustle to Buzzfeed, listing off at least ten products per sitting that’s an ‘essential self-care buy’, from cuddly toys and stress balls to yoga mats and yet more bloody scented candles. And that’s not to say that we should just all stop buying nice things for ourselves, or that such products can’t be useful tools to incorporate into our self-care routines. But as a rule, if people are trying to get you to buy something, they want you to want more and more and more, to feel like your life would be loads better, and therefore currently isn’t as good as it could be, if you bought that eye mask, that bath bomb, that adult colouring book. And for someone who’s in the depths of a bout of anxiety or depression, that could be dangerous – when it feels like there’s no way out of the fear and/or sadness, the idea that we can make it go away just by clicking ‘Buy now’ is brutally appealing. Like, for example, buying some of those ‘appetite suppressant lollipops‘ that Kim Kardashian West was so happy to push at her young, impressionable and no doubt insecure followers last year.
Luckily, not everyone’s jumping on that bandwagon. There are influencers like Mathew Lewis-Carter, who uses his platform and experiences with eating disorders to spread the mental health benefits of exercise and loving your body over muscle-shattering regimes and excessive dieting, for example. Personally, I go for accounts like Journey to Wellness (@journey_to_wellness_), The Blurt Foundation (@theblurtfoundation) and The Happy Sloth Club (@thehappyslothclub), which are a goldmine of genuine self-care tips, inspirational quotes and reassurances that ‘the bad times aren’t permanent’ and ‘You are enough, and you always will be.’ They often come, too, with illustrations that are, dare I say, even cuter than your average cat video- those produced by @chibirdart are particularly adorable.
With everything that students have going on, proper self-care can sometimes feel impossible. But it doesn’t have to be. It’s just a case of remembering that yes, you do deserve to be kind to yourself, and of finding out what works for you. Just be careful who you get your advice from- there’s a chance they’re only trying to sell you something.