The other day I opened Instagram on my phone and on a whim searched “selfcare.” I was surprised to see that 44.1 million posts had tagged #selfcare, and 1.4 million posts tagged #selfcaresunday. While scrolling through the vast array of photography associated with these hashtags, I found a post offering virtual healing (20 minutes for $20), one woman boasting about her new Manolo heels and another about her new hairstyle, empowering quotes, depressing quotes, and an aesthetic assortment of beauty products such as body scrub, body oil, lip gloss, and lotion. This made me wonder—have we all been duped? Has self-care become an industry that solves our problems with products?
Self-care means something unique and personal to everyone who practices it. For some, it can mean reading a book with a favourite snack, planning a spa day with a friend, booking a holiday to a sunny destination, or buying that face mask they wouldn’t normally splurge on. The conceptualization of self-care has become commodified in our culture today. In an article for The Mary Sue, feminist and journalist Kate Gardner said that what was once a personal action of self-love has become a capitalist scheme to get people, namely women, to spend more money on their outer beauty.
“Much like how parts of feminism have been co-opted by makeup and beauty companies to sell products, the same goes for self-care. And, people at large buy into this without a thought,” she said.
I’ll admit that I too buy into the culture, regularly. If I feel sad or stressed, I head to Lush for a bath bomb to melt my problems away. I know it won’t solve everything, but to be honest, it’s easy and it feels good. It might be more accurate to call this a self-soothing activity, or a temporary fix. As soon as I purchase something for myself, that little rush of dopamine floods in. I love it. Real self-care practices, like therapy, are difficult; I need to be mentally prepared to work towards personal growth. That said, proper self-care practices are some of the most important things we can do for ourselves while living through the pande(mic)monium of today—especially as busy students—and there are more constructive ways to feel better than binge shopping online.
In our culture today, many people struggle with setting healthy boundaries, and become worn down as a result. Whether it be in personal relationships or work settings, I have found that when I don’t properly set those boundaries and listen to what my body needs, I head towards burnout fast. Over the past year, in my personal life as well as in academics, I would overcommit to make other people happy. I found it difficult to communicate honestly; I didn’t want to seem weak. I would feel the anxiety and sadness flooding in and become overwhelmed with all the tasks I had to complete. I felt like I was letting everyone down. To my surprise, when I started to be honest about my mental health, everyone understood and there was no judgment. I realized that I’m my own worst critic. Learning to be self-aware and connected to my mind and body hasn’t been easy, but it’s necessary in order to practice proper self-care.
My self-care practices are always changing. Some months I do better than others, and that’s okay. Lately, I’ve been trying to celebrate my achievements—no matter how small—get proper sleep each night, reach out to a friend when I feel stuck, stay hydrated, and nourish my body with good food and regular exercise. In preparation for exams, I asked VIU students for their input about self-care. I’m thoroughly impressed with the bountiful ideas they were willing to share.
Lee Orpen, Masters in Community Planning: “To look after my mental health during the pandemic, I am ensuring that I stay active and spend time outdoors. Making sure that I am maintaining my social relationships has been the cornerstone item for me. Prior to the pandemic, going to the gym or other forms of exercise had generally been more about my physical health—as the pandemic has gone on, exercise has become more about what it does for my mental health. Getting outdoors and utilizing the limited daylight/sunlight we have here during the winter and fall has also been crucial. I have been lucky enough to be a part of the VIU golf team, which has allowed me to see my teammates outdoors, and I try to get out on my kayak off the shores of Lantzville as much as I can. Being able to golf—and [use] my kayak—has been a savior.”
Mallory Lowes, Masters in Community Planning: “My self-care practices are ever-evolving with the changing restrictions. While I used to rely on friends and family to find solace during difficult times, it’s been a challenge [to find] that sense of care from people I used to interact with daily outside of my household. I’m finding that FaceTime and social media have become such crucial factors in my life now, which ends up being more of a double-edged sword … maintaining my relationships, yet spending way too much time behind a screen. However, I would consider that screen connection with my out-of-province family members one of my most beloved forms of self-care.
I’ve also come to value the outdoors as a main form of self-care. Rain or shine, the fresh air, connection to nature, and the land [are] the most refreshing and energizing for my soul. I try to spend at least 30 minutes outside every day to help keep some form of sanity during school, work, and a pandemic. Other daily activities I partake in, [in] terms of self-care and self-soothing, usually involve sensory activities like lighting candles, or using an essential oil diffuser, or listening to a wide variety of music to get the emotions going.”
Morgan Johnston, geography major: “What I do for daily self-care is eat healthy foods (fruit and veggie smoothies), go for a walk at least once, get up early and read before going to bed, spend some time doing a hobby, like playing guitar … If I’m feeling super stressed I’ll meditate.”
Coel Poesiat, explorative studies: “During exams or stressful sections of the school year, I try to implement a routine in the morning which usually involves some sort of movement before I start doing homework. I’ll take my dog out for a walk in the forest, and it helps me get into the right headspace for school. Also, green smoothies are a lifesaver for me—if I don’t have time to make a big meal, I can just blend and drink.”
Vlad Vasilevich, geography major: “I stretch, take a hot shower, and watch a comedy.”
Rachel Vanstone, highschool educator: “I make time for cognitive decisions for personal reflection: ‘How was I feeling today?’ and ‘Why?’ I try to meditate for five minutes and identify an intention for that meditation and manifestation. I ask myself, ‘What are you wanting to work through? Why? Is it fulfilling?’ I also identify small things that bring me rest and joy, and try to do that daily. I also do box breathing techniques.”
Joe Enns, creative writing and journalism: “Anxiety starts in the stomach. If your stomach is inflamed from eating carbohydrates and unhealthy cooking oils (vegetable and canola oils), your brain will also be agitated. Three years ago, I switched to the ketogenic diet and it totally changed my lifestyle. I lost 80 pounds, [I] sleep one hundred times better, and my anxiety levels dropped incredibly. I also fast often, and sometimes I do a full carnivore diet (only animal products). It seems like a backwards diet, but I can’t deny the extreme health benefits. I avoid carbs and sugar at all costs.
I am a big believer in siestas. Many regions around the world do this, I don’t know why North America is so resistant. Most days, I take the afternoon off and do things I want to do instead of things I have to do. I’ll make a coffee and oil paint, or I’ll play video games, or I’ll even just take a nap. When I get back to work later, everything seems easier.
Most of the day, my phone is set on airplane mode. I love airplane mode. I only look at my phone at certain times of the day, at my convenience (not other people’s). Sometimes I forget that I have a cell phone.
I try to hike outdoors every day, especially after dinner, and often a longer hike on the weekends.”
Self-care doesn’t have to include expensive indulgences, as is evident in these students’ experiences. Ultimately, your self-care routine should be whatever makes you happy. One last piece of advice—that I continually have to remind myself about—is to try cap the amount of time you spend scrolling through social media apps on a daily basis. Getting sucked into the vortex of Instagram, TikTok, or Facebook usually leaves me feeling disconnected from my own life. Remember, it’s not selfish to take care of yourself; You are your first priority.