However, if you ask University of Technology Sydney lecturer and resilience expert at The School of Life Sophi Bruce, self-care should be part of everyone’s normal day-to-day.
“We often see self-care as a bit of a luxury ... a treat ... but actually, it’s not about ‘treating’ yourself. It’s about building [it] into your existence, as you would sleeping or eating,” she explains.
Sophi believes that looking after oneself is a vital life skill we all need in order to navigate the 24/7 connectivity of the modern world. It’s the ability to show up and tune out external noise – the pinging of messages, emails and missed phone calls; the demands of our work, families and friends. She says that once you set those distractions aside, you give your mind not only the permission but the ability to better connect to your own internal life and sort through it.
“One of the things we’re becoming increasingly bad at is tuning into ourselves. We’re being constantly distracted by the never-ending barrage of information and interruptions that come our way via our technologically dependent environment,” she says. “And we forget to spend time doing things that make us feel better about being in the world and things that help us deal with the ‘noise’.”
Self-care can come in various forms, whether it’s a yoga class, coastal walk, a facial or just a moment of stillness with a cup of tea; the key to its benefits is consistency. “It’s all about making it a priority in your schedule,” says Sophi. “We prioritise meetings or taking the kids to the soccer match every week, so we should be able to prioritise doing things [for ourselves], especially when we are busy.”
THE “I’M BUSY” FACTOR
However, the irony of self-care, according to Sophi, is that we’re all pretty good at it when we’re in a positive space – on holidays or when we feel there’s an adequate balance between work and life. We’ll book into a yoga class, schedule a massage or read. But it’s when our lives get busy and stressful that self-care has the biggest effect.
“When we are stressed we put all of those rituals at the bottom of the list. Instead, we sit on the couch, have half a bottle of wine, then binge on some really terrible TV,” she says. “But what your mind and body actually need is to sleep, meditate, take a bath or go to a yoga class.”
The real question is how do we change our mindset when we’re too busy to stop and think “self-care”, not “self-medicate”? Sophi believes the best way is to “get outside of the four walls”, both physically and mentally.
“We can get very fixated in the routine habits we think are necessary, when actually what we need to do is break those habits. Have a meeting outside, get up 10 minutes earlier to enjoy silence, listen to a podcast and say ‘no’ when people expect you to say ‘yes’. Don’t get caught up in the mindset of, ‘I haven’t got time.’”
To understand what all this means for you, spend some time considering what (or who) nurtures and nourishes you. Then draw on those activities or people in your self-care practice. “Also, don’t assume that self-care has to be a solitary act,” Sophi adds. “One of the most important things about being resilient is knowing that there are people out there that make up your support network.”
And so as the end of the year approaches, with one of the most stressful seasons around the corner, national Self Care Week reminds us to take a few moments each day to put ourselves and our mental health first.
IF YOU HAVE 15 MINUTES...
DO A BODY SCAN
Short on time? Harvard Medical School recommends doing a 10 to 15–minute mindful body scan. Sitting or lying down, close your eyes and breathe slowly. Focus on your feet and be aware of any tension, pain or stress. Gently move your attention slowly upwards and note how each section of your body feels, while taking slow, deliberate breaths.
IF YOU HAVE 30 MINUTES...
SYNC THE BEATS
Studies show music can reduce depression, anxiety and chronic pain, so why not choose a calming playlist and sync your breath to the beats? For an energy hit, get your heart rate rising by choosing an upbeat track so you can match your footsteps to the music. Keeping your attention on your breath (or feet) will give your mind a single focus and calm you.
IF YOU HAVE AN HOUR...
While it might not seem like self-care, getting creative is a great way of using different skills and multiple ways of thinking. Take some time to relax and draw, write or knit. Or learn a new skill in a class or via YouTube, such as working with polymer clay or cheesemaking! These activities will help you focus on the “here and now”, encouraging stress release.
IF YOU HAVE TWO HOURS...
PLAY IN NATURE
Research shows spending time outdoors can reduce depression, fatigue, anxiety and confusion, so find a patch of greenery to hang out in. This could be your own backyard or your local national park. To get the full benefits, fill your time with yoga, tai chi, meditation or breathing exercises.
IF YOU HAVE AN EVENING...
For socialites, choose some friends and start an ideas club. Each month everyone submits a subject to talk about over wine. Making these topics complex will encourage the most engaging discussion, such as “What is happiness?”; “What do you think deja vu is?”; “What would you spend your last $100 on?”
SELF CARE WEEK (November 12–18) helps shine a light on the importance of regular self-love, and this year it is celebrating with self-care specialist endota. It’s the perfect time to schedule some pampering into your busy life.