Self-care is a concept that has often been romanticized and unrealistically portrayed on social media posts and quotes, but what does self-care really mean and is it as simple as taking luxurious bubble baths, listening to your favorite playlist on repeat, indulging in ice cream and Netflix? While these can be helpful and uplifting, in the process of trying to ‘feel better’ we sometimes entirely disregard the issues that brought us to feeling upset, anxious, irritated, exhausted, empty; the list goes on. When we have physical wounds, we do not simply put on a plaster or bandage without first treating the wound – but this is what many of us do with our emotional wounds.
If we were to do that in a real-life situation, it may cause infections and further pain that could have been minimized by treating the damage when it initially arose. Unfortunately, this is exactly what some of us do, until we eventually realize that no amount of bubble baths can wash away what we’re feeling. While these activities for self-care are proven to benefit our mental wellbeing, it is important to address the issues we face that eventually leads to the overwhelming feelings rather than trying to numb or push them away.
However, it may be difficult to do so; this reason can cause us to steer in the opposite direction and retreat, to avoid facing uncomfortable feelings; without realizing the molehill will soon become a mountain that seems too great for us to even look at let alone climb. A saying by Dalai Lama fits perfectly here: ‘if you feel ‘burnout’ setting in, if you feel demoralized and exhausted, it is best, for the sake of everyone, to withdraw and restore yourself’. Restore yourself, by taking time to ask, ‘what do I need right now?’ and ‘how can make sense of what’s going on within me?’ ‘what is causing me to feel ______?’. We live in a time where the art of looking within isn’t so commonly practiced; something that requires immense courage, patience, and bravery. Walking into unknown territory causes discomfort through the uncertainty; perhaps we won’t like what we find. Perhaps by sitting with ourselves, we will unknowingly uncover some ‘ugly truths’ then realize we can’t bury them back into the inner ‘soil’. However, to protect our energy we first need to seek the root of what is draining it, then pursue ways to re harness it. It won’t be easy, meeting obstacles in the process is inevitable; but with grace, openness, and curiosity they can gradually be approached and overcome.
Coming back to the question, what does self-care truly entail and how do I balance addressing my thoughts and feelings while taking time for relaxation and doing activities to restore my energy? Perchance a clue lies in teachings of the great Persian poet, Rumi – who, using the example of a bird’s wings tells us that everything is in duality which is necessary for our functioning. We will experience both difficulty and ease, happiness, and sadness; but they are equally important, and we need both to fly. In the light of self-care – delving too deep within without working to maintain our energy through rest, will not allow us to fly. Similarly, doing many activities but not making efforts to turn within will not allow us to fly. By maintaining a balance between the two, we can truly soar and develop a steady momentum. To ensure we can do this effectively, it’s helpful to have someone who can hold us accountable and assist us in our journey, to ensure we are doing our work and in that, improving our quality of life so we can fulfill our greater purpose by living in fulfillment.
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About The Author
Noreen Iqbal, LCSW is the owner and director of the Olive Branch Therapy Group. Noreen works with adolescents, young adults, adults, families and couples. If you are interested in working with Noreen, contact us via email, phone or chat on our website.