Self-care has become kind of an annoying word, right? It invokes imagery of thin blonde ladies doing yoga on a beach, sipping expensive single-origin coffees, and writing about gratitude in their journals while the sun shines onto their Peloton bikes in their penthouse apartments.
If that’s you, I am SO happy for you because that sounds amazing. But the wellness world likes to make this seem like the only way to perform self-care. The “right” way to do it.
Let’s throw that idea right out the window of our small city apartments where the no-name exercise equipment now serves as a clothes hanger and the coffee is from Dunkin’. Self-care looks different for everyone. And there are so many contributing factors to how it will look for you, and whether you even have the time for it — socioeconomic status, access to safe spaces, food security, etc.
I’ve created a list of 20 free and low-cost self-care ideas to help you start making time for yourself, but I want to share a couple things that may take some of the pressure you may be feeling about doing it all the “right” way.
The influencer paradigm
Sometimes you just don’t have the time to take a flower petal bubble bath or the funds to get a 90-minute deep tissue massage. Maybe you hate how slimy sheet masks feel on your skin or the idea of drinking juice made from kale makes you want to barf.
Or maybe you do want to do all these things, but your bath looks more like someone spilled potpourri into a toilet or your sheet mask makes you look like a serial killer instead of a skincare model.
Instagram can be super fun but it can also warp our perceptions of what self-care looks like. It’s really important to keep in mind that influencers are literally paid to make things look nice and effortless.
As someone who has done food photography in the past and has fallen down the rabbit hole of food styling videos on YouTube many times, I can tell you it takes a long time to get things looking perfectly and to get the right shot (cue to me trying to pour a smoothie for an Instagram video and completely missing the glass LOL). I know some people who don’t even do their own photography or photograph in their own homes.
Not to mention there are expensive cameras involved, photoshop, props you would never have or need, etc. And do you have any idea what a pain in the ass it is to clean a juicer?!? There is so much going on behind the scenes, but that’s their job. No shame in the game, but it’s good to keep this stuff in mind as someone on the outside looking in.
If you’re not an influencer, you have other priorities, and that is 100% okay—it’s just going to look a bit different and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Doing self-care the ‘right’ way
So, if it ain’t Instagram-worthy, is it worthy at all?
The only RIGHT way to practice self-care is to do what makes you feel good and emotionally stable. That’s it, that’s the only requirement. Everyone’s version is unique.
And anything that contributes to your wellbeing is 100% worth it! We need to rest our nervous systems. We need to find relaxation even if all we have are short moments to do so. Most of the time it does not look pretty. Sometimes it’s finding the strength to bathe yourself if you’re depressed, or changing out of your bra crusted in baby spit-up if you’re a new mom. It’s the things we do that feel like an accomplishment, no matter how big or small.
Make a list. What are things you like to do that feel good to YOU? Keep this handy so when you’re ready to give yourself some time and space, you have a few ideas of how to treat yourself that came from your own brain (or from people who inspire you, not trigger you) rather than others’ ideas of what your self-care should look like.
Also feel free to unfollow or mute any account that makes you feel like you’re not doing enough or caring for yourself in the right way. Only YOU know what’s right and what feels good.
Not everything needs to be shared with the world. Privacy can be the ultimate form of self-care these days. If you do find yourself wanting to share, which is perfectly fine, take note if you’re starting to feel pressure about making it look “just right.”