No, Self-care is not about bath bombs

Foreword by Nick Morgan, Director / Blog by EYMH Young Expert By Experience, Emmy, 22

This blog was written by one of our EYMH Activists in 2020. However, it has provoked a lot of action, including Instagram posts and a successful bid for a Study Week on Refugees & Mental health in collaboration with Voices of Young Refugees Europe for young people, in Strasbourg November 21st – 25th. If interested, please sign up to our ‘Raise Up’ network and you will receive notice when applications go live, for now enjoy the article and watch this space for more on this work. #raiseuprefugees

Emmy is 22, a French citizen, who has lived in Italy and other places and writes this from the point of view of a non-refugee, with a desire to create positive change, looking in and observing the difficulties young refugees and migrants face around mental health and the conversation about ‘self-care’ amongst other things.

Even though this piece is about self-care, it was written as a reminder of what real ‘self-care’ can be and that there is a dangerous line between useful and beneficial self-care and fake self-care. When thinking about mental health of refugees and/or migrants they may not have all the resources some others may have and thus it is important to ensure mental health self-care is kept at a basic level. Enjoy the writing and get involved if interested.

For long, I only perceived self-care as something futile and maybe even egoistic, probably because self care was first promoted to me as a keyword for brands to sell me “ girly things ” like sparkly bath bombs or expensive masks. Because as a young woman it is expected from me to believe that the only way for me to show kindness towards myself is to buy and consume, as if fancy beauty products in themselves were enough to prevent the risks of burn out, anxiety or depression that I might face. As if we could potentially believe that a 15 minute beauty ritual could fix the long lasting impacts of a lifestyle that naturally generate stress and tiredness. 

So, yes, you obviously won’t create a good self-care routine only by doing an overly expensive hair mask in a lavender scented bubble bath while still anxiously checking your emails on your phone. But if we collectively decide to tear down this capitalistic orientated definition of self-care how can we redefine this word into something that really face the need that we all feel to keep ourselves healthy? According to “Self-care is any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health.” I personally think that this definition of self-care should even be expended as I strongly believe that the notion of self-care needs to be perceived from an even bigger angle and that we should think about taking good care of ourselves as a long term process and not only as an occasional treat that we grant ourselves. So here is a non exhaustive list of all the things that, according to me, should be included in self-care: 

  • First of all, if I haven’t made it clear enough by now self-care shouldn’t be about buying something. Sure, if you have the means to do so gifting yourself something is always a kind thing to do to yourself but it’s absolutely not mandatory and isn’t nearly enough to build a solide self-care routine. To me, self-care sounds more like including a time of the day, or even an entire day off dedicated to relaxation as a mandatory part of your weekly schedule. It can include praying ( if you are religious ), doing yoga, stretching, listening to relaxing music while laying down for a bit… 
  • Ensuring that you eat well and sleep well: making sure you find time to sleep as much as you need and eat well. I love to cook so I like to count it as a relaxing activity but if you see it as an obligation it can also be about making sure that you are drinking enough water and incorporating enough vegetables into your diet. But as someone who’ve ( briefly ) lived into a place that’s considered a “ food desert” ( as in a place that doesn’t have an access to a balanced diet because of a lack of grocery stores ) I’m very conscious that it’s not something that’s even accessible to everyone which leads me to my second point: 
  • Your self-care should be rooted in community care. I believe that with everything that’s going on right now, doing our best to ensure that our communities are as safe as possible is a way to reduce our anxiety as it’s making us focus on what we can change instead of what we can’t. But obviously, taking care of others requires a lot of energy so this only applies to people who are doing well enough to take care of others. 
  • Self care is about finding a balance between saving time for friends and family and ensuring that we’re all okay AND being able to establish boundaries and recognising that sometimes you’re not doing well enough to help others and that ensuring that your loved ones are OK starts with making sure that you are strong enough to welcome their pain into your space. 
  • It might sound obvious to you but living in Ireland and having a lot of trails and woods available at a walking distance from my home made by realise how much connecting with nature and it’s healing virtues was important to cope with a stress we are all experiencing, especially during a global pandemic. Once again, being able to enjoy the outdoors is not accessible to everyone and acceding natural sites might be very challenging for people who don’t have a car or disabled folks for exemple. If that’s your case you can try to create a zen environment around you for exemple by surrounding yourself with plants ( not everyone is good at keeping plants alive but with a bit of experience everyone can learn how to take care of a couple of cactus! ). If you are privileged enough to enjoy these activities going for a walk in the forest, hiking, biking or running in a rural environment are all great ideas to create a healthy environnement for yourself. If the situation allows you to do, going for a 10/15 minute walk everyday and a 30 minute walk on your days off might have a noticeable impact on your mental health. 
  • My next recommendation would be to take regular breaks from social medias ( or even better a phone break in general). Being far away from my family and friends most of the time this is something that I, as many people, struggle a lot with right now, especially since we are also experiencing a pandemic, but remember that even if you don’t feel it, regularly checking on social media can consume a lot of your energy and greatly increase your anxiety. Something that I am trying to put in place is to take the habit to stay away from socials and emails on Sunday but this is definitely something I’m still working on. Some people also recommend to take a 30 day break from social medias once in a year but for now it looks like something that I wouldn’t be able to do. Even though this might sound like something nearly impossible to some of us, there are many ways to make social media breaks easier: taking away facebook, twitter, instagram ect from your phone, taking it as a challenge and welcoming other people to join you in this effort, starting with very short breaks ( two hours for exemple) and rewarding yourself with something relaxing during those breaks. Once it becomes a habit to prioritise yourself and your surroundings once in a while, it will become more natural for you and you will be able to enjoy the full benefits of those regular breaks. 
  • Eventually, my last suggestion is something very personal to my own experience but that still helps me from times to times when I start feeling anxious. If this happens to me when I’m trying to relax I usually just stop whatever I’m trying to do, gather some of the favorite objects that I can find around me ( for me it’s usually my collection of handmade earrings because 1) I’m crazy about earrings and 2) I move a lot and I can take them with me wherever I want ) and I just take 5 minutes to admire them and to thank them for their beauty and the joy that they bring me ( yes this part was Marie Kondo inspired haha ). 

Finally, as this blog is coming to an end, I would like to conclude by saying that self care is about finding balance in your life and this includes acknowledging that your notion of productivity is probably not reflecting the reality of the efforts that you are making daily to stay healthy and balanced. In fact productivity is a biased notion that can’t be measured. Sure it’s always frustrating and stressful when you’re not able to meet your deadlines, but there is no way to tell with certainty if the consequence of your actions will be more positive or negative so don’t be too hard with yourself if your capacities don’t match your expectations.

Remember that even if you feel like relaxing will make you loose your precious time, how do you know that this relaxation won’t have a positive impact on your future, by example by making your mind clear enough to have some very fertile ideas. I will finish by using a famous example. You might have heard of the famous french author Marcel Proust for his work on memory explained in his monumental novel In search of Lost Time. But what you might not know is that before he started this tremendous work, because of his medical condition and his wealth, he spent most of his life going to worldly parties and lying in bed which enabled him to observe the people around him and analyse their behaviour which later led him to write one of the most important novels of the 20th century, a piece of work that didn’t only impact French literature but also the art word and psychologists. So don’t be too hard with yourself and allow yourself to have a break, your future self will thank you for your kindness. 

If you are a young person, or work with young people and would like to get more involved in our work, travelling and connecting with people across Europe, then please sign up to our Raise Up network.

Below you can also see an Instagram post we did earlier in 2022.

Published by Euro Youth Mental Health

I'm a champion for youth mental health - Co-Director of Euro Youth Mental Health - Youth Mental Health First Aid Instructor - Mental Health Participation Expert - Facilitator & Podcaster - Youth Wellbeing giver.

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