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Can ‘self-care’ ever become ‘self-ish’?

Self-care has become part of our everyday lingo in recent years. And it’s no bad thing that we’ve all become more au fait with the need to look after ourselves mentally.

But what do you do when your need to look after yourself comes into conflict with the needs and desires of the people in your life?

This happens more than we might care to admit.

I remember a few years ago a friend deciding not to come along to my birthday party at the last minute. The reason? That they were feeling a bit out of sorts and needed some time at home. That’s understandable of course. But it didn’t mean I wasn’t hurt.

And it highlights the uncomfortable reality – that looking after one’s own mental health can involve doing something (or not doing something) that affects someone else’s mental health.

Consider also the increasing value placed on ‘speaking your truth’. We’re more open and comfortable with sharing vulnerabilities than ever before.

This is a good thing, particularly for a society where the ‘stiff upper lip’ and tendency to stay tight-lipped about issues of yesteryear has caused so many psychological problems.

But ‘speaking your truth’ can cause pain to others, inadvertently or not. Sometimes there’s a need to hold something back or to modify what we say rather than blurt it out. Because preserving someone else’s feelings may sometimes need to take precedence.

These issues around self-care have really come to the fore as we emerge from lockdown. We’ve all become a little rusty in face-to-face social interactions after so long without them. And anxiety has become so rife that many of us are reluctant to engage socially.

If you’ve been through anxiety, you’ll know that it often tells you that it’s better to take care of yourself by staying away from others.

Sometimes that’s the right thing to do. But at other times, listening to the doom-laden anxiety and staying away may only perpetuate the fear.
Sometimes we need that nudge from someone else, to do something we don’t want to do in the moment, to burst the bubble of fear. Because often, when we go through the thing, it isn’t as scary as we thought it would be. And that experience helps us to start chipping away at the anxiety.

It’s no mistake that mindfulness is the most commonly used tool for anxiety these days. Because it brings you into the present moment and out of your own head (often the scariest place to be).

That’s what cultivating and building our connections with others does. It brings us into the world and out from behind the glass wall of fear.

Putting your immediate needs to one side on occasion is a part of life. Don’t we all need to practice a bit of self-sacrifice at times in service of a bigger cause? Whether that ‘cause’ is friendships, family, work or a wider world issue. That’s the stuff that keeps us connected to others.

And, at a time when many of us have felt more disconnected than ever, that can only be a good thing.