Something Worth Reading

True Self-Care Is More Difficult Than We Make it Out to Be

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The recent issue of Anne Helen Petersen’s Culture Study is an interview with the author of Real Self Care (Affiliate Link), Dr. Pooja Lakshmin.

The topic, if I may be so bold as to try and describe it in a short sentence or two, is how there is an entire self-care industry that sells us more “things,” bath bombs, massage, wellness apps and retreats, designed to tick off the “self-care” box on our to-do list that never get to the root of the problem because the probles is systemic.

To quote Dr. Lakshmin from the interview:

And, going further, real self-care is an internal decision making process that can be layered into everything you do. As opposed to thinking of it as carving out self-care for a 15 minute pocket of the day, self-care needs to be threaded through the way we make decisions and design our lives.

There are several important reminders in the article about how a good walk in nature won’t solve for the 30 million Americans who don’t have health insurance or that 25% of Americans can’t take a day off with pay. That option isn’t available to them. Let alone the millions of people who can’t afford a massage, or who must work multiple jobs to afford housing where they live or single parents who struggle with having available childcare to work in the first place. Telling these people to take a relaxing bath isn’t solving anything.

I talk about this in the context of work often. A company culture that demans 60 hours of work per week but also says they encourage employee work-life balance doesn’t value work-life balance. They’ve made it another thing for the employee to be responsible for. Employers who offer PTO but see no problems with calling people on PTO or simply piling up work until they return are punishing people who take time off. This week, for example, Monday, was a company holiday. Tuesday was a day I chose to take off because it’s a state holiday where I live, MArdi Gras, even though I work remotely for a company that does not close for the day. That leaves me with a three day week. In many organizations, I would be expected to fit five days of productivity into those three days. For example, law firms often have a billable hour requirement per month. (Lawyers, and some staff members should be billing “x” number of hours per week/month/year.) Taking a day off means having to make up those hours somewhere. It’s a disincentive to self-care, even as those same firms will encourage people to use their PTO.

But, even in those situations, I have to acknowledge how privileged they are because many jobs in the US don’t have any of that, and many people wind up using their PTO not on self-care but child and elder care.

As much as I can talk about the benefits of taking a break, doing something nice for yourself, or having a hobby, we all need to acknowledge where self-care involves much harder life decisions. Yes, I do have a massage therapist that I see regularly and she is excellent at helping treat symptoms of my stress and anxiety. I can talk about that. I also need to talk more about the times I’ve made significant life changes as a form of self-help. Changes like leaving a job that was bad for my mental health, moving across the country, disconnecting myself from certain relationships, and having difficult conversations with people.

We also need to talk about how to change the systems that make it impossbile for other people to make those same kinds of decisions. We need to talk about the fact that no amount of self-care will make the world non-racist. There’s no self-care that women can do that will make the world safer for them, and no time spent relaxing will eliminate hatred towards LGBTQ people. Neuro-divergent people, those with disabilities, and countless other groups don’t have fair access to make an income. An extra hour of sleep isn’t going to fix that.

Yes, I believe in the importance of self-care. I will encourage it for everyone. It helps. But it can only help so much. Until this becomes a society that equally cares about everyone and actively seeks to offer care for everyone, self-care can only go so far. We need to recognize that and spend as much time promoting that as we do self-care.

Go back and read the entire interview.

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