When I first looked into the phenomena known as “self-care”, I was pumped. Who doesn’t want a reasoning behind more bubble baths, a glass of wine after work, or a $60 candle? I quickly got carried away in the practice. Paying $150 for a Hydrafacial? SELF-CARE! Taking a yoga class where a sweaty man literally sat on my back and told me to breathe through my chakra? SELF-CARE (also kind of gross)! Brunch at 3pm on a Sunday and binging “The Office” for the rest of the day? SELF-CARE!
I found myself doing more things that I enjoyed, and I liked putting an emphasis on “me time”. But I was perplexed when I didn’t find myself feeling more valued, or more at peace with myself. I felt pretty much the same, but with better skin and more flexible limbs.
I was making a homemade clay-drink creation (if you value your insides, don’t do this) when I started thinking: maybe my self-care isn’t just outward action, but internal practices I had long left behind. I decided to carefully study myself over the next few days and observe my own internal thoughts and how they materialized in my life.
I was about four hours into this exercise when I couldn’t ignore what was happening. My negative self-talk was through the roof. Just about everything I did, I attached a personal, negative emotion to it. When I tried to get up from the couch and felt a little gimpy, I scolded myself for not working out more. When I checked Twitter for the 6th time that day, I mentally noted how lazy and unmotivated I was. When I got dressed, I frowned in the mirror, knowing I wouldn’t ever look like the long-legged girl I saw on Instagram that morning. Even when I was eating lunch, I thought “take smaller bites you animal!!!”. It’s like a judgey Italian Grandmother was living in my head, commenting on my every move.
I noticed over the next few days how prevalent negative self-talk was in my life. It hindered how my day went, how I felt about myself, how I interacted with others. I was the Regina George of my own brain. The way I spoke to myself was unkind, judgmental and showed no signs of gentleness. I realized no matter how much self-care I practiced, none of it mattered, because I didn’t really care about my inner self, and how it was being looked after.
Self-care is many things. It is laying down for a bit when you’re feeling anxious and tired. It’s choosing to stay in and put some clay on your face. It’s spending an afternoon at the library, with you and only you. It’s calling a friend for a good laugh. There are so many ways to slow down, and check in with yourself. But no mud-mask in the world can hide the effects of negative self-talk. Why do we allow our inner voice be so mean? Is it because we feel unworthy of the kindness we so willingly give to others? If another person spoke to me the way I spoke to myself, they would be gone faster than this $6 Lavender Blueberry scone I’m eating in the spirit of LOVING MYSELF.
It’s true that I never feel fresher than after I’ve spent a day at the spa, having my muscles pounded into the ground, lounging around guzzling cucumber water. I speak to myself like a damn goddess when my limbs are sprawled out on a daybed, taking another sip of my Oolong tea. I usually enter the week calmer, with more confidence. But what if I could mentally check myself into my spa-safe-haven every morning, choosing to speak to myself with kindness? For starters, I would save a ton of money. For the past few weeks, every time I went to negatively speak to myself, I refrained, and rephrased. Instead of “You didn’t get to the grocery store today, you’re so lazy”, I would check in and say “I did not make the grocery store a priority today. I did some other really productive things instead”. Or one of my brain’s classics: “you will never look as effortlessly gorgeous as that girl on Instagram”, I will take a second to remind myself “her beauty does not take away from my own.”
It’s been a real challenge to reshape the way I think, and it’s something I work on every day. Self-care can present itself in a multitude of ways. I love buying a luxe face mask I’ve been saving up for or lighting a new candle. But I will not allow companies to capitalize on my need to love myself, if I truly cannot achieve that on the inside. I’ve got a long way to go- and I know I can’t totally get rid of that Italian Grandma living in my head. But instead of a judgey one, I’m trading her in for one that always tells me I need to eat more, grabs my face and tells me how lovely I am.