The concept of self-care – the activities we do to deliberately benefit our mental, emotional, or physical health – is nothing new. Rooted in medical theory, self-care and wellness acknowledges the link between mental and physical health and how taking care of yourself allows you to better take care of those around you.
A Growing Industry in Self-Care
Our interest in self-care has boomed in recent years. Looking at Google searches, our curiosity for the term started to ramp up since the end of 2017. It often peaks during the winter months, possibly due to fewer hours of sunlight and colder temperatures, forcing us inside.
In October 2019, for example, 24,950 Google searches were made for self-care in the UK, compared to 19,240 in July of the same year. Back in October 2017? Just 9,530 searches were made for self-care. Some chalk this growth up to political uncertainty, negative news fatigue and a mental health crisis, often exacerbated by social media and our fast pace of life.
Where interest grows, so too does business opportunity. The health and wellness industry, which encompasses care for our emotional health as well as fitness and diet, is estimated to be worth almost £21 billion in the UK. Many have criticised the commodification of self-care, particularly by the beauty industry as a plaster for serious mental illnesses which require real medical attention. On Instagram, there are 21.3 million posts using #selfcare. Delve into some of these posts and you’ll see that #selfcare is being used to sell or present an unattainable lifestyle, rather than a moment of calm of your choosing. It’s green smoothies, tanned legs in bubble baths and yoga on the beach and it’s all too often far from our everyday lives. Essena O’Neill became famous for outing her sponsored ‘perfect lifestyle’ Instagram images as ‘not real life’. Unable to match up (or afford) these lifestyles, we’re constantly encouraged to idealise something very few can have. It leaves us alienated by a concept that is intended to make us feel better.
Finding Meaningful Self-Care Ideas
What should be something inherently positive, therefore, has become fiercely debated. The commercialisation of the concept creates the misconception that we can buy better emotional well-being. But self-care doesn’t have to cost you the earth, if anything at all. And arguably, if you’re documenting it on social media, you’re probably not truly present in the moment and therefore not reaping all the benefits of slowing down. Ask yourself:
- What brings you joy?
- What activities allow you to become lost in the moment and forget about your phone?
Maybe a hot bath does help you relieve stress, or perhaps you find drawing, singing or cooking great ways to unwind. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you’re doing something that means something to you, and not because it’s superficial #selfcare and Instagram-worthy.
Slow living embraces doing less, but doing those things better. It also acknowledges that some of the best ideas come when we slow down and allow our minds to wander, free of the blockers of phone notifications and other time fillers. In this sense, one of the best self-care pursuits in our era of digital distraction and frazzled attention spans may just be doing nothing at all.