The increase in discussion around self-care in our society today is important. Our culture tends to praise success to the extent that our well-being is compromised leaving people feeling overworked, overwhelmed, malnourished, and under slept to name just a few harmful effects. The pervasiveness of these damaging consequences has fortunately led to a rise in discussion of the importance and value of mental health and, in turn, self-care.
Self-care qualifies differently for different people. For some, self-care may look like taking a warm bath, curling up to read a book, or going for a walk outside. For others it may be taking an hour to go for a solo car ride, getting to bed early, or calling a close friend. And still for others, self-care may include playing a round of golf, journaling, or prioritizing a nourishing meal. The way self-care looks may be different for everyone but the overarching factor that ties these things together is the recharge, revitalization, and reset that these relatively small, but intentional acts provide for a person.
But can we take self-care too far? Self-care can, in fact, swing to the far end of the pendulum. For example, a person may not “feel great” one or multiple days in a row and consistently judge this as reason enough to call in sick to work. Another instance may be a person discounting time and energy devoted to friends or family for long stretches of time in the vein that their time alone should always reign supreme. Another experience may be that responsibilities to self, family, friends, work, school, or the like are continually swept to the side, saddled on the belief that self-care must be the priority. And while there can certainly be times in a person’s life when these actions are, indeed, appropriate, I think it is important, even vital, to be able to discern when self-care is being utilized too heavily at the expense of a person’s own self-resiliency and growth.
Our trajectory of self-care and self-resiliency can be thought of as a bit like a slingshot. Stay with me here. We want to provide ourselves with enough experiences that push us and allow us the beneficial types of stress; the stress that allows us to get a bit uncomfortable, expand ourselves, and grow. And at the same time we want to aim to balance this with enough time to come back to our safe places and people in order to rebuild and recharge. It’s this delicate balance where we are pulling our slingshot back enough that we are headed toward growth, but not too much so that the sling shot snaps. Nor are we pulling it back too little so that we simply remain stuck, not stretching ourselves into the spaces that offer us the golden duo of discomfort and the ensuing growth and development that we need to thrive. When we can hone in on this balance of taking time to care for ourselves while also respecting the responsibility we owe to ourselves to grow and promote self-resiliency, we can settle into a healthy sweet spot. We can know the difference between needing to take a day off from work or needing to call a friend to get things off our chest. We can learn the difference between when we need time alone and when time with friends or family may actually be very valuable and fruitful. And we can know the balance between our responsibility to our commitments, and when we need to take a mental health break. But how do we know where that sweet spot is? Through trial and error, of course. In getting a bit messy, in seeing what works and what doesn’t, and in reminding ourselves of the beauty of our imperfection and humanity. No one has this down perfectly. Our lives continually change, ebb, and flow, and we will continue to come up against new and unique challenges that put our current modes of being into disarray. When this happens we can either hole ourselves up, afraid to make the wrong moves, or we can remind ourselves that there is no perfect way, trust ourselves, and pull back that slingshot.
By Michaela Ortega, Intern
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