If you mindlessly scroll through Instagram or YouTube, it won’t take long before you come across videos of ‘self-care routines’. Often set against the backdrop of calming music and blurred by hazy filters, creators take you through how they wind down while taking the opportunity to peddle a few products as well.
In the past few years, the idea of self-care has transformed into something much larger than its original intentions. Especially, if you’re a keen follower of lifestyle and productivity content creators like I am, it’s hard to escape these intensive “morning routines” and self-care habits that have gained popularity.
Like most other people, I’ve suffered from deteriorating mental health, but it has only worsened since the outbreak of COVID-19. The prolonged stress and uncertainty of lockdowns that has forced us to remain mostly indoors has shifted our focus on things that make us feel safe, secure and healthy. As a writer, you’re constantly in the need to be creatively stimulated. This can be difficult within the confines of four walls when everything else around you is crumbling.
Every time I hit a ‘depressive episode’ or a mental roadblock, I turned to the internet to find a way out of it. “Take a shower, change your sheets, light a candle,” the suggestions were seemingly inane but all pointed in the direction that self-care in any form was the solution.
More often than not, I find that the picture social media paints of ‘self-care’ — with photos of salon-quality scrubs, serums and face masks that promise to impart an otherworldly glow — is unrealistic and unattainable.
Consumerism in the name of care
It’s easy to fall for a commodified version of self-care. The #selfcare hashtag on Instagram has nearly 50 million posts and it's hard to miss the common denominator among most of them — a mélange of luxury beauty products capitalizing on our distress. ‘Skincare fridges’ are also specially designed to hold products and keep them cold.
The long self-care winded routines will usually show people getting off work, working out in often picturesque houses, eating unbelievably unhealthy dinner and then slathering on layers of skincare before heading to bed. Other videos have the creator looking peaceful while reading next to a crackling fireplace or winding down on their expensive fur rug.
Unfortunately, self-care is offered from a pedestal of luxury made available to parts of society that can afford to take a break. When consumerism and self-care mix, the very idea of us all deserving a break becomes nebulous. In a country where most people cannot afford the Rs 1,000 to get a COVID-19 vaccine at a private hospital, daily respite to rest is a distant dream.
There’s also the constant tug-of-war in our mental health. Anxiety, depression, grief, you name it and we’ve seen a spike of it in the past year. Surrounded by so many distorted conceptions of what self-care must make it difficult to believe that our version of self-care is sufficient. Amidst caregiving duties, unpaid labour at home and extended working hours, it is not surprising that most people just want to end their day as early as possible.
Self-care is not a competition
Do what you can and forget about what it looks like — is my takeaway after speaking to numerous mental health experts over the past two years for various stories and my own trials and errors.: Surprisingly enough, even something as simple as journaling starts to feel competitive on social media. There’s page after page of people showing off their perfect spreads with cute handwriting and doodles. But the reality is far from being aesthetically pleasing. Even the meaningful act of writing in a journal can be emotionally exhausting. Sometimes it’s okay to not want to put your feelings on paper because it makes it all the more real. While I wouldn’t want anyone to repress it, don’t push yourself simply because someone out there on social media said that it worked for them. An art journal instead can be another option if writing seems too tedious but the key is to not compare yours with anyone else’s.
Can’t find the motivation to do a full 20-minute exercise routine? You can perhaps try a socially distanced walk instead. There have always been questions about where to draw the line between comfort and complacency, but that’s an inquisition that you have to make for yourself. As for me, what I’ve learned from my many experiments and failures with self-care is the small investments we make in ourselves eventually add up, and that benefit is solely for us and no one else to see.
(Edited by Amrita Ghosh)