What does it mean to care for the self when an agenda packed with bubble baths, meditation apps and all the yoga classes we can squeeze in doesn’t quite seem to be enough?
Self-care. A buzzword that has transformed a generation that currently spends more than double that of the previous generation on self-care products and services every year. Though the idea of self-care existed long before millennials were born, this generation has taken the industry to a whole other level – and a skyrocketed value of over US$3 billion.
For those who grew up in a society where one was told that working harder and longer hours will lead to reward, the message “take time for yourself and take care of your wellbeing” felt like a novel and alien concept when it started gaining traction in the 2010s. But it was embraced with open arms. Millennials grew up with boomer success stories and society’s expectations to meet in a world that no longer existed, replaced by one filled with slow economic growth, delayed milestones and now a pandemic. To cope, millennials have shifted their attention to self-care, and have put a premium on passion and authenticity as a way to live their lives. In turn, million-dollar businesses promoting a positive mindset and a healthier lifestyle have exploded all around the globe.
While I am a strong advocate of self-care and overall wellbeing, I have increasingly witnessed a burnout among my peers. The things that are supposed to bring them peace and respite quickly become tasks; just another to-do list, and people have started experiencing anxiety just from the number of things they need to do to “relax.”
A LIFETIME PILING UP
The availability of self-care products and services is endless. From crystals, CBD products and rose quartz facial rollers to meditation apps, yoga classes and personalised AI-generated astrology readings, each has its own benefits, whether it’s a way to re-centre yourself, a calming effect to counter anxiety or just a quiet moment to empty your mind and just…breathe.
Though we are very grateful for those tools, it’s easy to fall down a rabbit hole of endless consumerism. Not only are we adding clutter to our physical space, but we are cluttering our mental space as well. Take it from The Minimalists, also known as Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus, who chose to change their consumer-driven lives by getting rid of all possessions that were supposed to make them happy. To date, they have inspired millions through their Netflix documentaries, podcasts, and books to adopt a “less is more” mantra.
“Minimalism is the thing that gets us past the things so we can make room for life’s most important things, which aren’t things at all,” says Fields Millburn, “Sure, minimalism starts with the stuff, but our material possessions are merely a physical manifestation of our internal lives, and once we let go of the excess, we make room to finally address our internal clutter – mental clutter, relationship clutter, emotional clutter, career clutter, calendar clutter.”
The clutter is real. As if we weren’t overwhelmed enough, we end up adding things to our plate instead of removing them, however beneficial they may be. This is why many have started carving out me-time to focus inwardly; they have found that creating space and setting boundaries are what allow us to move forward and tackle life.
A LONELIER WORLD
However, Covid has inevitably led to a sharp rise in me-time – perhaps too much. According to the Lululemon 2022 Global Wellbeing Report, despite being extremely connected virtually, 53 percent of Gen Zs have felt lonelier throughout Covid and 52 percent of the global population says that a lack of a support network is the number one barrier to their wellbeing. With lockdowns creating physical boundaries among us, many have turned to self-care as a way to preserve their own sanity and energy, and some have slowly started cutting themselves off from peers. This is fuelled by social media platforms floating trendy quotes telling us to make ourselves a priority. Yet, isolation has been proven to be detrimental to our wellbeing and studies have shown that social connections are a great buffer against stress.
Dr Sharmeen Shroff, clinical psychologist and founder of Central Minds, explains, “During this time it’s important to nurture our needs for connection as much as possible. We need to talk about our feelings, not bottle them up. We have a tendency to isolate ourselves when we’re stressed and worried, but social support can have a hugely positive impact on our mental health when dealing with uncertainty.”
By focusing solely on ourselves in our search for self-care in an endless blackhole of consumerism, could it be that we are just putting band-aids on our problems? Are we bubble-wrapping ourselves from reality and choosing instant-gratification in the belief that we are protecting ourselves?
AWARENESS, ACCEPTANCE AND ACTION
Self-care shouldn’t be about constant indulgence and anaesthesia, but rather embracing the uncomfortable and pushing yourself into the unknown. “Humans prefer to ease their symptoms rather than find a cure because symptom relief is much easier”, explains Fields Millburn. “That’s why the solution is the problem. Tips and tricks prevent us from actually understanding the problem. The real solution emerges only when a thorough understanding of the problem is present.”
Dr Shroff agrees that self-awareness and self-acceptance are keys to sustainable self-care. “It may seem better in the moment to try and distract yourself and block out any negative or anxious thoughts you are having, but they will continue to exist whether you are paying attention to them or not. Trying to ignore your feelings will only increase your stress and anxiety. Allow yourself to feel whatever it is you are feeling.”
While it might feel scary to let go, many of us have indeed experienced that release in just letting yourself be angry or crying it out. Sonia Samtani, clinical hypnotherapist and founder of All About You Centre, points out the four primary emotions we go through: happiness, fear, anger and sadness. “We have only deemed one of these – happiness – to be positive, and the rest as something to avoid. Hence we are not sure how to process sadness, anger and fear,” says Samtani. “The easiest way to do so is to give up the judgement that you are not supposed to feel these things. Acknowledge the truth of how you are feeling, bring up your emotions, feel them in your body, and breathe through them. "
“You will find that these emotions will pass through you like waves; they will have a beginning, middle and an end, and then you move forward to feeling something else,” she continues. “The result of this is that you feel in charge of your emotions, they don’t take over you, and you are not suppressing anything that could be toxic.”
See also: How Hypnotherapy Can Rescript Your Life
SOUL, I HEAR YOU CALLING
Most people chase happiness, placing it as their number one goal in life. But happiness is a mood not a destination, and hearing those few words in a podcast changed my whole outlook on life. It removed the pressure of chasing something so intangible, because what I thought was the end goal was just going to keep morphing into something new and out of reach, as it is in our nature to feel like it is never enough. A healthier mindset perhaps is to be at peace with the situation in the moment, accept emotions as they come and go and let go of the things that we cannot control.
“Peace is a state of mind, rather than a mood,” clarifies Samtani. “Peace is a function of our awareness, and we feel peaceful when we are present and in acceptance of what is.” She explains that one can be angry or sad but still be at peace with their anger or grief. “The pressure of feeling happy and being perfect all the time is exhausting. Light isn’t light without darkness, the same way happiness isn’t happiness without sadness. Allow yourself to fail, to be rejected, to feel down, and know that this is a part of life’s experience. When you do that, you are facing reality, being authentic, and being kind to yourself – the key ingredients for self-care. True self-care looks like loving the part of you that’s feeling stressed right now, instead of wanting to fix it.”
A WORK IN PROGRESS
Life is, indeed, all about perspective. Only when we understand the root of the problem, process in full the depth of our emotions, can we then accept the effects it has on us – and take the necessary next steps. One of the most impactful moments I’ve had took place about 15 years ago, when a bad experience at a language academy in Shanghai brought me back to Hong Kong, tail between my legs, feeling like I had failed. A chance encounter with an old friend, Toby, got me opening up about what had happened, to which he simply said, “So do something about it.”
For some reason, hearing those words coming out of his mouth hit hard. Was I going to spend my time thinking about the past, and let the present slip away? It was time to accept what had happened and make some kind of change so that I could move on. By the end of the day, I had found a sister academy in Beijing, transferred the course, and bought a ticket out the next morning.
From then on, whenever things haven’t gone my way, I give myself full acceptance to sit in my feelings before repeating those words to myself. Self-care tools are still important – we should not deny ourselves those moments of calm and pleasure as long as they help – but so are being still, changing perspective and taking action. It’s all about balance; self-awareness and self-acceptance are the long game, the tools are complementary and social connection is vital. So Toby, if you’re out there, know that you made a difference.
Originally published in ECHELON Issue 7