Hello AFS family and welcome to the maiden voyage of Verdure, a series of blog posts written by yours truly! To start, I’d like to take a brief moment to introduce myself. I’m Corinne, the front desk manager over here in Ann Arbor and I’ve been with AFS since 2014! I have a dog named Watson (pictured here) and a cat named Milo, whom I adore as if they were my own children. I wanted to start this series to engage in conversation with all of you in a low-stakes environment. Prescriptive wellness works in a lot of environments, like your practitioner giving you exercises that don’t aggravate your arthritis, but there are a lot of wonderful concepts we only learn through others’ perspectives. Verdure means “greenery,” and I think we could all use a little greenery of the heart, mind, and soul.
With that said, it’s important to take a moment to highlight a couple concepts: first, I’m not a doctor nor a registered expert in any sense of the word. What I do have is years of experience working with mental health and around people who care deeply about wellness, but please don’t mistake anything I say for medical advice. Second, there’s going to be a few degrees of personal interpretation to a lot of what we discuss in these posts. Thus, I welcome you to the conversation! These blog posts are meant to create dialogue!
Now, with that out of way, we can begin! If you are or have been a part of our Wellbeing Challenge, you know that one of the first weeks explores self-care. I think it’s important that we begin there too, because that’s a foundational part to wellness. But what is self-care, and for what I want to focus on today, does it always feel good?
Let’s start with the phrase “treat yoself.” If you’re unfamiliar, “treat yoself” is popular thanks to TV show like Parks and Rec- where main characters
spend a day indulging in products and activities that bring them joy. While presented jokingly in the show, the concept has found its way to mainstream consciousness and can be part of a regular day’s vocabulary: want a donut? Treat yoself. Been eyeing a pair of shoes? Treat yoself. Want to skip a workout to go get sushi instead? Treat yoself.
To be clear, “treat yoself” isn’t inherently a bad thing: you do deserve to be treated, and all the better when it’s you doing the treating. But can we consider it the same thing as self-care? For a long time I saw the two as interchangeable. Self-care was treating yourself, and treating yourself was self-care. However, after weeks of treating myself to pizza and not going anywhere, sometimes cancelling plans in the process, I didn’t feel any better. I actually felt worse–how could that be, if I was giving myself things that brought me joy?
As our society learns to prioritize self-care, I’ve noticed there seems to be different interpretations of what kind of work self-care calls for. For me, the pattern went like this:
“Do things that make you happy.”
“Do a lot of things that make you happy.”
“Stop doing things that make you unhappy.”
“Do only things that make you happy.”
“If it is hard to do, don’t do it, because that doesn’t make you happy.”
“Challenging yourself makes you uncomfortable, so you probably shouldn’t do it, because that can be interpreted as unhappiness.”
Before I knew it, I was caught in a self-indulgent, selfish cycle of behaviors that not only wasn’t challenging me but was also preventing me from taking real care of my well-being. Sticking to social plans is hard for the half hour before you arrive; once there, though, you have a great time and make wonderful memories. If you don’t push yourself through that difficult dilemma between your inner introvert and extrovert, you shut down opportunities for joy, growth, and fellowship. The pattern is reflected in all situations, even the reverse. If you’re a busybody who says “yes” to everything, you risk burnout and exhaustion. Saying “no” is hard for the few minutes it takes to get up the courage, but your health may need it.
So what to do? Throw the concept of self-care out the window since all it does is appease our desires? Of course not! This cycle wasn’t taking care of me, so it wasn’t self-care! I called myself into a meeting and asked what kind of care I truly needed. Some things were the same: nights in to recharge, a slurpee after a bad day, or time doodling alone. Some other things, though, were things I was not crazy about doing: cleaning my cluttered bathroom counter, hanging out with a group of people I didn’t know very well, and making phone calls. The first definition for “self-care” in Webster’s dictionary is “care for oneself.” Which, yeah, I think we could see that coming. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ The second, however, is: health care provided by oneself without the consultation of a medical professional–and that, my family, stands out so well.
You know how you had to take bad-tasting medicine as a kid to feel better? Then, at the end of the day, taking it really wasn’t all that hard? …yeah, you can see where I’m going with this. I believe a lot of times we want self-care to be spa getaways, salt baths, and weekend retreats, but it doesn’t always look like that. Self-care is that medicine that’s going to make you feel better, even if it doesn’t taste all that great. Self-care is the health care we give ourselves to heal, to feel joy, to challenge and grow. This means the indulgent, safe activity is not always the best way to take care of ourselves. Self-care can look like staying committed to that 8:30am FS class, or signing up for a late-night SS class because you couldn’t do your usual time before work. It might be finally cleaning the clothes off your floor, or reaching out to a friend to ask for a little extra help this week.
I see “treat yoself” and self-care as a venn diagram now, where some things overlap but not everything does, and the way in which they overlap changes depending on the day! Pictured below is what mine looks like right now (please forgive my handwriting), but I’m always changing it depending on my needs. Sometimes a night alone is necessary. Sometimes it’s an excuse. And the only way to know is to continually converse with yourself. Whatever it looks like, the end result should always be a prioritization of your health: physical, mental, or even spiritual.
So now I turn to you: what do you do for self-care? What’s on the easier, treat yoself side of your venn diagram? And, if you’re feeling brave, what’s the harder but still important work you do?
And now, for a glimpse into our future:
Next time I’d like to take self-care and connect it to something we engage in all the time: technology. While I personally see a lot of benefits to the growing ways technology intersects with our personal interactions, we are ever increasing our time online: according to an annual report tracking digital trends, we’re spending on average ~100 days a year on the interwebs. Oof! That’s a lot of time! Is it possible to take care of ourselves while saturated in tech? Let’s find out together.