Can we have an honest conversation about stress and self-care?

I’m hearing the online buzz more frequently about self-care as stress management. It seems like ‎every day there’s a new article or post targeted at women with tips on how to better balance it ‎all. ‎

Get a mani/pedi!

Make time for brunch and make sure you hashtag it on instagram!

Get your Orangetheory workout in with before and after selfies!

And it’s so enticing. Who wouldn’t want 10 tips on how to do it all, look amazing and feel ‎refreshed!

But is it real? Is it helping? Is it all bull? Is it just another thing that women are expected to do perfectly? Is self-care another chore to check off? 

Professionally speaking, I exist in a state of constant tension. I have looming deadlines, conflicting ‎priorities, projects with multiple stakeholders who have their own agendas, drive by meetings and ‎an inbox bursting at the seams. ‎

I work with a team of highly driven, top performers which can be as intimidating as it is ‎inspiring. The pressure is on. ‎

Of course I want 30 ideas to help me feel rested, hydrated, relaxed and balanced. And of course, ‎the internet provides. ‎

But does that self-care really help me manage stress? Am I stressed because I lack enough self-care or is the issue my ‎relationship with stress? ‎

If there is balance to be found (and that’s a big if), it has to be found between building up your ‎resilience to stress – so you’re less affected by it – and finding ways to reduce your stress. ‎

Stress Resilience

Melody Wilding, in her article 5 key behaviors to make yourself resilient to stress, covers behaviors and habits that reduce your response in stress:

  1. Change your relationship to stress – look for the challenge or the lesson that can be learned when faced with setbacks.
  2. Manage your emotions – clarify your feelings, express yourself clearly and have empathy for others.
  3. Act in the face of ambiguity – take action even when the outcome is unclear. Don’t be paralyzed by uncertainty.
  4. Don’t skimp on self-care – Refuel regularly by focusing on physical, mental and emotional well-being.
  5. Nurture your network – when you’re having a hard time, reach out to your mentors, coaches, colleagues and friends for guidance.

I loved reading this article because it gives a clear set of behaviors to work on. It’s small behaviors to tweak and habits to adjust. It’s manageable and do-able.

But Melody brings up that term self-care and with that term comes the common assumptions of what self-care means – exercising, eating right, sleeping well and creating time for personal development. All great in theory but does this really play out as helpful in times of stress?

Stress Reduction

The best description of self-care I’ve seen is from Brianna West. She writes,

…Self-care is making the choice to build a life you don’t need to regularly escape from.

In her article, This Is What ‘Self-Care’ REALLY Means, Because It’s Not All Salt Baths And Chocolate Cake, Brianna covers the less trendy aspects of self-care that often are overlooked and underappreciated.

She states that self-care is often a very unbeautiful thing.

  • It’s creating a budget and sticking to it.
  • It’s letting go of an unhealthy relationship.
  • It’s allowing yourself space to have a dirty home.
  • It’s job searching even though you’re tired.
  • It’s purchasing what you need even if it’s not organic, not trendy, not cause conscious.

I am all for the elements of self-care that feel good and make you feel pampered. If you find something that works for you, awesome.

Personally, I paint my nails almost every Sunday night. It’s my start of the week ritual. I get my glass of wine, put on some tunes and zone out while mentally preparing myself for the week ahead.

At the recommendation of a friend, I purchased a  jade face roller. It actually feels amazing and was totally worth the $20 bucks even though I rarely remember I have it.

If you find something that helps you find balance, I’m all for it. Take your bubble bath. Hashtag your brunch. Get your monthly facial.

But if you find that self-care is all fluff and it’s a mask instead of a release, then maybe it’s not really self-care. If self-care is all self-indulgence you’re likely using it an escape mechanism rather than a tool for stress management.

Instead of giving yourself another thing to do – eat right, hydrate, mani/pedi, etc. – try taking a break to consider how to build a life you’re not trying to escape from. And let’s stop lumping necessary stress management and fluffy self-care together.

Photo by DESIGNECOLOGIST on Unsplash