The new normal and you

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Self-care, a term coined by feminist writer Audre Lorde to describe the radical act of women prioritising their own wellbeing, has been commodified in recent years. But it’s more important now than ever and, in reality, it’s hard work. The wellness industry presents many classes, eating plans, technologies and products to help us do better, but knowing where to start can feel overwhelming, because wellness is about so much more than simply taking a supplement or cutting out dairy. From what we eat to the exercise we do, there are basic tenets to a healthy life and abiding by them is a necessary part of self-care. However, it’s the little extra moments of self-love that make life all the more worthwhile. The best part is, you can define these according to what works for you.

A multi-pronged approach

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. This shows how many areas of life play a part in our overall wellbeing, and it’s why it takes such diligence to practice self-care. If a person needs social connectedness, exercise, nutrition, sleep and mindfulness to feel well, the first step in your self-care journey is deciding what each of these looks like for you. Is it a minimum of 8 hours sleep? A meat-free diet? Saying “no” to social occasions that don’t serve you or setting aside 5 minutes to meditate every morning?

Tailor it to you

If your chosen practices help rather than hinder your emotional and physical wellbeing, there’s no wrong answer here as different techniques work for different people. For some, starting a day with a run or a swim sets them up to succeed. For others, it’s the ritual of making a quiet cup of tea and lying down to stretch. Moving from a mind-set that one way is better than another has allowed many people to personalise their movement and own what works for them. This is one way in which social media shines, because it gives us a window into the options available that would be most effective for us.

Let’s talk mental health

Mental health has generally been overlooked as a critical part of overall wellness, but the self-care movement has brought conversations around this to the fore. Discussing depression and anxiety is gradually becoming less stigmatised, and although varying degrees of privilege and access remain at play, it’s becoming easier to seek help. Taking responsibility for one’s health and making a commitment to doing the necessary work isn’t always particularly fun or easy, but it can be highly satisfying. A strong connection between body and mind makes one feel more capable of tackling life’s obstacles and achieving one’s goals.

Building a routine

Audre Lorde’s “self-care” has been diluted by brands in recent years that claim that candles or bath bombs, your pizza selection or your collection of cacti are quick-fix solutions to eternal happiness. While these elements can certainly play a role in your self-care rituals, it’s the routines underneath them that require courage and work, from having the discipline to go to sleep at the same time every day to having the bravery to seek help for depression. It’s not easy to identify and maintain the practices that make you feel happier, so that’s why we need to be gentle with ourselves and remember that desired outcomes are usually a successor to a series of false starts.

Start small

Self-care moves slowly, and our inner voice can often talk us out of trying, which is why celebrating small wins is so important. Just as breakthroughs from substance abuse generally don’t happen overnight, a good meditation practice takes time and patience to build. A little bit of dedication over time goes a long way and if you can show up as a mother figure for yourself, you’ll make huge strides on your journey of self-love.

A SENSE OF COMMUNITY CAN DO A LOT WHEN IT COMES TO ACHIEVING THE GOALS WE’VE SET FOR OURSELVES

Support structures

While a lot of this work has to come from within, building a support network is essential to self-care, as this provides an additional safety net when we need that extra encouragement. More time spent alone is a byproduct of the pandemic, and when you couple this with the emotional, financial and even physical toll this has taken, a sense of community can do a lot when it comes to achieving the goals we’ve set for ourselves, while showing up for the ones we love.

Even though the mood for 2021 is cautious, we are resilient and will continue to find ways to do and be better. The widespread destruction and disruption caused by Covid can feel overwhelming at times, but there is a silver lining: it has brought self-care to the forefront of our attention, encouraging us to examine our established patterns of behaviour so that we can take greater care of ourselves ourselves and, in turn, hopefully extend this to others. — Oratile Mashazi

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