We’ve hit a revolutionary point in human medicine – we nearly completely acknowledge the existence, pain, and cost of poor mental health. We’ve addressed this medically through prescription drugs and therapy. We’ve even taken a stand culturally and recognize the importance of taking mental health days as you would sick days, and participating in self-care habits that go beyond our physiology and sooth our minds as well.
This evolution has been overwhelmingly beneficial as individuals from all walks of life feel more able to discuss their mental wellbeing and recognize its importance. Addressing chronic stress and loneliness has undoubtedly extended and saved lives. We’ve moved even further as we not only see the value, but actively encourage acts of self-care that address our physiological and phycological needs. It’s in our TV shows, memes, HR policies, self-help books – we know self-care is important.
But… Do we know how to give self-care? Do we understand its complexities? Can we differentiate between adaptive and maladaptive behaviors or coping mechanisms? With troubling messages through our cultural media and a growing alcohol use disorder rate amongst women, I believe the answer is “no.”
Much of the communication directed towards women explains the “steps” she can take to relax and focus on herself. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with these behaviors.
Having a glass of wine.
Spending the night in.
Purchasing gifts for oneself.
Declining social invitations.
Indulging in comfort food.
In moderation, all of these things are okay. In excess, however, or combined, they become problematic.
Drinking alone, isolating oneself, bingeing on food or alcohol, making excessive purchases, and not leaving the house are not healthy ways to manage stress or practice self care. They may act as temporary “bandaids” that distract from the challenges around us, but the challenges are never addressed.
It is through reaching out to loved ones, staying active, and eating well that we can begin to overcome our mental and emotional struggles. It’s through seeking professional help and recognizing if or when medication would be a meaningful addition. It’s by addressing the problem, not veiling it, that we practice true self care.