Four Self-Care Tips That Don’t Actually Suck

Self-care tips are the new in-thing in the wellness community and it’s become trendy to take care of our mind, body and spirit. Nowadays, it’s cooler to pick a matcha latte over late-night partying.

Just type #selfcare into Instagram and you’ll see what I mean. The search shows a million highly-edited photos; it’s a feed littered with chic social influencers sipping herbal tea and fitness gurus gushing about superfood. Everywhere you turn, there’s another caption from an amateur photographer talking about how #MotherNature can cure depression, posted alongside a photo of perfectly pedicured toes wiggling in the sand.

As someone with a huge interest in self-care, I’ve watched the term gradually morph into something unrecognisable. It used to be about pounding pavements, screaming into pillows and chewing your therapist’s ear off. Now, it’s all about trite inspirational quotes and turmeric.

Since when did self-care become so perfect and… filtered?

I don’t know about you, but on my darker days, I never found respite drowning my sorrows in peppermint tea. I never dispelled depression with a smoothie bowl and while being in nature is a fantastic mood-booster, it’s difficult when you work 9–5 or live in a city. I blame the yoga girls who spend their whole life doing bakasana on a beach for making us think it’s easy.

To balance some of this advice, I wanted to share my top self-care tips that don’t totally suck.

Say OM

I know what you’re thinking, typical. However, yoga is proven to be one of the best stress-busting practices around.

When stress lays siege to our systems, our bodies are flooded with chemicals that send us into fight or flight mode. In life-threatening situations, this is great. It certainly helped our caveman ancestors (it meant the difference between getting dinner and being dinner). However, nowadays our stress receptors are in overdrive; we have deadlines, mortgages and a tumultuous dating culture. Over time, stuff like this chips away at our health.

While we can’t avoid stress all the time, there are ways to counteract its most harmful effects. One way to do this is to trigger the relaxation response. Asana, pranayama and meditation all facilitate this relaxing state by promoting a single-point focus. When a person narrows in on a posture or breath-count, their attention is brought back to the present and they’re unencumbered by past or future worries. The heart begins to slow down, blood pressure lowers, the breath becomes deep and tense muscles stretch.

Swear

If you’re anything like me, dropping the F-bomb gives you a euphoric rush. We’ve all been there; there’s nothing that numbs the pain of a stubbed toe more than a full-bodied FUCK.

Sounds like I’m just being crude? Well, fuck you because there’s evidence that proves otherwise. In one well-cited study , a university professor decided to test whether our dirty vocab could impact our tolerance for painful situations. In a somewhat sadistic experiment, he got a bunch of students to submerge their hands in freezing water for as long as possible. Some students were encouraged to scream swear words while others were forced to be more vanilla. It turns out, the cuss-word connoisseurs were able to keep their hands submerged for 40 seconds longer on average.

So, the next time someone tells you to be more lady-like, you know where to tell them to shove it.

Sex

Sex is the last thing on people’s minds when they’re stressed but there is evidence to suggest a person can hump their way to happiness. This is because physical intimacy produces the body’s feel-good chemical: oxytocin, otherwise known as the love hormone.

The yogis reading this are bound to have heard of the pituitary gland. Located at the brain’s base, it controls all the other endocrine glands in the body such as the thyroid, reproductive glands and pancreas. We often try and stimulate it through inversions. However, it can also be stimulated through the release of oxytocin (which travels through it from the hypothalamus). So, you could say hand-jobs produce that same heavenly high you get from headstands.

For those who would rather not strip down to de-stress, don’t worry. These chemicals are also produced through hand-holding and hugging. Cute.

Salivate

By salivate, I mean the slobbering, tongue-out, Ican’twaittogetthischocolatecakeinme kind. I’m not talking about eating nutritious food for the health benefits, I’m talking about eating for the sake of enjoyment.

Despite what the self-proclaimed self-care experts would have you believe, looking after yourself isn’t just about what’s “good” for you. It’s about doing something pleasurable like going to your favourite restaurant, ordering dessert or stocking up on delicious snacks. It’s about cooking a feast full of love and shaking off society’s snack-shaming shackles. Personally, when I’m down, I enjoy indulging till I have a kicking food baby. I eat food that reminds me of friends, family and celebratory times.

Self-care is phenomenally important.

That’s why I’m sceptical of what it’s become. Basically, it’s just another way for influencers to prove just how zen they are (I can already hear the wellness junkies vying for my blood). People forget that self-care just means doing things that make you feel good, regardless of how “healthy” and Instagrammable they are. Next time you search for tips, don’t feel ashamed if none of those work for you. Experiment and find your own way forward.

Originally published at https://ashleighmayesyoga.com on September 11, 2019.

My name’s Ashleigh — yoga teacher and mental health advocate.

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