I feel like I may have lost you with the title but stick with me- I am not the fun police. I love a good manicure – gel nails, multiple colours, even the odd nail sticker if I’m really glitzing it up. And don’t get me started on the joy of a sauna session.
So don’t worry – this is not a midlife rant designed to suck the little joys from life. Keep them, relish them, do them regularly…. but know that whilst they bring temporary pockets of escapism and joy they can’t replace REAL self-care.
What is Self-Care?
Probably the best place to start is by discussing what I believe self-care is NOT. It’s just my humble opinion but I do discuss self-care a lot in my career and am always a bit surprised by the differing definitions. For example, I am frequently asked for ‘non-extravagant’ and ‘inexpensive’ self-care ideas. And I get why. If you hop onto Pinterest or Google and search for “self-care” you’ll be hit with hundreds of ideas involving “long candle-lit bubble baths”, and “relaxing back massages”. Again – NOTHING wrong with either of those….if you follow me on social media you’ll probably have picked up on my bath obsession (always involving candles, face masks, music…the whole nine yards)!
But, while most of these suggestions are fabulous ways to unwind and shake off a bit of stress are they REALLY the essence of self-care? When did it become a commodity almost entirely synonymous with spa trips, nail appointments and chocolate treats? Sorry to ask, but has it become a bit self-indulgent? Or have we just completely lost sight of what self-care actually is?
For me – the answer is yes.
Don’t get me wrong the treats above are lovely little pleasures and well-deserved pockets of escapism from life (my kids have learnt not to venture near the bathroom door when mummy is in the bath unless someone’s life is genuinely in danger and they can’t figure out how to manage the situation themselves). I exaggerate…a little. And I genuinely enjoy a bit of salon time as much as the next person. But labelling this my ‘self-care’ and calling it a day means there is an expectation for these activities to sustain my mental and physical health.
That’s a lot of pressure on a nice coloured nail varnish!
They may relax you for a little while, or give you a feel-good boost – but alone aren’t they just a few minutes out of your life? A distraction that may just be papering over some ever expanding cracks, which in the long term may be doing more harm than good.
What is REAL Self-Care?
For me, the essence of self-care is how you show up in your life every day. It is about being true to yourself, valuing your needs and expecting others to do the same. Real self-care is about nurturing your mental, emotional, and physical needs. It’s about exploring and learning how to thrive in life by building resilience, appreciation, social bonds and boundaries…. lots of boundaries. In short? A life you won’t feel like you need to escape from. For more on resilience in midlife read my blog ‘Resilience: Your Midlife Superpower’.
Finding ways to practice real self-care needn’t be hard, but for impact, you do need to be committed to nurturing yourself regularly and consistently.
And that’s the rub right there – regular practice. Figures for self-care in midlife women make quite gloomy reading with many of us prioritising other’s needs even though we are aware of our own dwindling physical and mental health.
But it’s vital we stop and take stock at midlife as there is NO better time to embrace REAL self-care. It’s a life stage when many women experience increased self-awareness and assurance alongside a better understanding of what they need in life and how to actually ask for it. We are often more aware of our mental and physical health and what nurtures or saps our energy and resources. We may have been ignoring these needs studiously for many years but those pesky hormone changes do sometimes come with a silver lining of being able to say ‘alrighty folks- it’s my turn now’.
In short – midlife is quite often a turning point- an ‘I’m either heading downhill now or I’m entering my second Spring’ crossroads.
That’s not indulgent – it’s potentially life-saving. And it sends a hugely positive message to those we love – by looking after ourselves, we show our kids, partners and friends the difference proactive self-care can make. We might even bring some of them along for the ride. We show others how to treat us (and themselves), what’s acceptable and most importantly what is not. We get off the hamster wheel (or at least slow it down) by putting in boundaries and saying ‘no’ – leaving more quality time for ourselves and those closest to us.
Examples of Real Self-Care
Bring back the spa day I hear you yell. It sounds much more enticing than an evening of self-development over a green smoothie. Or putting in long overdue boundaries with your in-laws.
I acknowledge that some of my ideas are quite uncomfortable, especially if you are just starting to check in with yourself more and assert your needs. But like ripping off a plaster, it’s a necessary pain that is well worth it in the long term.
And I believe these acts of self-care should be as habitual as brushing your teeth. Think of them as staving off the life equivalents of a root canal!
Trust me, I’m not there yet but I’m working on it one night time journal and meditation session at a time……whilst booking in my next little spa afternoon with the girls of course! Like I said – treats are not off-limits people, just as long as they are not a substitute for genuine good old-fashioned acts of self-love and care.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and favourite self-care practices so please share away!
And for more on self-love at midlife head to my blog post New Year, New Me, No Thanks.
If you like what you’ve read and would like more practical information and tips on nutrition, lifestyle and mindset for midlife women then I’d love it if you followed me at motherflushingmidlife at the social links below. And if anyone you know might benefit from my content, let them know where to find me xx