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CultureFirst person

What exactly is self-care? And are you practising it?

By March 27, 2021No Comments

Ola Majekodunmi on when to put up boundaries and when to connect, when it feels like you want to hide from the world…


We are often told to “take it easy, give yourself some self-care” during these tough and strange times. However, I have always wondered what is this ‘self care’ that is mentioned, and how can I truly take care of myself in these desperately challenging times without overindulging? Is self-care just about taking care of yourself or is it more of a gentle way of pushing ahead with tasks and chores despite not having the will to do them? Sometimes when we are struggling or feeling overwhelmed is really when we need self-care but are not sure how to implement it.

Before the pandemic, I never engaged in much self-care. People had always told me to do it, but I was unaware of what it really meant and felt that it was too easy to just let myself be cared for. There were times when I had been feeling severely down, and I really needed a ‘pick me-up’ but I was not so sure how to go about that.

During the first lockdown, it was all a shock to us all. I am not sure if many knew how to deal with it or ‘take it easy’ as they say. We did not know what to do with ourselves. We were in a completely new environment, with new circumstances, from working from home to wearing masks. Things were strangely different.

At that time, crying was mainly my coping mechanism. It let out all the stress I was building up inside, and I felt like myself again afterwards. They say crying helps your body take out all the bad feelings and you usually feel better afterwards. I was dealing with multiple emotions at once; nervous in my new job, bored at home with no plans, and anxious about the future. The situation was hair-pulling, to say the least, and I imagine a lot of people experienced something similar. I felt out of my depth starting to work internally in a new company in this bizarre situation; unsure what to do or who to confide in at first.

Now that we are in lockdown 3.0, I have the feeling most of us are used to the life we lead now; no exciting weekend plans, walking around in our baggiest and most raggedy of clothes and eating just about anything that appeals to a peckish appetite. We are used to it now; we do not question it much other than to ask “when is this finally going to be over?”.

Nearly a year into Coronavirus first hitting Ireland, a lot of us are worn out by the lockdowns at this stage. Our mental health resources have been stretched; many of those who may not have had mental health issues in the past have felt in need of help during this period.

I have felt a sense of apathy at times during the lockdowns. Communicating with people just felt too hard and tiring, although I really love my friends, I just felt too exhausted at times. Overtime, technology gets a bit too tiring. There are times I love connecting with others, and other times I really do not feel up to it. It is worse to force yourself to do these things rather than to say a simple “no”.

However, are we really going about this time in the most therapeutic way possible? Have we abandoned our mental health issues for the sake of wanting to ‘take it easy’?

When I have been told by friends and loved ones how I should engage in self-care, I was never sure what that meant or how to go about it. I found that not being bothered to do anything was my version of ‘taking it easy’ on myself – but I began to wonder if that was beneficial to my mental health and wellbeing? If I stuck myself in my hole of staying in bed when it was too hard to get up or staying disconnected from people – was that going to further my self-care in this trying time? I found I had to try to maintain a determination and hope to pull me out of that hole I felt so deep in at times. I had to get up, otherwise I would regret it, and beat myself down for not dealing with my situation sooner.

Essentially, I had to pull through and give myself that little push. It can be a vicious circle when you are stuck in this hole, of constantly beating yourself down while the negative thoughts swirl through your head like a dizzy carousel ride.

“People seem to be having a better lockdown than me.”

“Look at that lucky couple getting to spend the lockdown together.”

“I wish I were as driven as that brainiac learning a new skill”.

The reality is no one is having the best time during these lockdowns and you just must take it one day at a time. Each day brings a new insight and new news. These days in lockdown may feel the same, but step by step, we are getting closer to freedom.

To get a professional understanding of what exactly self-care is and how we can take part in it, I spoke to psychotherapist, Karen Ní Dhíomasaigh. “One person’s self-awareness is different to others. Some people are a lot better at managing changes. Not a lot of people have that self-awareness. It comes with age and experience.” Ní Dhíomasaigh continues to say that this period of living in a pandemic is a time of “getting to know yourself”.

In a time where mental health services are particularly stretched as people are increasingly anxious of the future, she says that “people need to express their emotions as we’re sensitive souls.”

When I asked her how people who struggle with self-care could engage with this process, she said one needs to “tend to your own inner world and how you engage with your outer world. Do something and nothing for you.

“Find out what brings you to your equilibrium. [People] don’t have the capacity to engage in fun as they used to.” It’s important, she points out, that we “take some time and check in with [our] own feelings and what your feelings are: what do I need?”

Ní Dhíomasaigh also recommends that one should seek help if needed, “from somewhere you know you’ll get it [such as] friends”, as people may not realise with no routines they are slipping into unhealthy routines.

Social media has been a toxic virtual reality for me during this nightmare. As much as I feel like I need it to promote the work I do; I often get the urge to throw my phone out the window. I imagine getting rid of my phone, and just being around nature, making real connections, sticking to the simple things in life.

Unfortunately, that is not the world we live in today, nearly everything is dominated by perception and technology. Nothing seems real and to add to that we are all on a Zoom call trying to ‘connect’ to others. I slap on some light make-up, my wig, and some seemingly nice clothes; get talking to people I barely know and pretend like everything is okay. It starts to feel like you are putting on a façade to please people and get on with the show, when really, you are struggling inside.

When I struggle, I reach out to my loved ones, because not everyone needs to know or wants to know your personal business when they ask, “how are you?”.

It is funny because on social media, it seems like most are aware that everything is not okay, we are finally reading people’s true thoughts but then on Zoom meetings you must retain some credibility and look seemingly okay when in fact we are not okay at all. It is a professional environment in the working world, where you cannot always be yourself.

Why is everyone pretending? Why can we not just acknowledge that we are living in one of the hardest times known to our society? Why can’t we just mourn our old lives a little? I have found that more and more I struggle to stay on top of my emails and commitments. I am starting to take some time out for myself, sending a quick note to people ‘sorry, not tonight’.

There may be a touch of guilt when I say this because you feel like you ‘must’ connect with others during this time, but sometimes you really do not have to if you are not up to it. Maybe we have finally learnt what is our breaking point and when to take care of ourselves, I certainly have.


Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash