If you take one thing away from this article, let it be the reassurance that it’s normal not to be feeling your best right now, given the context we find ourselves in.
Dubbed the permacrisis, this extended period of instability (in reference to COVID-19, the cost-of-living crisis, recession, climate change, war in mainland Europe, governmental incompetence, a distressing news cycle, etc.) is likely having a detrimental effect on your mental health.
And it is important to acknowledge how much these systemic issues can impact our wellbeing, as, when we don’t, we run the risk of internalising the blame for our feelings – looking at only ourselves rather than the injustices and uncertainty of the world around us, as the cause of our discontent.
That isn’t to say that self-reflection and actively working to improve our wellbeing is without value at this time – quite the opposite – but just that we should go easy on ourselves, be realistic about what we can achieve in the face of adversity and allow ourselves some time and space to sit with, and process, challenging feelings that we might have towards our circumstances.
So, what can self-care do for us when we’re living through, as the expression goes, such “interesting times”?
Self-care is defined as proactively looking after ourselves and working to develop and maintain healthy habits that keep us mentally and physically well – to whatever extent this is possible.
In a world that feels very much out of (our) control, performing acts of self-care can give us a sense of agency. Something as small as establishing a daily routine can be a reclamation of some power over our lives during a time where our power feels especially limited.
Mustering the wherewithal to actively peruse our wellbeing, however, is easier said than done as the weight of the permacrisis propagates a sense of languishing en masse. In Luminate sessions, this is marked by more and more attendees reporting a heavy feeling, feeling more easily overwhelmed, with significantly less capacity (for work and in their personal lives) than they had pre-pandemic.
In many instances, individuals know what they need to do to improve their wellbeing, but just can’t find it within themselves to take action - a knowledge that likely exacerbates the challenging emotions they’re already feeling.
And so where this is the case, our self-care aspirations should change to meet us where we are.
What is our bare minimum self-care quota? Maybe it’s to go to bed at the same time every evening, to commit to journaling once a month, or to sign up for a once weekly exercise class. And can we thank ourselves every time we achieve this?
Celebrating our wins, however small, and practicing self-compassion when we fall short of some imaginary standard, or break a promise to ourselves, is a necessity. It’s tough out there already, why must we be tough on ourselves too?
This is not to suggest we avoid responsibility for our actions (or inactions), but that our inner voice speaks to us with encouragement and understanding, rather than attacking or shaming us. Berating ourselves will only serve to make us feel worse when the goal of self-care is to make us feel better.
Everyone’s lives will be/have been affected differently by the permacrisis; the rising cost-of-living and experiences of the pandemic for example. But there may be solace and community found in the idea that, though we’re all in different boats, we’re sailing the same storm.
Talking to trusted friends and family about how your feeling is the single best thing you can do to support your mental health (now and always). Sharing with others is not only a way to expel some of the challenging feelings you’ve been holding inside but can make both you and the individual you’re talking to feel less isolated.
Our case rests: the societal structures we once put in place to support and protect us are not functioning in a way that supports our wellbeing – they are, in fact, having a fundamentally negative impact. And though acts of self-care are not going to magically change our circumstances and make everything better, they can – in each of our tiny spheres – help us regain a sense of agency and support our wellbeing.
If you want to provide your team with the tools, the know-how, and some gentle encouragement to practice self-care, do check out Luminate's workshops and webinars - bite-sized sessions each tackle a different subject in wellbeing.