The Need for Self-Care
Scented bath salts, dinner at a fancy restaurant, a cozy new sweatshirt with an inspiring phrase printed on it. For a real treat, what about a special box of self-care tea? Self-care is the most luxurious tool we have for dealing with stress that builds up in our daily lives.
I think we’ve all been there. We’re having a rough day, or longer, and we just want something nice to help us unwind. In college, whenever I had a bad day, I’d stop on my way home from class and buy an expensive chocolate bar or a pint of ice cream. And I had a lot of bad days– once my roommate came home to find me at my desk surrounded by kit-kat wrappers.
There’s nothing wrong with treating ourselves occasionally. But it’s not true self-care. It’s a temporary fix. I was lonely and struggling with my mental health; no amount of chocolate was going to solve that in the long run.
The phrase ‘self-care’ often brings to mind these indulgent behaviors for many of us, especially those of us (like myself) who are accustomed to the instant gratification consumerism provides. But self-care is a long term commitment to practicing compassion towards yourself. And that sometimes means that self-care can be difficult, tiring, or painful in the moment. We all likely already practice many smaller habits of self-care than we realize. Exercising, going to therapy standing up for ourselves, and eating healthy meals are all self-care.
By practicing self-care we give ourselves permission to see ourselves fully. We are allowed to be messy, angry or sad, and most importantly we learn to forgive our mistakes and learn from them.
The process isn’t always as glamorous the companies selling self-care products would have us believe. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable, there are times where taking care of myself seems like a lot of work. But I am continuously learning that when I put in that work, I really do feel an improvement in the long run
Practicing self-care doesn’t mean being selfish, but rather protecting our wellbeing. Especially during difficult times, it’s important to remember that we can’t pour from an empty glass. We can all benefit from showing up as our best cared for selves.
Planet-Care as Self-Care
Sometimes, we get so wrapped up in our individual worries that we forget the big picture. Where do we fit in the grand scheme of things?
“We are not part of nature; We are nature”. We are not simply observing life or “nature” around us. We’re part of the food chain—every time we bite into an apple or get bitten by a mosquito. The very atoms that make us up may once have been part of a bird, a cactus, a woolly mammoth. The “myth of separation” between humans and the natural world and between each other is a well-crafted illusion. This myth distances our lives from the world around us and makes us forget that we are all interconnected and responsible for each other’s wellbeing– and the wellbeing of the earth.
Remembering that we come from something bigger than ourselves is comforting and grounding. Exposure to sunlight, being close to soil, water, noticing the animals around us, and being in a natural setting all benefit our wellbeing. It reduces levels of anxiety and depression, lower blood pressure, and reduced stress. Visiting natural spaces is creates stronger social cohesion.
When natural spaces are disrupted or destroyed, it does not just affect animals or ecosystems– it affects all of us. When humans are cut off from access to green spaces, our physical and mental health suffers.
And, of course, it’s more complicated than just telling people to “go outside more.” Many urban communities, particularly poor communities of color, don’t have access to natural areas. When communities don’t have green spaces or the resources to travel to natural areas, these health benefits and the opportunity to connect with the non-human world and practice “planet-care” becomes a privilege.
This is how the Earth is being broken, and this is why I’m broken.Kim Smith
Diné activist, artist, and frontline land defender Kim Smith speaks to this often-severed essential connection between people and the world, saying, “I had to look at where I’m rooted,” describing a nearby coal mine and natural gas transfer station. “This is how the Earth is being broken, and this is why I’m broken.”
Thinking of our connection to the land in this way, we can heal ourselves by not only spending time outside but by caring for the land, the water, the air, and wildlife. Healing the land is healing ourselves.
And, when we care for ourselves and each other, by creating community-care systems, by supporting vulnerable and marginalized communities, and by addressing economic and racial inequality, the land will heal too. Because we won’t be so dependent on consumption to feel better in the moment. And because destructive industries won’t have the power to pollute freely in communities of color or exploit indigenous lands. Self-care will be community-care which will be planet-care too.
There are illegal trash dumps throughout Diné territory. Many are in its watersheds, contaminating the water supply. After cleaning up one of the sites with community members, Smith planted sunflowers to detoxify the soil and water.
Smith described looking at the layers of the trash, transitioning from tin to plastic on top, to glass below it. For her, it was a reminder of how her community was introduced to capitalism, and how consumption grew over time, filling the land with trash and polluting soils, waters, and bodies.
For me, it is a reminder that our actions add up over time. We have a chance to both treat ourselves better, and heal the damage to our planet. And the two are tied together; they are one and the same.
How to Start Practicing Planet-Care
Practicing self-care doesn’t have to be complicated.
Sitting outside to eat breakfast, visiting a nearby park on weekends, or spending time by the water are all small ways to start.
Sometimes things will get in the way. Sometimes emotions and situations will be so strong we’ll feel we may never get through them. Look for the moments of calm and let go of the idea of an instant solution. Eventually these moments will stack up, and we can stop counting.
As I write this, I am sitting in a hammock in my backyard. If I look up, I can see the oak and pine trees that support me and a blue sky overhead. My mom keeps a vegetable garden, where she’s growing carrots and cabbages and beets. A busy road cuts behind our house, the cars passing are noisy, and I’m being bitten by mosquitos. But when I look around, I can breathe a little deeper.
If you use products as part of your self-care practice, here’s one way you can care for the planet and rainforests at the same time!