OPINION

True self-care is about your mental health

CONSCIOUS: You need to be aware of how you're coping with life or you might not realise when you aren't coping at all.
CONSCIOUS: You need to be aware of how you're coping with life or you might not realise when you aren't coping at all.

How are you? Look after yourself. Take care. Have an early night. Drive carefully. RUOK? Our culture is littered with small phrases founded in the best of intentions, but they have become platitudes with frequent use and empty automatic gestures with the emotional weight of a goldfish.

How many people have answered "how are you" with "how are you?" How many of you have actually answered the question truthfully when asked? Or, more to the point, have you ever asked it and been interested in the genuine response?

I remember as a teenager sitting at my Dad's desktop computer with my fingers crossed, hoping the dial-up internet would connect this time. I know, I'm showing my age! These days, when Netflix doesn't load an episode fast enough, we start getting impatient.

We have credit card debt and Afterpay payments for purchases we make for things we can't afford. We are seeing a rise in get rich quick schemes (often around various digital currencies or pyramid schemes), diet plans and shakes and supplements designed to make us shed weight at lightning speed - there's a quick fix for everything.

And yet somehow, in this "blink and you'll miss it" world, we are expected to prioritise "self-care." What does that even mean?

The cynic in me wants to answer that question with "a multi-million dollar business, that's what." There are books, courses, webinars, work programs, keynotes...

Then there are memes and Insta posts all about what we should be doing and how we should be acting and thinking and making choices.

The pressure to take care of ourselves in the onslaught of a fast-food, buy-now-pay-later world is immense.

Ironically, the actual message is a highly important one: in this incredibly demanding culture, we need to make sure we don't lose ourselves in the chaos.

Self-care - real self-care, not the self-care for profit version - is about mental health.

Beyond Blue research tells us that 45 per cent of Australians will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime.

They tell us that in any one year, 1 million Australian adults have depression and more than 2 million have anxiety.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics' National Health Survey: First Results 2017-2018 tells us these issues are on the rise. According to this survey, 4.8 million Australians live with mental and behavioural conditions, topping out the list of chronic illnesses that we live with in this country.

Self-care is not a gimmick. In all honesty, I don't think the industry has actually come from a place of profiteering off the vulnerable - I think it most likely has grown from the realisation that we really do need to take better care of ourselves.

Our culture is littered with small phrases founded in the best of intentions, but they have become platitudes with frequent use and empty automatic gestures with the emotional weight of a goldfish.

The problem we see is with a saturated market in this space where the important message behind the industry often gets lost.

If we take my previous question seriously, self-care itself is undertaking activities designed to preserve, improve or maintain a person's mental, emotional and physical health.

This weekend, for example, I took Sunday afternoon "off." I didn't, study, clean the house or mow the lawn (although God knows it needs it). I watched NBA and NBL, enjoyed a cheeky drink and cooked a roast pork dinner. This might seem like a fairly typical Sunday for many people, but for me, it was a treat. This is what my self-care looks like. Yours might look like a walk along the beach, curling up with a book and a cup of coffee, playing Xbox, having a massage ... self-care is different for everyone of us because it is reflective of what we really need in our lives at any given moment.

In truth, self-care is more than just one Sunday afternoon "off" - it requires a commitment. Not a commitment to activities or plans, but to always listen to yourself and respond to the needs that you recognise.

We need to be consciously aware of how we are coping with life in order to recognise when aren't coping with it at all, and then do something about it. Otherwise, we might not realise we are sinking until our heads slip under the water.

And next time, when you ask someone how they are or tell them to take care, really listen to their answer and really mean it.

Self-care is important, but so is caring for each other.

Zoë Wundenberg is a careers consultant and un/employment advocateat impressability.com.au

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