Self-care during times of crisis

Flipping #selfcare cliches into REAL ways to look after yourself

Posted on October 21, 2020 by Lucy Thomas OAM

The subject of the moment is self-care: Taking an active role in your own wellbeing.

But for so many of us, “self-care” seems to have evolved into some kind of totally un-relatable, alternate reality that actually distracts us from taking care of ourselves – trendy workouts, scented candles, spending heaps of money on grooming, fad diets, bubble baths, and forced positivity all the time! Now I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with pampering. Or eating kale. There’s nothing wrong with getting fit. But when we bundle up all of these messages together, we might get the idea that wellbeing is something to be bought, performed, or that it’s about being self-indulgent.

a monkey enjoying having its fur combed

But self-care isn’t selfish.

In my work as cofounder of PROJECT ROCKIT, Australia’s youth-driven movement against bullying, hate and prejudice, I’ve crossed paths with hundreds of thousands of school students, many of whom were going through really tough times when we met. Working out how to take care of yourself is helpful at anytime, but during a crisis, it’s essential.

PROJECT ROCKIT came about because there were these two sisters who got really fired up about bullying and decided to do something about it. My little sister Ro and I had only just finished high school and we were sick of the way that young people are routinely under-estimated on the issues that mattered most to us. When I was in school I never would have dreamed that today we’d have helped thousands of school students all over Australia to challenge prejudice in the world around them. We just felt like we needed to take action.

Lucy taking a selfie with a group of school students in a PROJECT ROCKIT workshop

What I now know, is that starting PROJECT ROCKIT was an act of self-care – choosing to work towards a world where kindness and respect thrive over bullying, hate and prejudice – the kind of world that we want to live in. PROJECT ROCKIT has given me purpose when I felt like trying was pointless, made me feel valuable and needed, built up my strength to bounce back from stuff-ups (there have been many!) and reconnected me with compassion when I myself faced bullying and prejudice. During the most difficult times in my life, PROJECT ROCKIT has wrapped me up in a community that I never knew I needed.

Right now, the whole world is in crisis and we can’t fix our problems with bubble baths alone! The narrative that self-care stereotypes sell us is that we’re inadequate as we are and this makes each of us even more isolated at a time when we’re craving connection more than ever. So it’s time to trade in the #blessed white-washed cold-pressed influencer messaging that we’ve become so familiar with and focus on real paths to being well so we can look after ourselves and get through all the external chaos together.

So let’s put a new spin on 5 classic self-care cliches:

Drawing of a person with a squiggly mess above their head

1. Treat yourself

…Like literally. If you’re not coping or struggling to get out of bed, get yourself treatment. I know I have! Seeking professional mental health support is strong and courageous and something to be proud of.  If you need help getting help, head to our Get Support page.

2. Declutter

Decluttering your physical space is one thing, but this could also be about taking steps to break down emotional mess… maybe by unfollowing some of the accounts that clog your feed with content that makes you feel terrible about yourself. Or maybe you could try simplifying your day by creating routines that lift you up. Ask yourself, am I a wake-up shower person or before-bed shower person? When do I have the most energy to socialise? By working this out in advance, we’ll find that needs like hygiene and relationships are easier to manage when the going gets tough.

3. Detox

This might be as simple as paying attention to when you’re overwhelmed by negative news and choosing to binge on your favourite show instead. Or pausing the flood of incoming notifications with hands-on activities like cooking, building something or drawing. Or setting boundaries to create space from people who have hurt you too many times.

4. Take some me-time

The way I see it, me-time is prioritising what’s healthy for me. This could be creating space for your own cultural practice – whether it be religious or spiritual, artistic, social, food, or maybe health-based activities. Or taking time to rest and  recharge.

Or maybe it’s about moving your body without perfectionism or self-punishment – in a way that feels good. This is going to look different to everyone because we’re not all the same, but every body is a good body and all of us need physical care.

5. Turn ‘I can’t’ into ‘I can

I’m not suggesting we have to be be unrealistically optimistic about every obstacle, but we can build up our strength to cope with tough times by creating a community of people who rally around us. This could be folks with shared lived experience:

  • based on where you live
  • your cultural identity and your elders
  • your sexuality and/or gender identity
  • your disability
  • your faith background or spirituality
  • Or maybe your sporting club.

Sometimes, it’s important to include people who can gently help us to address habits that have become harmful to ourselves or others and who are patient while we’re working it out. Or maybe… you could build a community around issues that matter most to you, like my sister and I did when we started PROJECT ROCKIT. Our communities are so strong when they’re united by the shared vision of creating something better.

Two students sitting having a conversation in the schoolyard.

It’s such a shame that the stereotypical idea of self-care encourages us only to focus ourselves. Because creating community is an act of self-care.

In our connection to others we flex the best parts of ourselves, contribute to something greater and in turn, we’re couched in support when we’re not doing so well. When it comes to taking an active role in your own wellbeing and self-care, we need to think deeply about how we can build up our reserves and those of the people around us for times of crisis. Self-care won’t stop the storm from happening but this practice and the community we surround ourselves with will give us the fuel to ride our way through it.

This blog is an adapted piece by Lucy that originally appeared as part of the Wheeler Centres “Care Packages” panel. You can watch the panel below.