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Why I’m ditching self-care and searching for ‘restorative space’

The idea of spending 60 minutes sweating it out in a public gym with strangers is most people’s idea of hell on earth. The smell, the obnoxiously placed mirrors, the overly friendly personal trainers and then there’s the real stinger – having to actually PAY for the privilege to experience all of the above. But for me, it’s where I go practise my version of self-care. In fact, since I started working out in 2012 I’ve barely had one week where I’ve missed a session. I’m not particularly fit or trim, but I’m definitely living proof that exercise is good for people with mental illness.

I’m always preaching that everyone should take 30 minutes a day to do what they love. Find what makes you happy and make time for it every day, and that’s your self care routine taken care of. Easy.

But as I sit here peddling aimlessly on a squeaky bike at my local gym, hurriedly typing this blog post into the notes app on my phone, I can’t help but question whether I’ve taken a wrong turn down the self care path.

Like every other female blogger I’m obsessed with Emma Gannon and all that she stands for (the specs, the boots, the quiet yet ever present confidence) so I’ve been listening to her podcasts regularly.

She recently appeared on the BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour where she and the other guests discussed work life balance; something which I always need advice on.

The phrase “restorative space” came up and to be honest I’ve never heard of it before. If self-care was the phrase of 2017 then I think I might have just found the next big thing for wellness gurus everywhere.

If you search “restorative space” online you’ll find that it’s actually a term used in dentistry – clearly the Deliciously Ellas of the world haven’t caught on yet – so I have defined this new phrase on my own.

From listening to Emma, Ash, Zeena and Rosie talk I got the impression they were using it as a way to describe activities which help give us an energy boost. A way to refuel the tank, if you will.

I found this quote about such activities which I thought summed up my thoughts nicely;

“Some of the psychological benefits of leisure might include, but are not limited to, increases in self-actualization, self-identity, self-esteem, or self-concept; personal enjoyment and growth; reduction of anxiety and depression; enhanced feelings of spirituality; and improvements in overall psychological well-being” (Human Kinetics)

But this idea of restorative space got me thinking. How is different from self-care, and how can women find this ‘space’?

During this gym session alone I’ve listened to a podcast, started writing a blog post and answered two emails not to mention several Tweets. Is this kind of multi-tasking negating the effectiveness of my previously successful self-care workout slot?

It definitely is.

So maybe I should forget my self-care plan – which tends to be a reactive solution to my mental health problems – and instead focus on a proactive solution?

Does is deserve it’s own time slot?

Finding time to recharge my batteries is a tricky business. I’ve been honing my self-care skills for months now, slowly adding activities to my repertoire and pulling them out of a bag Mary Poppins style, but it’s a struggle.

I’m so easily distracted. I just had to stop typing this to read a Facebook message which can best be described as an animated chain letter, and now I’m on Pinterest planning dinner. Where was I?

So maybe I need to reframe my idea of self-care from a single activity to an actual time slot. I think reserving a 30 minute segment in my day where I turn off all electronic devices is a great start, even if I don’t have a ‘self-care activity’ planned.

Surely being disconnected from technology and having some quiet time is a step in the right direction?

Is it a physical area?

I’m always throwing self-care activities into the mix without actually being present to enjoy the benefits. I’ll treat myself to a morning coffee, only to reach for the final sip and realise I finished the damn thing an hour ago and have been scrolling on my phone mindlessly ever since.

I’ve lost an hour of my time which I specifically took out of my working schedule and haven’t even managed to enjoy a simple coffee break without distraction.

As women, we constantly do this. We take 15 minute bath masqueraded as ‘me time’ when it’s actually a daily requirement to wash oneself. We say we ‘love to cook’, when really we have to cook to feed the family, and guilt is stopping us from serving pizza for the third night in a row. We get an early night to recharge, only to get up early to catch up on housework and emails.

We are too busy trying to be efficient workers, mums or wives and have started to see the bottom of the laundry basket as a sign of self-development. When will we start doing things truly for ourselves once in a while?

Maybe a restorative space can help us? Is it a real place? The spa? The park? The back garden on a fresh, sunny morning where just five minutes of silence and a few deep breaths can act as the antidote to an overactive mind? Wherever it is, I want to be there.

via GIPHY

The self-care movement has been hijacked

If I see one more list of self-care activities on Pinterest, I’ll spontaneously combust.

The whole idea of self-care is actually a very boring one as explained by artist Hannah Daisy. She created a popular series of drawings around the hashtag #boringselfcare and feels that the sentiment of self-care has been wrongly re-appropriated by people on social media. In this blog post she explains;

“Self care seems to mean, on the internet anyway, activities you only engage in as a luxury, like the classic; fancy bath bombs or buying fancy crystals. Often activities which cost money, are only nice things or only available for able bodied people.

For me I think even the way ‘self care’ term is used, it insinuates you have to do it yourself, shaming an alienating those who need actual people and carers to do it for them (for what ever reason, physical, emotional and/or neuro diversity etc.)

This is not my understanding as a mental health professional at all. Self care refers to all the activities we need to do day to day and the ‘self’ bit doesn’t mean you have to do it yourself.”

Self-care is more that just a list of activities which we get to pick and choose from to make ourselves feel extra special. It’s actually the day-to-day things that are often essential to survival, like taking our medication or noticing our stress triggers.

I’ve been guilty of using the term self-care frivolously and I’m well aware that the media has grabbed hold of it too. I love this article by Ellen Scott where she says “Stop using self-care to try to sell me sh*t”.

How often have you read an Instagram post with #selfcare and #ad in the same caption? It says it all really.

Well today, I’m giving self-care the elbow and proclaiming it a new age. The age where a mentally unstable women like myself needs to rebrand her leisure time (stay with me) and coin and new phrase. This is the age of the restorative space and I’m stepping into it.

I will be restored!