In an increasingly individualistic world, where people are reduced to their productivity, self-care becomes a radical act. For individuals living with mental health problems, the consulting psychiatrist and psychotherapist/ counsellor provide inputs on what is the nature of self-care best suited for the person. This is based on an understanding of the person’s condition and the nature of their distress.
Commonly, family and friends also offer tips for self-care, but these are seldom informed by the needs of the person. Instead, it is an opinion offered based on limited knowledge, understanding and concern for their loved one’s wellbeing.
Popularly, self-care is promoted as doing certain activities to enhance wellbeing. In reality, though self-care is a “spectrum”. It is not a singular activity or exercise rather it is a changing, continuous, and introspective journey, requiring us to understand ourselves better. This includes identifying our strengths, weaknesses and triggers or stressors.
Alongside better understanding oneself, an important enabling factor for self-care is acceptance. Often when we experience negative emotions or distressing circumstances, we look to distract ourselves from them or get overwhelmed. During such times though, the mind can behave like a “pig-wrestling,” which will bring you no relief, but the pig will thoroughly enjoy it.
Acceptance opens up a variety of pathways for self-care, which can look and mean different things for different people, depending on the context and circumstances. For some, self-care may mean a few extra hours of sleep to give your mind a break from the thought loops or just sitting with the feeling, taking a step back at work or deciding to do nothing for the day.
It also involves putting yourself first and creating the required boundaries. Making these choices or drawing boundaries could be perceived by others as being selfish, but it is important as it helps regain a sense of control and agency over one’s own life.
Given the stigma and taboo surrounding mental illness in our country, it is difficult for people to honestly talk about their struggles and difficulties, fearing they may be discriminated against or excluded.
But it is important to find peers with similar struggles, whom you can confide in. As we start opening up about our own struggles, we begin to discover others with similar experiences who can empathize with us. These peer relationships are an important mediating factor in self-care. Not only do these relationships provide a safe space to bare out our vulnerabilities, but they also organically become spaces of co-learning and growing.
Self-care is not one-dimensional, nor is it always the same, what is important is that it should be consistent. As we grow, understand ourselves and our needs, we also find newer ways and forms of caring for our mind and wellbeing.
Manisha Shastri is a Research Associate at Centre for Mental Health Law and Policy, ILS Pune and Dr. Soumitra Pathare is a psychiatrist and Director of Centre for Mental Health Law and Policy, ILS, Pune