Self-maintenance is the new self-care

Self-maintenance is the new self-care

Why Liadan Hynes is swapping the Insta-bragging world of self-care for real life wellness plans that work. 

Self-love, self-care Sunday. Radical self-care, self-care for the real world. Healthy self-care, feminist self-care, self-care for warriors. Instagram has a lot to say on the matter, but what happens when the need to look after yourself becomes simply another guilt-inducing item on the never-ending to do list? Something other people are always doing better, as brought to you courtesy of a glossy selfie.The notion of self-care has moved from truly nurturing and strengthening oneself to being just another tool in the game of personal online marketing we all engage in. Isn’t there something a little at odds about conflating the idea of a sense of physical and mental wellbeing with a hashtag, a selfie or a pithy inspirational quote? True peace of mind and personal strength is unlikely to be found amidst the humble bragging on line.

Bye bye, internet guide to life

This is not to say down with self-care, but as presented by the internet? No thank you. So it’s out with the self-care guilt-athon, in with the wellness plan. What’s the difference? A wellness plan is bespoke, totally individual to each person, and works to strengthen your sense of wellbeing. Maria Lynch  is a life coach whose work in the areas of confidence building, communications and assertiveness often involves helping clients to develop their own plans.
“If a person is struggling with their life balance, wants to learn how to recover quickly from stress or build resilience, then it is really important to have a wellness plan,” she explains.

The aim is to build practises into your life that will support your wellbeing in times of crisis but also act as a form of emotional maintenance and stress release in day-to-day life. In this sense, when the hard times inevitably come along we are prepared, the resilience muscle has been trained and empowered, our bounce back-ability primed. “It’s really personal,” adds Maria. “Because you can’t work in generalities, say ‘ok, do salsa dancing, that will raise your spirit’. That person might need meditation, or a nutrition plan.” 

A wellness plan can bring you up, or down, ground you, or give a moment’s reprieve from life’s circumstances. The more personally tailored the better, as you’re more likely to stick to something you genuinely enjoy. Yoga, meditation, running, the gym, personal training, sea swimming, kick-boxing, weight-lifting, time with your family, cooking healthy food for yourself, a weekly manicure or blow dry, a new book, a girl’s night. Whatever works for you.  Mary Greene, owner of Divine boutique in Maynooth, spent ten years trying to conceive through IVF, before having her two sons. In order to keep on top of the long-term stress of the situation she took a course in mindfulness course, and made sure she attended weekly Pilates classes. “It was exercise and breathing. I’m not into yoga or meditation so Pilates suited me,” she explains.

Letting go of perfect

In her podcast Mad World, journalist and author Bryony Gordon recently discussed the notion of looking after yourself with Fearne Cotton. “I think (it) has to be really bespoke,” said Cotton, who has written various self-help type books including Happy: Finding Joy in Every Day and Letting Go of Perfect, and Calm: Working Through Life’s Daily Stresses to Find a Peaceful Centre. “It has to be something that is a personal endeavour, and it can’t be prescribed by anyone, in any particular form.” Alongside running, Cotton lists spending time with her kids and husband Jesse Wood, as well as friends that she “really likes and can relax with,” eating good food, going to bed early, and not beating herself up over everything; work incidents, social media comments.

This is all macro stuff. On a micro level, your plan should contain some easy practises to restore wellbeing in the moment, and to slough off the adrenalin coursing through your system directly after stressful incidents. Maria suggests short breathing techniques: “by shifting the focus of your attention from whatever is causing you stress, you feel more composed about the situation at hand.” 
Alternatively, concentrate for a moment on feeling grounded. Notice your feet on the floor, take a strong stance. In the aftermath of specific situations, she suggests techniques such as Emotional Freedom Techniques, EFT, most commonly referred to as tapping, or acupressure techniques.

Her own wellness plan is more detailed than most. “When you work in this area, it’s your responsibility to be the best you can in terms of emotional and physical management. Also, you are on occasion dealing with emotional transference. Emotional cleansing is really important. 

The plan changes as and when something is no longer working. Currently, it’s a mixture of meditation or mindfulness practises daily, breathing exercises, Pilates, and sea swimming. “Contact with nature is really important for me,” she explains. “When I am too much in my head, I need to get moving. With sea swimming, when you’re in contact with the elements, you feel alive. It puts everything in perspective, and you think ‘I can move on now’.”

The outside-in effect

Ruth Fitzmaurice, author of I Found My Tribe, has spoken of the outlet swimming provided in a time of extreme stress, when coping with her husband’s motor neuron disease. “It is a reset button: you’ll never regret a swim, you’ll always feel good coming out of that water. It becomes a craving when you are having a bad day...And the cove is a healing place in a hippy, spiritual sense.” A sense of community is important for a sense of well-being, Maria reflects. 

A wellness plan doesn’t need to be all about the heavy side of life. “Beauty is important as well,” Maria explains, suggesting getting your nails done, or a blow dry. “Not everything has to be dark and deep. Do little things that make you feel good about yourself.” The main thing is not to get too rigid- commit to three gym sessions a week and then beating yourself up when you don’t achieve that goal.
A wellness plan will make you less reactive, more in control of your responses, more energised.

“Life will keep happening,” reflects Maria. “Because you have a wellness plan doesn’t mean you won’t get stressed. But during difficult times, you know ‘ok, I need to dial up my plan because my environment or my situation is really tough at the moment, so I need to pay more attention to it”. Personally tailored, finely tuned to our individual lives, now that’s a form of self-help we can get on board with.

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