One month into self-quarantine and I’ve seen friends get sick, acquaintances pass away and so many people lose their jobs. Every day brings something new, and yet every day feels exactly the same. I wake up, I make a cup of coffee, I sit in the same spot in my living room and write to try and keep some semblance of normalcy. I go for walks on the same tired sidewalks and cycle through the same thoughts and emotions with each step. In short, I do whatever it takes to get myself up, showered (sometimes) and ready to show up for the day ahead. And curiously enough, I have not once put on a face mask.
Which got me thinking: What does self-care even mean in the age of self-quarantine?
I remember first writing about “self-care” sometime in 2017. It was the phrase of the year, it seemed, cropping up in every other Instagram post and article on the Internet. To be fair, the words “self” and “care” sound lovely together. And the idea of taking care of yourself seemed to need reinforcing in our increasingly busy lives.
In hindsight, the self-care movement (and boom in the wellness industry as a whole) makes perfect sense. For many of us, the past decade has been a constant grind. Those of us who graduated into the recession remember how difficult it was to find a job—yet alone keep one. Add to that the mounting pressures to check off all of society's markers of success (promotions, relationships, savings, and later on, weddings, more promotions, kids and homes), and the strange compulsion to share it all on social media, and well, it's no wonder many of us have felt anxious since 2008.
At the start of the self-care movement, it was treated more as an honest-to-goodness wellness practice rooted in East Asian teachings and customs (think: meditation, mantras and matcha). Over time, the words “self-care” somehow became synonymous with face masks (a simpler time when the only face masks people were talking about were the cotton ones that came drenched in hyaluronic acid and promised you a soft glow). It became commoditized.
You need a moment to self-care? Here, light this candle. Feeling run down? Why don’t you try this CBD bath bomb? Can’t fall asleep? These melatonin gummies will do the job and make your hair grow faster.
Which brings us to now.
A month into self-quarantine with no end in sight. These past four weeks have felt like four minutes and four years. In this time, we’ve cycled through several social media challenges. We’ve seen a shortage of toilet paper, Clorox wipes, puzzles and….yeast? Some people are streaming live workouts from their computers and making grain bowls. Others are binging Tiger King and making their way through cans of Pringles.
Self-care has never been more important. And yet, the ways that I have traditionally "self-cared" no longer does much to soothe my restlessness.
So what does self-care look like for me lately? It’s making sure I get up and move around if even for a few minutes so I don't get stiff (physically) and stuck (mentally) in one place for too long. Self-care is checking in on my friends and family but also knowing when to stop checking in on everyone around me and go inward with daily meditation and prayer. This is to make sure that I am not neglecting my own personal space, needs and energy, which is something I have always struggled with.
My practices of self-care are also constantly changing. Some days it’s a generous pour of Cabernet; other days it’s a cold glass of kombucha. Some days it feels really nice to put on some makeup and brush my hair; other days I feel righteous in looking unkempt.
What does self-care mean in the age of self-quarantine?
It’s whatever makes you feel good right now. Plain and simple. It’s not something you have to buy or acquire unless, of course, that thing is what truly brings you a modicum of joy or peace if even for a few minutes.
Perhaps self-care during a global pandemic simply means a return to self-trust? Trusting that everything you need and want in your life is within you and not something to seek or buy or find externally. There will be lasting repercussions to work through collectively once this is all over, but I am optimistic that the things we allow to come up during this extended time at home will help us rethink the way we live and work and care for ourselves and others moving forward.
And that, I hope, is what self-care will look like in a post COVID-world.