Self-care is a concept that’s so omnipresent, it can be hard for beginners to divine what it actually means. Are the non-medical coping mechanisms we sub in for affordable, professional medical attention “self-care”? Is turning on ‘Do Not Disturb’ before bedtime “self-care”? Is eating a chicken parm “self-care”? Then there’s the way the commodification of self-care has made it feel inaccessible, something only the Gwenyth Paltrows of the world have time for. And the weird, infantilizing rituals that surround #adulting have made taking care of yourself into something that can smack of dorkiness, or at least an unpleasant, saccharine earnestness. Mental health supersite Psych Central defines self-care as “any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health,” which means that, like it or not, self-care is literally for everyone who wants to move through life feeling marginally OK. The thing about taking adult steps towards self-care is that you’re going to become an adult either way. It’s just up to you to decide whether you want to be well-rested and well-adjusted, or...not.
There’s no magic jump cut from “McDonalds rocks, sleeping sucks!” teenager to fully grown, self-actualized hot yoga attendee. That’s not how habit formation (or real life) works. Instead, I’m of the opinion that everyone has a watershed moment with self-care, when the benefits of implementing some kind of practice finally outweigh the trepidation surrounding it. For me, it was about booking an appointment with a dermatologist after months of struggling with cystic acne that was not getting better, no matter how many Ordinary serums I slapped on my face. Thanks to a handful of prescriptions, I’m actively happier and more confident about the way my skin looks. Who knew being proactive about self-care could make such a significant difference in my day-to-day life? (Only everyone who’s ever tried it, duh.)
According to people who reached out to VICE to share their own self-care origin stories, their reasons for taking the plunge varied. Some, like me, were motivated by a minor physical crisis. Others found their mental health slipping out of control; a few just felt like the time was right to grow up. Check out what they had to say below.
Caroline, 25, who started partying less:
For years I'd been telling myself I'd drink less or stop partying, but it wasn't until recently that it stuck. In the past I framed it as a punishment: You feel like shit so you have to stop. When I started changing the people and things around me, it fell into place. It no longer feels like a punishment, it just isn't my only interest.
Genevieve, 26, who commits two nights a week to quality alone time:
I experienced a major depressive episode and thought, F*ck, I've got to actually start checking in and taking care of myself. I'm of no use or help to anyone if I can't even survive a Tube ride without bursting into tears. We throw the phrase “self-care” around a lot, I think, often using it to either justify over-indulgent behavior or excuse ourselves from caring for others. But I’ve definitely found that I’m a more productive employee and supportive, reliable friend when I’m feeling healthy and stable. And—counterintuitive as it seems—I think limiting my social and professional commitments is helping me get there.
Matthew, 23, who saved up to work with a personal trainer for 3 months:
I've always had really bad body image issues—my parents would make fun of how skinny I was and friends would tell me to eat more because I was so small. I always wanted to get into fitness, but the gymtimidation was too intense. I don't really hate any activities themselves, but I absolutely despise being bad at anything. And I really hate the feeling of being a novice around more experienced people. I've since put on a lot of healthy weight and feel more comfortable taking off my shirt at the beach. I'd say a success story all around.
Robyn, 35, who took a cognitive behavioral therapy course online:
I realized a lot of what was making me anxious was making excuses for not doing things and then becoming more anxious because I didn't do the things I know I should. I have since stopped making excuses in a variety of areas and just committing to doing things that are good for me.
Becky, 23, who got active about financial planning after college:
After graduating I moved home and was really committed to eventually moving away from home and wanted some money to fall back on. Now, I feel a lot more financially secure and feel confident that if anything were to happen, I wouldn’t have to rely on my parents.
Scout, 19, who got proactive about mental health monitoring:
I spent six months in inpatient treatment at the will of my parents and was resentful of that for a long time since it wasn't my choice, but eventually I realized if I didn't want them controlling my mental health, I had to do it myself. At times this has been choosing therapy, sometimes it's simply opening up to a friend or professor when I know I need to get something off my chest, or choosing to go to bed early.
Joshua, 24, who quit narcotics:
I had my back against the wall and it started hurting people who I lived with, until the point where I couldn’t be at college anymore and had to move back home. Losing the drugs was the first part, and gave me a more clear POV, but it hasn’t been until recently on this path that I started to try to dismantle my pathology as to why I behave this way.
Eleanor, 23, who works out three times a week and revamped her skincare routine:
All of my self-care efforts have been motivated by disaster. I started exercising because I found out that my lifelong chronic pain was probably caused by a genetic condition that targeted the connective tissue in my body, and that exercise was really the only way to curb the pain and also keep my heart in check. In the case of my skin, I literally formed a Jorah of Andal-style scab on my eyelid called contact dermatitis, because it was so cold outside and so dry in my heated home. These were the two things I really needed to do to grow up, and they just so happened to coincide.
Lindo, 22, who started therapy at age 12 after “being flagrantly suicidal”:
I’m really grateful to have developed a really thorough understanding of my brain, mental health, and their functions from such a young age. Having that meta-awareness of my mental processes helps me play to my strengths and care for my weaknesses as things are happening. Sadly, a lot of my self-care practices got way off track when I was in an abusive relationship and I’m still working, almost four years later, to recalibrate how I think of what I deserve and what I’m responsible for in life. A lot of the self-care that I work hard to conduct now is about remembering that not only am I responsible for making sure my needs are met, but I deserve to have my needs met and I have the power to make that happen for myself.
Emi, 18, who learned makeup techniques to cover severe cystic acne:
I was sick of being ridiculed and running my hands over my face and being disgusted by what I felt. As I got better at it, I felt a lot better and it helped me come into my own identity among my sisters and peers. I still love doing my makeup, but it's a lot more about giving myself power and learning to love and cherish my natural face.
Heather, 34, who set up autopay and monthly reminders for bills:
I was tired of feeling bad about myself for messing up something I "should" have been able to stay on top of. Then I realized, relying on my dumb memory when there's an easier way is irresponsible! Doing this honestly made me realize that if there's something I want to change about myself or my life, just wishing I could be different isn't going to cut it. I need to change my actions, or change the situation.
Isabella, 22, who quit Juuling and spends periodic 2-week stints sober:
I don't Juul anymore which is sick and makes me feel much better and more present around people. Granted, I don't always have the most restraint over cigarettes, but the idea of being able to control my nicotine addiction and scale it back from what it was before felt really big.
Jack, 23, who also quit Juuling:
I have more appetite I suppose and I am proud of myself for quitting, but still miss dat sweet nic.
Mohandas, 36, who committed to staying on psychiatric medication, “probably forever”:
After a couple years of marriage, I decided that I loved my wife enough that I wanted her to be able to leave me without worrying about me killing myself. She wasn't looking to leave me, we've been almost absurdly happy with our relationship, but I never wanted her to feel like a hostage to my depression if things ever got bad. What I'd love to be able to do is care about myself for my own sake. That's a big one to figure out, but recognizing that caring for myself is a way to care for my family has been a big help in staying alive long enough to work on it.
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This article originally appeared on VICE US.