Mental Health

Barriers To Self Care

Who’s wellbeing comes first?
Is it yours, your clients, your family or friends?

Most of us have heard the oxygen mask analogy – put your own mask on first or you can’t effectively help others. But, in reality is it that easy? For many of us it’s not.

My parents grew up in the second world war. I grew up very much in a family with a stiff upper lip, dust yourself off and get on with it attitude. I’m not criticizing this. It was how my parents dealt with the massive amount of trauma they, their parents and grandparents faced. Often with no support whatsoever.

And so I have had to learn self care and I’m happy to say that nowadays I have excellent self care skills. I’ve developed these strategies through years of struggling with my own mental and physical health. I’ve learnt these from various treatment programs, both NHS and private. From self study, formal education, peer support, and by somehow finding the discipline to put these things into regular practice. Self care is often a case of trial and error, finding out what works and what doesn’t work for you.

Self care differs from person to person and changes over time. The more you practice self care the more tools you have. So when one strategy doesn’t work, you automatically reach for another one without even thinking.

Even though I know that I have to put my mask on, the reality is that I will always put the needs of my wife and kids first and give myself just enough to get by. Saying that though, I still think I’m a lot better than most at putting self care into practice.

Some barriers to self care

Gender: (yes I’m generalising here)
There can sometimes be a blokey, macho, too hard or too cool to look after myself, man thing. Personally, I’ve always felt blessed that I have never felt self conscious walking into a yoga class full of women or being able to receive a massage.

A woman’s role is often seen as that of the caregiver. Always looking after everyone else and making sure others needs are met, whilst their own are not.

Structural barriers:
Self care can be expensive. It can be time consuming. So there are also financial barriers which make self care much more difficult for some than others. If you are working multiple jobs, all zero hour contracts with no sick or holiday pay, and still not able to meet your financial obligations, how can you justify the expense of going for a swim, getting your hair cut or some time off work?

I had a conversation with someone the other day who said they don’t buy it that it’s cheaper to buy junk food than healthy food, as you can get really cheap fresh food from Aldi, Lidl and market stalls. I gently reminded them that may be true, but you have to be in the right frame of mind to be able to prepare fresh ingredients and cook them. When you’re not feeling your best, sometimes you don’t have the energy, or maybe even feel you’re worth the effort of cooking yourself a home cooked meal for. Even just living alone, sometimes is enough to make cooking a mental challenge. It’s just much quicker and easier to pop something in the microwave or get something delivered.

Looking after yourself can also be affected by those around you. If, for example, your partner does not look after themselves and you want to, they might feel that you’re being self indulgent or you might feel guilt yourself. Adopting a healthy diet may be made that much harder if you’re living with someone who just wants to eat junk food. Imagine then how much harder it would be if you want to quit alcohol or drugs and you’re around people who are always using.

Deanna Zandt has written an excellent piece on “The Complexities of Self Care“. She does an excellent job of breaking this down into:

  • Self soothing – activities which provide comfort/distraction in difficult times.
  • Self-care – activities that help you find meaning, and that support your growth & groundedness
  • Community care – workarounds for systems that don’t inherently support care (i.e. capitalism!)
  • Structural care – systems that support community care, self-care AND self-soothing

It’s clear that self care is not as simple as it sounds. And more often than not, we need a fair amount of help in order to do this.

To quote Deanna,

No single person can do all the kinds of care that are needed all the time; we each can play a role in supporting each other in different ways, though. Now, go forth and care for each other — and yourself.