This is the first entry in our mental health and travel series, and this time I want to focus on something I am super passionate about: self-care.
These days you can’t scroll through instagram without seeing a thousand photos of gorgeous, serene looking women lounging in flower baths and sipping exotic cocktails. You know the type, it’s the type of photo that makes you wonder what the hell you’ve done wrong in your life to not be steeping next to rose petals with your personal masseuse on stand-by to cater to your every worn muscle and creaky joint. Often the captions are just as jealousy-inducing, “Take time out of your day to look after yourself!”, or, “Moments like these are the best part of working for myself, ask me how!” Gag.
I’d love that to be the reality of long-term travel, but if it is, nobody told me how. My travel is often a little sweaty, scattered with more than a few anxiety inducing, heart stopping moments of indecision or confusion, and busy, busy, busy days. Yes, there are moments of pure indulgence, such as getting massages in Thailand that cost a tenth of a price of what they would back home, but I’m not at all convinced that these moments are what self-care actually entails, nice as they are.
So what actually is ‘self-care’?
Self-care for me, and it is an incredibly personal thing for every person, is any action I can partake in that directly improves my health, my mood, my level of peace, or my emotional or spiritual state. It is also any action that acts as a building block to creating habits that directly will directly improve the quality of my mental/emotional/spiritual/physical life.
What does that look like?
Physical exercise. Setting time aside to practice creativity. Telling Chris, my husband, that I need help. My daily skincare routine. Cleaning my sleep space and making sure I have clean and fresh sheets and pajamas. Going for a walk. Going for a swim. Being with nature. Disappearing into my book. Sharing my wants and dreams with a friend. Touching base with my family. Decluttering my space.
Did she just say cleaning?
You betcha! That’s about as far as possible from lounging in a flower bath as you can get! Yup. Self-care is not always fun, relaxing, or something you particularly feel like doing. I know that if my bedroom is clear of clutter and if my bed is clean and smelling great, I will sleep so much better. Better sleep=better mental health. Nothing triggers my anxiety more than a crappy night’s sleep.
The same goes for exercise. I don’t love it, and I complain so much about it, but I have a tendency to get really down on myself and my self-image, so exercise not only releases endorphins into my system, it also is a building block for a strong and healthy body. I don’t want to look like a supermodel, but my mental health is so much better when I feel capable of tackling whatever physical activities we encounter on our adventures.
Self-care is not self-indulgence
Well, not entirely. Definitely, if you have the chance to indulge yourself, go for it girl! But that isn’t all there is to self-care. Self-care is frikken work. It is making sure you go to the doctor when your body is in pain, or the psychologist when your mind is struggling. It is feeding your body with good, delicious food, that will help you to feel energized and fed, and support your system through the strain of moving between countries. It’s taking time to be by yourself when you need peace, and with friends when you need support, and not feeling guilty about asking for either.
Self-care is being your own best friend and mom, even on the road.
That includes the tough love moments, because those moments are as much of a kindness as the chocolate face-stuffing moments. This becomes even more difficult to balance when you are on the road. We don’t always get exactly what we need when we are traveling, sometimes because we feel like a jerk to ask for what we need, and sometimes because it really just isn’t available. So what can we do?Get to know yourself. What do you find yourself yearning for most often? More rest? More exercise? Try to build these moments into your travel plans, so that you don’t find yourself putting it off when you get there. Find out when and where that yoga class is, or find a list of five cafes or restaurants that you can find in the cities you’re visiting so that you know where to go when you feel the need. If creativity gets your heart pumping, build a traditional art class or a theatre show into your itinerary, don’t leave this stuff to chance because there will always be a hundred things to take your focus away from your needs.Don’t get caught up in what you have to do, and end up exhausting yourself for the sake of your instagram feed or your to do list. Many of the best travel memories I have are not things that other tourists are interested in. My travel gems are moments of calm and peace in gardens or tiny cafes or little spaces I stumbled upon completely by mistake. I’m working now to not leave those moments completely up to chance. Build your travel not only on being a sustainable and responsible traveler in terms of your environmental impact, but also in making sure you can keep traveling as long as you want to.
Got any tips that I missed? Let me know below, I’d love your ideas!
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