The truth about self-care – beyond bubble baths and yoga
I blamed myself.
You see, one of my greatest strengths is also my weakness.
I have high personal power, which means I take a high degree of responsibility in situations.
Personal power is the degree to which you believe you are in charge and take sole responsibility for your outcomes rather than viewing yourself as the victim of circumstances. It’s a measure of emotional intelligence.
It helps me to feel empowered and influence my situation.
But the shadow side is that I can blame myself when things happen.
I should have done more.
I could have done more.
And that was my response to my burnout. When my health crashed a year after having my first child, and I got diagnosed with adrenal fatigue, my initial reaction was to think it was my fault.
I blamed myself.
If only I’d done more yoga.
If only I’d taken more time for myself.
It took me too long to realise it wasn’t my fault.
Realising burnout is a social phenomenon, not an individual failure, is vital if we’re ever really going to tackle it.
And that’s the issue I have with prescribing self-care as the antidote to burnout – especially for women.
As psychiatrist and best-selling author Dr Pooja Lakshmin brilliantly shares in her book Real Self-Care, this is just faux self-care.
You can’t meditate your way out of a 40-hour working week with no childcare.
You can’t bubble bath your way out of the unfair domestic load and the motherhood penalty.
But it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we’re failing ourselves and our health if we don’t ‘just’ make the time for these.
With nearly half of working mothers reporting that they have been diagnosed with anxiety or depression in a recent poll – it’s vital for every woman to know this.
A Harris Poll data commissioned by CVS Health found that 42% of working mothers surveyed were diagnosed with anxiety or depression in 2022, compared to 28% of the general population and 25% of their coworkers without children. And even working fathers!
Worryingly these numbers don’t seem to be coming down post-pandemic.
Self-care is not the answer because how do you make the time if the system in which you operate (ideal worker versus ideal mother) keeps you trapped from having the time?
These activities end up being one more task on our to-do list that we feel guilty about. Even if we can afford them, even if we have access to them, we end up feeling like we’re failing if we don’t create the time to make them happen.
This is what Dr Pooja calls the tyranny of faux self-care.
It’s faux because it’s not sustainable. And it’s faux because it’s not directed at the causes of stress and burnout.
Dr Pooja shares that it exonerates the social structures that conspire with each other to oppress us into burnout.
It’s faux because it wrongly places the responsibility entirely on the individual instead of calling for a revolution in the systems which influence and create the problem in the first place.
Yes, personal power and responsibility are important.
But we need to identify the systemic stressors before looking at solutions.
Otherwise, we’re just at risk of putting a sticky plaster over the causes and never truly supporting people with their wellbeing.
So for maternal mental health awareness week – let’s not blame ourselves if we’re struggling in our motherhood journey.
Let’s not use self-care as another stick to beat ourselves up with.
Instead, let’s start to see the water we swim in.
Let’s start to see the beneath the experiences we’re having as working mothers and get curious about the psychosocial (systemic) causes as much as the psychobiological causes (individual).
Only then can we see the accurate picture.
Only then can we see that it’s not our fault.
Only then can we start to influence the systems around us, instead of blaming ourselves.
That’s what my experience with burnout has fueled me to do.
Because the data seems to suggest that our mental health isn’t going to improve anytime soon.
According to the Harris Poll, 40% of working mothers don’t feel their mental health will return to pre-pandemic days, and 72% don’t feel supported at work.
That’s why I created the Motherhood Management Matters® programme – helping mothers in the workplace to be more supported by their managers.
That’s why I’m trained in the Global Leadership Wellbeing Survey and offer science-based solutions for both organisations and individuals to tackle the underlying issues of wellbeing in the workplace – not sticky plaster solutions.
Want to learn more? Get in touch for a chat.
Let’s work together to change the systems instead of beating ourselves up.
Because it’s not our fault, and we don’t need bubble baths to solve our burnout!