Eighteen months ago the term 'self-care' was alien to me. It sounded like hospital euphemism for politely sending your patients home to die.
Giving yourself a break just wasn't the done thing in my circles, particularly in the workplace. Stress knocked at the door constantly but I resolutely refused to answer. So - in an environment where crying seemed weak and admitting to stress was more a badge of honour than an explanation accompanying a sick note - stress found its escape routes in the form of unshakable colds, irritability, sleeplessness and an impromptu breakdown in the dairy isle of Sainsbury's (I still day-dream about going back to explain that their lack of pineapple cottage cheese really wasn't that much of a biggie).
Back then I would have confused 'self-care' with the sort of dogma you hear on American TV shows that tell you to 'look out for number one'. It would have seemed somehow selfish. And that's certainly one thing women are not supposed to be.
Over the last couple of years, I've discovered that in reality looking after yourself is far from a selfish act. It's not about spa days, big holidays or pulling a sickie from work - although there is definitely a role for all of these things. It's about slowing down, listening to what your body is telling you and trusting it to steer you right. It might sound easy, but, when your default reaction is to shut out your body's cries for attention, believe me it can be a challenge.
Meeting my needs - and in fact taking some time out to actually explore what they were - has helped me to be a better friend, partner, sister, daughter, colleague, student, Sainsbury's-shopper... you get the picture. So it's a pleasure and a mini victory to be able to share with you some of my self-care saviours to mark Self Care Week.
What this isn't is a definitive 'top ten' list that everyone should follow. Everybody finds solace in different things. If meditation feels more like a 'should' than a joy, that's okay. You don't have to (and can't) win at relaxing! These are just a few things that work for me. What works for you will be different, and I'd encourage you to take some time this week to create your own go-to self care practice.
1. Practising Yoga - Fast paced, or slow and meditative depending on my mood. Yoga challenges me, brings focus and calm, and helps my mind to make better friends with my body.
2. Getting a massage - There's a reason massage is often referred to as physical therapy. For me, it's a way to express care for my whole self. It helps me to be mindful of aches and pains, and being given the space to say nothing for an hour is utter heaven.
3. Going for a walk - Being outside, especially in nature, blows the cobwebs away and helps me to get the day's challenges in perspective.
4. Talking to friends and family - Talking to someone who knows me warts and all, whether it's to have a laugh, vent or cry, never fails to comfort me and lift my spirits.
5. Trash TV - New Girl, Great British Bake Off, The Good Wife, Ru Paul's Drag Race. Okay, I may have said too much already...
6. Reading fiction - Now that I've gone back to study to retrain as a counsellor I sometimes find myself feeling guilty if I pick up a book that isn't on the reading list, but reading for pleasure is something that both relaxes and renews me so is well worth making time for.
7. Jogging - Slowly, badly and listening to 90s dance music.