Just the Tip is a quick little column in which we share just a little bit of ourselves. (Even though it’s just a little bit, despite what you learned in health class, it still counts.)
We speak to you not as experts, but as regular ol’ humans here to share a bit of our own tips and tricks, be they relatable, weird, interesting, gross, or groundbreaking. (They probably won’t be groundbreaking.)
In honor of our upcoming chapter about the flesh bags we call our bodies, this Just the Tip delves into how we each interpret the ever-evolving idea of self-care. For some, self-care is a daily mantra, a necessary shield against the perils of a busy subway commute or a stressful meeting. For others, the term means nothing more than extravagant self-pampering, something to engage in when you have the time or money.
But although the idea of self-care may differ for each of us, engaging in it offers your body and mind a much-needed chance to heal and recharge. Here are some of our favorite (and most candid) ways of taking care of ourselves after enduring a day out and about in the world.
The concept of self-care is not new, however it seems as of late we are constantly bludgeoned with the commodification of self-care as a measure of self-love. If that is truly the case, then let me tell you, I love myself a lot.
In my day-to-day, I encounter a lot of people and thus a lot of energy–some good, some not so good. From the man jabbing his elbow into my head on the subway, to the young artist who hugs me because I helped her sell her first piece, the energies I absorb ebb and flow. Therefore it should come as no surprise that my self-care involves beautiful, blissful solitude. Alone, I escape and sink into the familiar, whether it’s cracking open a well-worn book of sudoku puzzles or watching Marissa Cooper die in Ryan Atwood’s working-class arms for the 5th time (SPOILER SORRY! You were never gonna watch “The OC” anyway).
I am also a retail-therapy truther. Where many encounter anger and anxiety scouring the racks of over-crowded New York flagships and boutiques, I find peace. It may seem superficial, but in a city where people don’t talk to each other, a stranger telling me that they like my pants or asking me where I got my purse does a lot to counteract the man on the street explicitly letting me know what he’d like to do to me.
I’m sure I don’t consume enough nutrients and the only time I’ve stepped into a gym in New York City was to cancel my membership (twice), but these other acts of mindful mindlessness help me avoid falling down existential-thought black-holes and keep me ready for what comes next. Oh, and did I mention watching “The Great British Baking Show”? It’s basically like taking a Xanax…
I used to love watching tragic movies, sad documentaries, and reading heartbreaking books about injustice. Not anymore. I work in an industry that is rife with depressing news, and at a magazine that publishes beautiful and harrowing long-form stories; some are tear-jerkers, some are infuriating. And, because of the nature of my job, I have to read all of them. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found myself feeling deeply affected by these stories. So, I have chosen, on my own personal time, to turn away (and that, I know, is my privilege.) For me, self-care is a way to disconnect from the horrors of the world. I no longer watch sad fictional shows that seem a little too real and documentaries about grave injustices. Last season’s “Orange is the New Black” finale? Skipped it. “Making a Murderer”? No, thanks. Give me some Melissa McCarthy and Aziz Ansari any day.
Beyond censoring my TV habits, what do I do to free my mind? I run. I had stopped for a while, because, you know, men are disgusting. But I’ve decided my soul needs some serious healing post-election, so I’ve put my running shoes on again. With the right playlist and a cool summer evening, nothing works better clear my mind than a run across the Williamsburg Bridge. You should try it.
For me, self-care is learning how to pay attention to yourself and what moves you, your weirdness, your damage, the secret longings you don’t tell anyone but yourself. It’s learning to take care of the contradictory soul inside your shell of a body.
I’m still not very good at this, self-deflecting and seeking approval in things and people, but I’m working on it. I want to find balance with myself. So I go hold sweaty yoga poses at the gym because exercising makes me less anxious. I cook meals that take less than 30 minutes because I want to eat healthier but I’m realistic about how much I actually enjoy cooking. I read a self-help column that sees through me to the marrow. I do breathing exercises when it all piles up.
And yes, sometimes, I’m a shill for the self-care industrial complex because I’m a sucker for good packaging and pampering. I love manicures and massages. You don’t need to pay buttloads of cash for SoulCycle-kumbayah-quinoa self-care, but rituals help. We all need regular reminders that we are more than flesh and bone. I huff lavender oil, light candles, drink chamomile tea, and wear face masks, not because I believe they are actually making me a better (calmer?!) person, but because I like the repetitive ritual of it. Private offerings to the altar of me.
This can feel too much and self-indulgent sometimes, but part of my adulthood is realizing that I am fundamentally not a chill person. I am extra! I’m a sensitive marshmallow who journals her feelings in vague Tumblr posts and channels her heart through the lyrics of indie female singers. Self-care is being kinder to my embarrassingly soft center. It’s taking up space. It’s asking for what I want, without qualifying it, or compromising it, or apologizing for it. I’m working on it.
Sometimes I listen to old episodes of “Friends” while showering. It used to be “The Office,” before that it was “30 Rock.” I’ll bring my laptop into the bathroom and set it up on the hamper, allowing the jokes about pivoting and ham and staplers in jello to fill the room as I soap up and let the tension drop out of my shoulders. I enjoy the comfort of listening to jokes I have heard a thousand times before, funny lines I have memorized and can recite (and do, often) when the mood strikes (it does, often).
As an arts journalist, I love listening to and discovering new music, but that tends to stimulate my mind and not lull it into a clay ball of relaxed submission. SoulCycle is probably my one true self-care indulgence as I am well aware of how overpriced the classes are and I just don’t care. I will happily scrape the bottom of my bank account in order to cycle my heart out in the dark, enjoying any opportunity to dance and move with an equally devoted group of strangers. Lastly, I love getting manicures but sometimes they are stressful because I have a hard time telling the manicurist when something is smudged because I know she is working hard and I leave the nail salon feeling guilty and disappointed which is basically the opposite of the feeling I had intended to achieve.
Like many millennials and millennial-adjacents, I’m pretty good at relaxing. I go to bars, sleep in, peruse the weekend paper, binge-watch TV, make the couch into a bed. My style is more teenage boy on summer break than 30-year-old woman—I’ve never had a facial or a massage and my last manicure was probably 10 years ago. I tried a face mask I bought in Japan because the ingredients included horse placenta, but it didn’t really do it for me. I fully acknowledge that part of the reason I avoid more conventional self-care practices like meditation or quiet “me-time” is problematic in itself. I’d rather flood my ears with a podcast or do a crossword than let my over-thinking brain think over the Big Stuff like our ultimate mortality, the fate of our planet, and whether season 5 of “Arrested Development” will return it to its former glory or only be so-so like Season 4?
Outside of the non-productive (re: lazy) ways I drive off the spleen and regulate my circulation, making dinner is my most pleasurable ritual. For breakfast I might go to the bodega, lunch I can forget, but dinner is my queen. I clear off my counter, pop on a mindless re-run, and start slicing. I realize “cooking” is something people say they like to do when they want to impress you, but I don’t entertain any illusions that I’m a great cook. I’m not inherently creative in the kitchen, and my joy doesn’t necessarily stem from discovering a new flavor pairing, or “taking a risk” like they do on “Top Chef.” I like to put things together to make a complete meal, that’s all. And sometimes I even eat it, but that’s not really the point.
My job requires me to be connected to the online news world 24/7, so the calm of self-care comes with shutting out everything digital. So that means placing my iPhone face down or throwing it deep inside of my purse. This will guard me from checking the many notifications bombarding my screen, from news alerts to emoji-filled texts. Once that’s set, I can decompress. These days, the kind of self-care I find most important is both active and creative. In New York City, taking long walks with my DSLR and observing the many urban scenes ready for a photo is my new favorite pastime. I can’t even take naps so being productive creatively with photography makes me feel balanced.
When not out and about, my go-to is pampering. Yes, mani-pedis, facials, massages, plucking untamed Iranian eyebrows, and other do-it-at-home body maintenance. My favorite right now is lathering up in a face mask. I really recommend Aesop’s chamomile masque since the anti-blemish formula works its magic during breakouts. In full ghost face, I lay down and relax knowing my mug is about to undergo pure rejuvenation. Before washing it off, I obviously send my friends a wide-eyed mask selfie!
But I think the most crucial tip to self-care in NYC is alone time. In a place as stimulating and overcrowded as it is here, the moments spent in solitude are the most peaceful. Whether writing in a journal, re-watching “Sex and the City” for the millionth time, or cleaning the house blasting David Bowie, solo time will have you ready to step back into the hustle and bustle of the city–and not be overwhelmed by it all.