Montrealers weigh in on the growing trend of self care

You may have seen the term 'self care' online, but what does it really mean? Montrealers weigh in and share advice.

Pick a stress-fighting activity, make a plan and other ideas for finding more balance in your life

Concordia student Talia Charness says developing a self-care routine has helped her to manage her anxiety, along with prescription medication. (Rebecca Ugolini/CBC)

To look at her now, you'd never guess that just last year, smiling Concordia student Talia Charness was plagued by crushing stress and anxiety.

She was spending long hours studying in the hopes of going to law school, often skipping dinner with friends or family to cram. Then one night, before a final exam, it all came crashing down on her—with a panic attack. 

"I was trying to go to bed, and my chest, my heart was beating so fast that then you're kind of… you can't even breathe. You're panicking so much, your heart is beating so much you start sweating as you're shivering."

Charness knew she needed a change, and found help through an increasingly-popular trend: self care. 

Look online, and searches for "self care" are nearing peak popularity, according to Google Trends.

On Instagram, more than 1.8 million posts ascribe self care to everything from brand-name face-masks to photo-ready smoothie bowls. And on YouTube, bloggers share their self care routines in homey videos—sometimes in collaboration with a company, whose products they promote. 

But what does self care mean?

Montreal psychologist Virginia Chow says self care can be understood as "trying to find a good balance between taking care of your physical and your emotional side," and that practices can vary from person to person. 

Virginia Chow is a psychologist in Montreal who says self-care focuses on balancing an individual's physical and emotional well-being. (Submitted by Virginia Chow)

For Charness, self care started with an exercise regimen, prescribed by her doctor.

Working out three times a week led to a better diet, sleep schedule, and acted as stress-relief. Combined with prescription medication, Charness says self care helped her overcome her anxiety. 

Shanice Yarde, who facilitates self care workshops across the city, says self care doesn't have to mean you must buy a product.

"It's really important to recognize what it means when we say you have to buy, you have to spend money, to take care of yourself," says Yarde, who is also a poet.

"Essentially if you're poor or working class, you don't deserve to be cared for — I think that message is really dangerous."

But what can self care mean for you? Here are a few tips to follow, from Montreal psychologist Virginia Chow. 

1. Ask yourself: "Where am I feeling the stress?"

The first step to creating a self care plan is to identify where you need most help, physically and emotionally, says Chow. It could be pain in your back from sitting in a desk chair all day, or stress from your new job.

2. Pick a stress-fighting activity

Next, Chow says to pick an activity that will help you to relax, and better manage your daily responsibilities.

"The key thing to keep in mind is to pick activities that are doable, and not say, 'I'm going to go to exercise five times a week, when I hardly ever go to the gym.'"

3. Plan to make it happen

Now, make time for your activity in your personal calendar.

Chow says it's hard to focus on self care if, for example, you're distracted by the household chores you still have to do.

 "So it may mean that somebody has to do the household chores during the week," she says. "For some people, it's getting the whole family together and they do a blitz of chores, so on the weekend, they don't have to worry about it."

4. Some final advice? Treat yourself, but be smart

So what about the treat yourself side of self care? It's fine, in moderation, says Chow.

"If the stress is coming from your relationship, you can go for massages all you want. It's not going to fix the attachment. It's not going to fix the lack of trust in the relationship. It's not going to fix that there's a $4,000 bill due at the end of the month." 

Listen to Rebecca's two-part series on Daybreak below.