‘Self-care’ isn’t a replacement for an in-person support system

“Self-care” is continually pushed as a quick fix for loneliness, depression, or anxiety. But it’s not working.

Not only has the term become highly meaningless and vague, its overuse by brands has led to it becoming both expensive and competitive — the exact opposite of what it was designed to be. Self-care shouldn’t be something that we can fail at, or feel guilty for not doing correctly — and yet, here we are.

The concept of “self-care” has been co-opted and weaponised capitalism as a way to put the burden of dealing with inequality and overwork back onto the shoulders of those who the system harms the most, by suggesting that our mental health is our responsibility alone.

Despite this, it is continually pushed by influencers trying to convince us to buy products by marketing them as a way to look after ourselves (I talked about this more in last week’s newsletter, The toxicity of influencer culture).

And unsurprisingly, it often makes us feel even worse.

Instead of pushing self-care, what we really need is to have more conversations about community care

Like many of my newsletters and articles, this post was inspired by a TikTok video that I stumbled upon through Twitter. Here it is:

In summary, this creator is a single person living alone with no access to her family. During the pandemic, she came to the harsh realisation that she didn’t have an in-person “pod” that she could turn to for support. And she quickly learnt that being alone and lacking community cannot be solved through hopping on a Zoom call or taking an evening of “self-care”.

The second video is so poignant that I’ll write out what she says in full for those who can’t watch the video:

“It was so clear to me that I was a tier two, or tier three friend, and that resulted in me having to spend the last two years literally alone.

‘If it’s possible, if it becomes available, maybe we can include you.’

And that was really hurtful because I spent a lot of time trying to figure out, ‘what did I do in my life that resulted in me being so lonely right now?’ I thought I had cultivated a stronger community that I was more integral to. And it turns out I didn’t. And so, being podless was so jarring.”

The comments of this video are filled with people talking about how they had no choice but to spend the past two years alone throughout the pandemic because they didn’t have a close community.

In many cases, the only people they had access to were online . For most, this understandably wasn’t enough. Many people were desperate to return to work, for the sole reason that the office was the only source of in-person community that they had available to them.

Community care can be difficult, and it is something that many of us don’t have much experience in. This is hardly surprising, given the individualistic culture of Western society. We have had it drummed into us that the key way to cultivate a sense of community is to belong to a close family unit — something that is not possible, or safe for many people.

A lack of community and no support network is one of the reasons why people stay in terrible jobs for so long, and a big reason why people run off and join cults. And yet, we are never really taught how to create and nourish community.

The nuclear family was a mistake

While writing this, I was reminded of an essay published in The Atlantic back in March 2020 by David Brooks titled, The Nuclear Family Was a Mistake. It’s a long article, but it was so engaging that I read the entire thing.

In his article, Brooks argues that our society is “too detached, disconnected, and distrustful.” He criticises the fact that we have stripped parents and children of their social connectedness and support, and made it seem like the segregated nuclear family model is the only way to live in much of the world.

And while wealthy parents can afford to hire outside help that would once have been provided by other family members, poorer parents are left juggling the entire workload themselves. You can’t “self-care” your way out of that.

Unfortunately, many of us are so wrapped up in long, exhausting work weeks that we don’t have the time or energy to search outside our immediate circles and look for community elsewhere.

Cultivating community

In the words of Nakita Valerio, “shouting ‘self-care’ at people who desperately need community care will only exacerbate the problem.”

Creating and nourishing community is difficult — especially in a society where we’re taught to prioritise our careers, immediate family and romantic relationships. It can feel like there is little energy left for anything else.

As we emerge from a pandemic that has lasted over two years, we must reframe our priorities. And the key way to cultivate community is to make it a priority, and to consider the idea of “community care” as of equal importance to “self care”.

We must use our privileges to look out for, and support one another.

I publish pieces like this every Thursday in my newsletter. If you’re interested in more stuff like this, you can sign up here. :)

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Tech journalist & copywriter. Contact me at aimee.pearcy@gmail.com

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Aimee Pearcy

Aimee Pearcy

Tech journalist & copywriter. Contact me at aimee.pearcy@gmail.com

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