Self-care during the silly season

angel-cemetery-sculpture-rock-carving-160765It’s that time of year when we wish many of our friends, family and colleagues a safe and happy summer break. Often the safety risks we have in mind are about taking care travelling or not running around the swimming pool. But the silly season can also throw other sorts of health risks our way.

Whether or not you celebrate Christmas, it can be difficult to escape the social pressures to give more time, more money and more cheer at this time of year. For some of us, the financial expectations of the season can be a source of stress. For others, the lack of social networks or family relationships can be equally challenging. According to mental health experts, the festive and holiday season can be a high-risk time for some individuals and communities, especially those who are socially and economically disadvantaged.

Regardless of cultural and religious background, women usually bear the brunt of the shopping, the cooking, the preparing, the wrapping and the overall labour of the festive season. For women from immigrant and refugee backgrounds, these tasks are made even more difficult if family members are overseas and there is a lack of other social and economic support. The irony is not lost on us – at a time when we are told to “take care” and “enjoy our break”, we are negotiating incredible social pressures to contact family members, give unconditionally to others, and make the holidays special and magical for our children.

How then can we take care of ourselves through the chaos? In today’s world, women are often told that the answer is self-care. Yet unfortunately, this idea is also highly gendered. For example, relaxing on the couch in front of the television after a long day of work is often framed as self-care or time-out for women. While for men, often the same behaviour is just called ‘watching TV’.

The problem here is that the expectation on women to be responsible for taking care of ourselves becomes yet another item on our ever-expanding ‘to do’ list taking care of others. Rather than addressing the inequality of work, self-care becomes ‘spoiling yourself’, whether that be an expensive manicure, a block of chocolate or even five minutes alone. At its heart, this idea of self-care for women as ‘indulgence’ is too individualistic to give us any real relief. It doesn’t do many favours for men either, who aren’t given a language to address their own need to take time-out for their emotional and mental well-being.

Let’s challenge and change the gendered expectations we have about caring and being cared for in our homes and communities. At this time of year, we are told about the joys of giving and caring for others. However, women shouldn’t bear the sole burden of caring for ourselves or anyone else. Instead, let’s think about caring as something we share. Let’s work towards making sure that everyone – especially those made vulnerable and discriminated by our systems and structures – has the opportunity to take care of ourselves and give ourselves a well-deserved break!