Episode 21

Published on:

3rd Jan 2023

Cutting Through the Nonsense of "Self-Care" with Anna Borges

"Self-care" lives in infamy in mental health terminology, and has a ton of baggage in its own right. Today we get real about it, cutting through the consumerism and cliches-- in a funny, genuine, and insightful conversation with Anna Borges. Anna has long been writing, researching, and exploring self-care, and currently hosts the Mood Ring: A Practical Guide to Self-Care podcast. She is also the author of "The More or Less Definitive Guide to Self-Care" and has known Dr. Andrea long enough that their individual allergies to BS are maximized when they get together.

Learn more about Anna's work here!

Follow Baggage Check on Instagram @baggagecheckpodcast and get sneak peeks of upcoming episodes, give your take on guests and show topics, gawk at the very good boy Buster the Dog, and send us your questions!

Here's more on Dr. Andrea Bonior and her book Detox Your Thoughts.

Here's more on this podcast, which somehow you already found (thank you!)

Credits: Beautiful cover art by Danielle Merity, exquisitely lounge-y original music by Jordan Cooper


Dr. Andrea Bonior: What comes to mind when you hear self-care? Do you roll your eyes and want to quickly turn off this podcast and maybe even write me some hate mail? I don't blame you. Well, maybe I do on the hate mail part. I mean, come on. But what if there were a more nuanced way of looking at self-care? Today, we're cutting through the cultural nonsense of self-care to see what it's really all about. And how it can help us for real without the consumerism or the cliches. I've got Anna Borges, longtime health and wellbeing journalist, author, and podcast host, and best of all, someone who does not do BS. And who is extremely in touch with what's going on in the modern world of mental health and wellness. Whether self-care makes you cringe or close your eyes and bliss, you'll want to listen to today's Baggage Check.

Welcome. I'm Dr. Andrea Bonior. And this is Baggage Check: Mental Health Talk and Advice, with new episodes every Tuesday and Friday. Baggage Check is not a show about luggage or travel. Incidentally, it is also not a show about my idea for a screenplay about two warring pickleball gangs. So let's get to the show. I can't think of many topics that are more central to the idea of mental health, but also more cliche or reviled than the idea of self-care. I've heard it used in really fantastic, solid, and sound ways, and I've also heard it used as a flimsy excuse to bail on other people or to spend a bunch of money on overpriced mud baths. When I wanted to do an episode on this, one person immediately came to mind, and that is Anna Borges. I mean, it helps that she wrote a book called The More or Less Definitive Guide to Self-Care. I'm in that, actually. But she's also the host of the podcast Mood Ring: A Practical Guide to Self-Care. Pretty perfect, right? She is a longtime journalist who has been in the trenches with the whole self-care idea since before it started to get so polarizing, and she gets real about stuff. She's also a magnificent editor and writer who took a chance on me years ago when I had a little idea for detoxing your thoughts, and it turned into a challenge that went viral on BuzzFeed, and then it turned into a book. So, yeah, I'm a pretty huge fan of Anna, and I was so excited to have this conversation with her. So let's get to it. So, Anna, it is such a pleasure to have you today. Welcome to Baggage Check.

Anna Borges: I'm so happy to be here. It feels so weird being interviewed by you.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: That's right. We go so far back, and you were actually responsible for Detox Your Thoughts, in a way, because you were over at BuzzFeed at the time, and you helped me shepherd that as a challenge to BuzzFeed, and then it eventually became a book. And now you do so much with self-care, which is why I'm so excited to have you here. And, yeah, the tables are a little bit turned.

Anna Borges: I know, I'm usually interviewing you to give me things to write about, but I'm like, okay, no, it'll be a good conversation. I'm a little nervous.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: I'm like, oh, well, feel free to cut me off if I forget that I'm supposed to be the interviewer rather than the interviewee.

Anna Borges: I'm surprised. I'm the host now. I'm just going to turn it back on you.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: But yeah, why don't we start with what first got you interested in self-care? Because it's been an interest of yours for a long time. You made it a professional interest. I know it's a personal interest. How did it begin?

was at BuzzFeed. It was like,:

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Yeah. And it's so good that you just happen to be doing that, because in my experience, it doesn't usually happen naturally. In fact, it's an uphill battle if you try to introduce this to some folks. I mean, some people maybe have grown up with it because their parents introduce them to the concept, like, hey, let's talk about our feelings, or let's journal about them. But for a lot of people, it’s “you want me to do what?” And they're not naturally able to even think about taking care of themselves. It feels indulgent. It feels something like selfish, in a way, which I know we'll sort of get into. So how would you even think about defining self-care as you see it? What is it? Because I think it means so many things to so many different people.

Anna Borges: Yeah, and I think that's honestly my answer, which is that my definition is always boring because there's no simple definition of it. The disclaimer is always like-- and it means something different to everyone. And so I'm kind of like the general category of things that are within our own control that we could do to support our mental health. It's very much like the self part of it. And so even as I move away from using the phrase self-care just because it can be so broad, I have started being, like, more specific in, like, self maintenance, self soothing, self knowledge, self awareness, like, things I do to get to know myself. It's like the self part is what is at the crux of it, the things that we can do, and with others, too, um, but non professional interventions.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: And I love that because you spoke to the fact that it's not one thing. Learning about yourself is different than developing habits to take care of your health, for instance, which is different than giving yourself compassion, which is different than thinking about the ways that you interact with other people and taking time to take breaks and prevent burnout and all of these things. And I think that definition of self-care really makes sense in the sense that it is going to look different for different people, but it also encompasses different things. I think there are people who sort of do things by rote, like, oh, this is supposed to be good for me, so I'm going to do it. But they don't necessarily take the time to think about what they really need or to have the insight. And I think we're really getting to a point where we understand culturally that awareness of yourself and what your struggles are and your vulnerabilities and your own individual characteristics, that awareness is every bit as important as putting things into practice.

Anna Borges: Absolutely. Uh, yeah. I think the awareness is one that is really coming to the forefront lately. I think people are getting very curious about themselves and why they are the way they are. And I think that's led to I mean, we'll talk trends, I'm sure, but even, like, looking at TikTok and how we talk about mental health these days, it is for better, for worse, because people want to know, why do I do this? Was this a symptom of something? Is this why do I act this way? Um, yeah. Which is, I think, cool that people want to know that it has hit or miss in terms of how that plays out, right?

Dr. Andrea Bonior: For sure. And I think when we think about things like TikTok, once again, we're kind of hit or miss at times. It's so interesting, just in the past few years when I have my students looking at mental health messages out there in the media or thinking about cultural understanding of mental health or the stigma of seeking treatment, TikTok is now kind of at the forefront of mental health content, it feels like. And I think there's a lot of really good stuff on TikTok about mental health, no matter how you feel about data collection and all the more nefarious concerns about TikTok itself. But then again, there's also not necessarily a credentialing process. You also get a lot of potential misinformation that I think can spread really, really fast, like really alarming. I mean, that's what makes TikTok unique, right? Is that the way that the algorithm even works and what you're going to end up seeing, it's not like even some of the other social medias and so something can just absolutely take off. Um, and what's your take on the good and the bad of that? I mean, do you see it helping a lot of people and maybe we can take some of the negative with it as just part of the price of it? Or do you think there are alarming trends where maybe doing more harm than good? I mean, not that either of us are the arbiter…

Anna Borges: Just like, oh my gosh, because I grew up on Tumblr and a lot of the same things that we see on TikTok happened on Tumblr as well. Um, the whole conversation about self-diagnosis culture, which, um, could be a whole separate episode, and how people want to find comfort in, again, the explanation of their experience and what a label that sums that up might be, or like a pathway to treatment I think could be very helpful. Like, oh, I didn't know that was a potential sign of XYZ. But on the other hand, I really do think we are pathologizing a lot. I think there's like a m big lack of nuance between for me, this manifests in this way. ADHD is a big one for me. My ADHD manifests in doing X-Y-Z. And the difference between that and XYZ is a symptom of ADHD. Uh, I think is kind of like the branch that I see. And I think that I love conversations in the first bucket because maybe I'm like, oh, I think mine does that too. But the second bucket is where it kind of gets a little dicey. But I don't know, it's TikTok as a whole. Oh, man, there are a lot of things there. It's just like a fun place to pick up what other people are doing. Because I do think that that kind of like, human element of like, not everything has to come from a professional. Yes, we want to not cause harm. But if it's something super tiny, like, this is how I ADHD. If I my fridge, I'm like, hell, yeah. TikTok. Thanks.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: And the first person is so powerful, I think, in a way that expertise can't necessarily touch. To actually see somebody being vulnerable and saying, this is my struggle. This isn't my therapist describing what a struggle would be like. This isn't a researcher saying, hey, people with this disorder, this is you seeing what my daily life is like. And of course, there are limits to that sometimes when people might be almost exploiting themselves a little much and it starts to cause harm, to open themselves up to so many more people. But I do think in general, it can be so valuable for people to feel like they're not alone. And I think you're right. Over-pathologizing is always a concern of mine. And when I teach and when I diagnose and all these things, I'm very cognizant of the fact that maybe sometimes a disorder is just a part of being human. And we're going to call it a disorder, but it's a natural human experience or it's a quirk or it's a personality aspect that we can work on. It doesn't have to actually be a diagnosis. I mean, ADHD is a perfect example, right? There are people for whom it can become a strength if it's applied in the right ways. And 500 years ago, these people were explorers and they were restless and bored. So they went out and invented into, uh, some things. I've had some entrepreneurs in the past, who beat their head against the wall for their 20s, saying, why don't I want to stay in the same job for more than two years or three years or something? And I get so bored and antsy. And then after a while, we're like, hey, let's figure out a way for you to actually do something different every couple of years and still feed yourself. But to have this be a strength and you're an ideas person, maybe. Or you are kind of a wanderer who needs to live in a different place or that kind of thing. Because yeah, there are so many strengths, I think, in some of the things that we consider deficits.

Anna Borges: Hmm, totally. Yeah. And then this is me. I always go off on tangent, so I'm like to bring it back to self-care. Since I introduced the TikTok thing.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: You're a good guest already, keeping me accountable.

Anna Borges: It's because I know that I will go off and now let's talk about TikTok forever. Um, but it's true. Then you learn. You find the people that you want to follow whose stories might resemble yours, or whose disorders might resemble level yours, or symptoms that resemble yours. And then you get to see what they do and you get to pick up their tips and see what might work for you or not work for you. And as long as you're not sitting there like, oh, this works for this person. Why isn't this working for me? And don't get in that mindset, then. I think it's awesome.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Yeah. And I think somewhere in there, too, is deciding to let go of some judgment just of yourself and of other people, which sort of brings up this idea that self-care is frivolous or self-care is short sighted, or self-care doesn't take into account what's happening in the world. I remember a really huge brouhaha, so to speak, at the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine, and there were some pieces done by really intelligent people who had a lot to offer in terms of wellness expertise that were helping people try to manage their own stress about the situation. And there was a tremendous backlash to a few of those pieces because people thought, what business do you have baking a pie to make yourself feel better, when across the world there was a 14 year old figuring out how to make a Molotov cocktail to protect his family. And it got really, really ugly. And it struck me that it's yet another example of how all-or-none we can get the idea that, well, if there's pain going on in the world, I shouldn't be taking care of myself at all. Which I think is actually incredibly short-sighted. There's so much fear about this issue of self-care being selfish or frivolous. How do you even begin to think about that?

Anna Borges: I feel like I'm just going to quote you back to you, because so many of my foundational, uh, understanding of this came from, like, early reporting, because this was actually like a I don't want to call it, like, a whole ethical dilemma, but definitely when I was in charge of writing articles like that, I often was split about it. I'm like, this feels really silly or frivolous. Like, I dealt with those thoughts myself, and I think it is a nuanced conversation in terms of what articles or, like, what topics we're giving a platform during these hard times. But I think what we could forget in this, like, really connected everything is on social media. We could read all the articles. Not all the articles is like, just because one article exists that might help someone who needs it, does not necessarily mean that we are saying that this is the point of this tragedy that is going on. And we were saying, the most important thing right now is to be taking care of your mental health. We really have to hope that people can for ourselves, and we hope that other people can do it. Say, like, okay, this is what I need right now. Because if I want to be, say, organizing in some way or doing something about whatever is going on in the world, I need the energy to do it. I need to be able to XYZ and so, like, reframing that has been helpful, but also half the time, I'm like, you don't need to reframe self-care as a way to do well for other people. It could still just be about you. I don't know. That was, like, a very rambly answer. But, uh, I go back and forth on it is the TLDR.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Yeah, I know. That wasn't rambly at all. I think so many of us who want to be active about causes that we believe in, and we want to be progressive in helping other people and advancing the fight against injustice. It is something we deal with all the time, this notion of where does that leave room to take care of ourselves? But during that backlash, I kept always coming back to the idea that where does it end? It's like, okay, so if you shouldn't bake a pie to give yourself a little bit of emotional nourishment, should you also not eat at all? Right. And I'm not trying to be crass, but I think there's a point at which even the most basic of things are self-care. We're going to pay our bills, we're going to walk our dog, we're going to make sure we drink water and get some sleep. And I think people lose sight sometimes of the fact that keeping ourselves somewhat strong is actually a way to stay engaged, because I work with people all the time who just get so burnt out, and so they shut down and they say, you know what? I can't bear witness to what's happening in Ukraine because it's too much. So therefore, I'm actually not going to be involved at all, or the injustice that's out there in this country is hurting me so much that I've now turned off, and I can't fight against it any longer. And I've gotten helpless and I've gotten shut down. And I think basic self-care really is trying to prevent that, because if we take care of ourselves to some extent, we can actually have some strength to fight and to be able to engage with the world and to bear witness, because I think we should have to bear witness to what's happening. And I think finding that balance is hard, and finding this way of consuming news, for instance, about current events in such a way that it keeps us active without it making us completely shut down in despondent, being in the fetal position, it's hard. It's so interesting, though, how I think it also starts to maybe make us feel guilty for our own feelings. Like, I remember the week that Russia had first invaded Ukraine. I had clients who were feeling bad for feeling happy about something in their personal life. “Oh, this great thing happened to me. But I felt bad because there are these horrors going on across the world.” And then I also had clients who felt bad for feeling bad about something in their personal life. Like, “oh, I had this awful thing happen to me, and I've been down about it, but I have no right to be down because think of what's going on.” And, uh, I think once we get that comparison yardstick, that's what it does is it keeps us from actually experiencing our own feelings. And I thought to myself, my goodness, we're at a point now where people are feeling bad about their feelings. Whether their feelings are good or bad, they're feeling like they have a right to there. Yes. Oh, it's so complicated.

Anna Borges: It is, because it's like, also, I don't want to be like, what are those feelings helping? But this is how I wind up feelingbeing like, now I am just sitting in this feeling of feeling bad. And feeling bad about feeling bad also is not helping me do things that would make me feel, quote unquote, better about doing something versus not doing something. At a certain point, it can feel like it's not performative if it's just for me, but, like, performative to myself. Because it's like I feel too bad to shut off. And so I don't shut off or not shut off, but turn off those feelings to be able to concentrate on maybe something more. Nourishment. For the time being, before I'm feeling ready to face whatever's going on in the world, but instead, I'm just in this weird limbo of guilt of not doing either way.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: No. Exactly. And the feeling bad about feeling bad. I work with clients all the time, and it almost becomes this algebra problem, right? There's an exponent on, uh, the bad feelings. We talk about this. We've talked about this on the podcast a couple of times, too. Like, I'm anxious about feeling anxious. I'm sad about the fact that I'm sad. I'm mad about the fact that I got mad about this. And once you start putting exponents on emotions, there's that level of judgment that just makes it worse. And so really trying to cultivate that lack of judgment, I think would be helpful for people. You know what I want to hear about, though? I want to hear about some of the trends in self-care in a just more basic way. Because in some ways, it's like, I stick to a lot of things that, hey, for ten years in therapy, I've seen this help, and then something else will come out of nowhere that feels kind of new and really resonates with people. So what kind of things are you seeing that really are helpful for people these days?

Anna Borges: Um uh I have so many different answers to this question. I'm like, which way do I go? Because right before this call, I don't know if you've seen the newest round of AI toys that are going around, and there was, like, some AI chatbot, and I was playing with it, like, hey, I want to practice self-care today. What should I do? And see what it told me to do. Um, so now I'm just like, oh God, what's AI going to do for this? But I don't know yet. But that was what was on my mind before this call. Um, I will say one, I don't know that I would call it a trend, but a shift in attitude that I'm seeing a lot is a move away from this more individualistic approach to self-care. Because I think what happens to speak to even our last point is I think we spent so long railing against people telling us that self-care was selfish because in so many ways it is not that I feel like people saw some sort of overcorrection and are now moving more towards collectivist, like communal self-care. And I think in a lot of ways that's a really good thing because the example that comes to mind is like the trend of how we talked about friends and toxic friendships and boundaries and all these things. Like a couple of years ago you wrote a book on this. It was something that we didn't talk about, like treating friends with the same intentionality, maybe as romantic relationships and that sometimes friend breakups are a thing or like all of these things. And then the conversation progressed, as it often does on social media, to be very black and white and all of a sudden we're cutting off all of our friends. We're not responding to any text messages, we're turning down invitations, we're flaking. And everyone is like, guys, self-care is not an excuse to do this. And I think I've seen a lot of conversation about how in a lot of ways, even though self-care isn't selfish and I'm glad of the conversations that we've had, we have also kind of moved in a direction that we've forgotten that we are accountable to other people and we do owe other people things. And we do want community and relationships. And sometimes that's not easy. And sometimes our friends are going to be emotionally needy and we have to be there for them. Or XYZ. And so that's a huge conversation I'm seeing, which I like.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Yeah, me too. And I'm so glad you brought that up, because I feel like it's almost verboten. And at times I do a lot of work on boundary setting and talking about that and a lot of media on that, and I feel like it's in the past almost been taboo to be like, by the way, don't be a jerk. There's almost this element where people can get so empowered about the boundaries that they have to set that they really don't take the time to think “I am part of a universe with other people, whether those people are people that are in my life constantly or just at the coffee shop. I am part of this web of community.” And I'm so glad to hear you acknowledge that because I almost sometimes feel like a spoilsport that is somehow going against the whole “yay boundaries! Stick up for yourself!” because it's like, wait a second, there's a right way to set boundaries that also doesn't have to needlessly bring other people down either. And I think self-care is very similar. Let's think about this in terms of what we need for ourselves, and we have that right. But let's also make sure that we're still valuing relationships. Um, for a lot of people, it's like, oh, it's best for me to not go out tonight. And it's like, okay, we can understand that, but if you just totally ghost the friend or it's their birthday party and you're texting them ten minutes after it started that you're not going to come after all, we have to be realistic about the damage that that might do. And as much as we can emphasize that you've had a hard week or you have social anxiety and it makes it maybe not best for you to go, we have to find a route to do that in a way that doesn't put harm into the universe too, right?

Anna Borges: Totally. Yeah. And so I'm trying to think of other examples too, because I think that is a trend, I noticed for so many tips. It's very much like a new, uh, it's not new, but it enters the cultural conversation in a more mainstream way. People are really excited, then overexposure happens. And so people are kind of like, then change how they go the opposite direction. And then it's just like as, uh, the new thing comes in. The new thing comes in.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Yes.

Anna Borges: I hope that we can continue to have nuanced conversations about if we call it self-care, taking care of our mental health, if we call it just general wellness in the world, I hope that we meet more in the middle. That's the only topic that I'll say that on.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: No, it's true. I really hope that too. And I joke sometimes about, okay, now there's going to be the think piece about that, and now there's going to be the backlash to the think piece. But now there'll be a think piece about the backlash to the think piece, and it's like, okay, is nuance lost at some point because of these over corrections, as you said? And of course, that's a concern, I think, with health and wellness advice in general. Kind of the soundbiting of it, this notion of um, and we've seen how that can be damaging from literal health advice in terms of the pandemic and how misinformation spreads. But I think it's also a concern, certainly with mental health, because the more we kind of make it bite sized, the more there's not room for nuance. Absolutely right. I mean, how do you actually have nuance if this is supposed to fit in a 32 second video, it's kind of gone, which is one reason I love this forum. Um, and one reason why I started this and having seen you do it so beautifully, is allowing really the space for nuance and the space to be able to have things be a little bit complicated. And sometimes, whether it be in print or even in internet media, the time limits of video or the time limits of word count really just don't allow.

Anna Borges: Or even just like, the larger audience. You know what I mean? I ran into this lot at my last job. I worked with a lot of therapists, um, who were doing kind of like a one to many model, trying to scale their knowledge and speak to them. And it was really hard to not wind up with a million caveats and be like and you might be thinking this and this might be your experience, and this is not true, um, for everyone in that way, and that's like the responsible thing to do. But also, it was just impossible to make content that way because you can't speak to everyone. And so now my new question is kind of like, how do we encourage people to interrogate the kind of self-care advice that is out there and then form it to them and build the self trust and the kind of, I don't know, curiosity. You need to figure out what is working for them. Just because the website says it should work for you or doesn't or shouldn't work for you, doesn't mean it should go one way or another. Like, I don't know, some things I'm thinking about-- curiosity.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: That's such an important theme. But yeah, I'm imagining those therapists because I've had this exact same struggle. It's like there's only so many asterisks literally or metaphorically that you can use. And by the way, it's like mindfulness meditation. It's really great for a lot of people. There's a subset of people where it’s “Now I'm over-focusing on my symptoms, and now I feel worse because now I'm noticing the tension in my neck and I'm worried that my lymph nodes are swollen. And now I'm thinking I need to get checked out for cancer.” And it's like, okay, so there is that group of people for whom plain old meditation doesn't have the typical benefits. But the great news is, with further exploration, there's things that they can do that get the same mindful benefits and they can find ways to meditate that don't hyper focus on their body so much, or that do involve movement, or that involve just a repetitive motion. And so there's always a solution. But I think in that initial kind of one size fits all advice, uh, it's easy for people to say, well, this didn't work for me, so I give up. And then they don't get to the solution of actually, yeah, you can still meditate too. It's just that your meditation might be walking through nature and pointing out ten different things, right? It's so hard because obviously we're both in the business of being able to try to speak to larger groups of people about what helps. But there's such variation in humans, right?

Anna Borges: So much variation in humans. And then I see it. I saw this in myself. This is me dragging myself. But that's the kind of same overcorrection problem or reactiveness to the more, I don't know, the basic self-care things such as that you hear all the time, the meditation, um, going for a run, and the rightful feelings of being like, how dare you prescribe this to me as a one size fits all thing? And then there were things I realized I never tried because I was so annoyed at how much they were pushed as a thing that would work, that I was just like, Screw you. Um, am I still trying to figure out what meditation looks like for me? Yes. Um, um but it's kind of like the way that we rail against things that in many ways, it's very fair that we're angry that people are giving this to us as a cure. Does that just mean we should try it? Who am I? Am I trying meditation now?

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Yes. And I know you've had a lot of different types of self-care techniques introduced on your podcast. Have there been some that you have really kind of stuck with you, whether because you've adopted them or because you've just really seen how much they've resonated with your audience?

Anna Borges: That's a good question. I think one that has stuck with me was, um, one that didn't wind up turning out to be the tip, but it was the conversation that I had with the expert based on the tip. It was, um I wanted to do an episode that was based off of, um, why the, like, 60-second rule is so hard. Uh, like the 60-second rule being that if it could be done in less than a minute, just do it. And I applied it to my dishes and asking the question of, like, why is it so hard for me to do the dishes one at a time instead of waiting until the end of the week when they're all piled in my sink and now I'm miserable. So that was a question that I posed to, uh, Dr. Fishbox. Her first name is escaping me at this moment. And at some point during the interview when I was like, why is it so hard to get started? Why whatever. And she was like, have you ever just thought that the dishes aren't that important to you? And I was just like, the dishes are important to me. I like my apartment to be clean unless it really blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. But then after that interview, I started thinking, like, what would happen if I did it? Rather than thinking I should do this dish and know I'm not going to do it anyway, what if I just tried not to care about the dishes and see how I feel on Friday when I do them. And it was just kind of like taking away that layer of guilt. But the reason it stuck with me was that interrogation of what assumptions do I have about myself or what old goals about myself and my working tours that aren't relevant anymore. And I feel like that happens so much with taking care of my mental health is realizing that I've held on to old things that no longer work. Realizing that I'm resisting things that I haven't actually tried for whatever reason. Um, and that I think, was a big thing throughout Mood Ring, especially because we wanted it to be a very, I don't know, like, communal show or producers also, like, they had their episode ideas that they brought in and they were tips that I was like, yeah, sure, I'll try that. I don't know how it's going to go. And one of my producers, Georgie, was like so much, I was like, you're just like a shinier person than me. She was just so bubbly and optimistic and happy. And so she did this episode, um, on what she called Lammy, which was just, um, essentially like, um, a word for interacting with the world in a way that would make your child self happy, maintaining child like wonder. And I was just like, this is not going to work, Georgie. I'll do the episode, but this is just not me. And it was fun. It didn't wind up being for me, but I still learned other things. So yeah, those are the two ones that kind of keep checking in with yourself and getting to know yourself and then, um, be open.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Oh, but the idea about letting go of old goals or goals that really were never quite yours in the first place. The dishes thing is so funny because I feel like there are so many things that so many of us walk around with where we want to be the type of person who does this, but we don't actually want to do it. Uh, right? And there's a really important distinction there. I want to be the type of person who does this type of exercise or gardens or whatever it might be. And it's like, okay, but that falls short of actually that's not enough to actually do it. You actually have to want to really do it. And I think some level of chores at home is kind of that question for all of us. Of course, if there's a partner in the picture, then it becomes an even more complicated question because there has to be some equilibrium there. But do you really want to actually be the type of person that has a clean sink every single night without a dish left in it? That's different than actually thinking that it's truly worth your while to devote, uh, this amount of time every single night to not ever leaving addition your sink. And I think that's so true for anyone because we get tied up in the identity, oh, I want to be this type of person. And that's a different thing than actually wanting to do the things. And there's only a finite amount of time in the day.

Anna Borges: Yeah. You know, and, like, what I found, uh, now I love this dish example because it also because then for a while, I did kind of swing into, like, Dr. Fishbox was right, [bleep] the dishes. And then I did start to realize, like, yeah, throughout the week, I was caring less about it, feeling less guilty when I was setting the individual dish down. But I still really hated Fridays when I had my sink full of dishes. And so it then turned into interrogating. Well, okay, I didn't care about the dishes a lot and doing the dishes, but what is it I do care about? And that forced me to kind of have to be like, well, I like my apartment maintaining, like, a general cleanness because it allows me to invite people over on more short notice, and it allows me to be social. And that is important to me and kind of doing the mapping of, like, I'm never going to like this individual piece of self-care that I do. This individual piece of self-care is never going to be part of my identity clean dishes. No, but living in terms of my values of, like, I want to be social, I want to have friends over, but also, I don't like inviting my friends over when it smells like stinky dish. Like, okay, now we're back to doing dishes as self-care. You know what I mean? It's just kind of weird that your motivation can change it, too. Uh, but that also means now I'm doing my dishes more because now I have the motivation.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Exactly. I know nothing of the stinky dish smell that has not at all been the potpourri of my life for the past 20 years. Haha Yeah. And so it becomes a cost benefit analysis. Right. Like, there are certain things we don't want to do, but because they're in line with our values or the effects of them are so important, then we do them. And I think that is so true because everything's kind of on a spectrum in that way, right. Like, okay, it's not worth it to me to get every single thing perfect on my kitchen counter every single hour of the day. But at some point, my kitchen counter needs to be nice enough that if people come over to have dinner, they're not going to be horrified in front of you or it's not going to be like a huge thing that you then have to clean for two days. Or you clean for two days, and then you have to pretend you didn't have time to clean. That's my personal favorite. When it's like, I'm so sorry the place is such a mess. I didn't get a chance to clean. And then secretly you're like, well, I cleaned for 3 hours, but that did not make a dent.

Anna Borges: Wow. Are you me? This is my best friend lives nearby and every time she comes over, I'm like, just a heads up, it's really messy over here. And she's like, Anna, you don't have to say that every time.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Yes, there's such a gender thing in there too, I think. I just don't think at least most heterosexual dudes are sitting there saying like, oh, I'm so sorry, Mike. I didn't have time to get this place up to snuff.

Anna Borges: Can you imagine? Uh, for me personally, it's also just a virgo thing. What can I say? Oh, my goodness.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: But speaking of gender and stereotypes and things, one thing I did want to ask you is how do we strive towards a more inclusive definition of self-care? Because I think that in some ways, part of the hit on self-care and I think it's justified, is self-care is like being branded now, right? Let me follow this influencer who happens to be a blonde, thin, heterosexual White woman doing yoga. And a lot of influencers, I think, have sort of said, hey, here are my imperfections and here are my vulnerabilities. But still, they're packaged, they're curated, and I talked a lot about this when I talk about toxic positivity. How do we actually create a more inclusive discussion culturally about self-care? I mean, there is no right, uh, answer here, but what should we be trying to do? Because I do think for a lot of people, the whole self-care idea does seem ridiculous. If you're working three jobs or you've got a kid with special needs, or you're not making enough to know for sure if you're going to be able to pack your kids lunches for that week, or you live in a community where there's a lot of violence or where you're constantly facing discrimination or you're dealing with the effects of systemic racism every single day, for instance, any of those things. Or you're facing all kinds of stigma in other ways. Uh, if it's disability or if it's something about gender identity or something. I can imagine it being really irritating to look at sort of the picture of self-care that we typically have and you get turned off by it. What could we be doing to make this better since both of us are in the wellness space?

Anna Borges: Oh, I feel like my go to answer to this is very much like maybe we just stop centering the conversation around self-care. You know what I mean? Maybe the term is too far gone and has too much baggage with it. Maybe it's just an uphill battle to try and package it that way. Maybe it has been too branded, especially when I now just mostly use it as a synonym for taking care of our mental health. You think of, uh, what can we do to take care of our mental health? And then the conversation becomes, oh, what can we do to make taking care of your mental health more equitable and accessible? And that's like, oh, we have to change the world. Um, yeah. And so I do think, in the very least, the kind of entry point is just really trying to move away from self-care from having one definition. Because even if we aren't talking about the commercialized bubble bath, obviously so many people can roll their eyes to the bubble bath. But even if we're talking about the foundational self-care of attending to your physiological and safety needs, even that is laughable for some people to think about. Can I integrate this in a mindful way in my day to day life? Like some people, the answer right now or for a longer period of time is just like, no. And so I think the larger thing that we need to do is stop using self-care as our go to answer for a lot of larger systemic problems, which I think a lot of people who I respect and follow, they don't do that. But in larger cultural conversation, I do still think that we're just hurling self-care as, um, a Band Aid answer to any number of poles structurally falling down apart, like the foundation crumbling beneath us. And it's just like, yeah, of course, let's not talk about self-care then. And then that's where short of revolutionizing the entire system, that's where I am now. Seeing more conversations about community care come to the mainstream, um, off the backs of influencers organizers who have been doing it for decades and relying on their communities for decades to lean on each other to make up for the systemic failings that make it. So self-care is not possible for certain people.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Right? Because I think oh, that's so true. And that can be a cousin, too. Well, if only you had done this, then you would have succeeded. If only you had just taken care of yourself in the right way, then you wouldn't…... And it's like, okay, that is such a cop out for actually looking at societal self-care.

Anna Borges: Thanks. Great. What am I going to do? That and what does that even look like?

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Yeah.

Anna Borges: I know. We just hit time.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: We just hit time. Our listeners are like, well, what does that even mean?

Anna Borges: They have to go.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Yes, but thank you so much, Anna. What a pleasure. I know that a lot of people really enjoy your podcast, and I am one of them, and I really appreciate your having taken the time.

Anna Borges: This was a blast. I could have talked for several hours on any of these questions individually.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Well, we'll definitely have to have you back. Thank you again.

Anna Borges: Thank you.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Thank you for joining me today. Once again, I'm Dr. Andrea Bonior, and this has been Baggage Check, with new episodes every Tuesday and Friday. Join us on Instagram at Baggage Check podcast to give your take on upcoming topics and guests. And why not tell your chatty coworker where to find us? Our original music is by Jordan Cooper, cover art by Danielle Merity and by studio security is provided by Buster the Dog. Until next time, take good care.

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About the Podcast

Baggage Check: Mental Health Talk and Advice
with Dr. Andrea Bonior
We've all got baggage. But what do we choose to do with it?
Every other Friday, licensed clinical psychologist, best-selling author and popular psychology professor Dr. Andrea Bonior takes your mental health questions, and makes you part of the conversation. Join her and other voices as they translate research into real life, and talk about relationships, emotions, health, psychological disorders, stress, finding meaning, work, and occasionally-- just occasionally-- the most obscure dance crazes of 1997.
All are welcome, and nothing is off limits. With science, compassion, and humor, she's here to help.

About your host

Profile picture for Andrea Bonior

Andrea Bonior

Andrea Bonior, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist, speaker, and the best-selling author of “Detox Your Thoughts." She was the longtime mental health advice columnist for The Washington Post, and appears regularly in national media, including CNN and NPR, with several popular courses on the LinkedIn Learning platform. Dr. Bonior’s blog for Psychology Today has been read more than 25 million times. She serves on the faculty of Georgetown University, where she recently won the national Excellence in Teaching award, given by the American Psychological Association.