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Talking #selfcare on social media

I’ve been a social media manager for around three years now, including for LSLCS. I also have lived experience of mental health issues, so I’m very interested in how mental health is represented on social media.

Something I see a lot on social media, from individuals, services, counsellors – anyone involved in mental health, in fact – is a lot of discussion around self-care. Self-care tips, memes, articles – the social media-sphere is full of it. And I’ve also noticed since doing our own series of posts on self-care recently that it can be (perhaps surprisingly) contentious.

how on earth do we approach it, especially with only 240 characters to play with?

I think I understand why. When I was going through my own low point several years ago, self-care was literally the last thing I wanted to do. And whenever I saw self-care memes, I would get angry. I thought they were taunting me with all the things I should be doing but didn’t feel well enough for. But at the same time, I badly needed to start caring for myself better. And probably go on social media less, but that’s another story for another blog.

I’m not alone in this. I’ve heard tales of self-care advice being used as a ‘stick to beat you with’ – if you don’t do what professionals suggest, you’re failing to take responsibility or ‘not engaging’. I’ve also heard some stunningly bad advice. An acquaintance at university who uses a wheelchair told me that one service had advised her to go out for a walk without looking at her notes. The same advice was given to a young woman in crisis in the middle of the night, when at the time she lived alone in an area known to be quite unsafe. Her objections to this were deemed ‘excuses’.

It’s a reality, it seems, that self-care advice/tips can come across as patronising, reductive, and even smug. So how on earth do we approach it, especially with only 240 characters to play with? Should we even approach it at all?

we need to talk about what’s helpful and unhelpful, how we should approach self-care with our visitors/clients, and reflect on our own attitudes and relationship to self-care.

We as a service don’t offer advice, but we do acknowledge the importance of self-care and believing we are worthy of care. Our groups focus on self-care, crisis prevention and maintaining wellbeing through various strategies such as creative activities, peer support, cooking, spending time with animals. The Well Bean Café provides a healthy meal every night and we provide facilities at Dial House for our visitors to cook. The literature on trauma-informed care also acknowledges the importance of looking after your body and that practicing self-care helps build self-esteem after trauma.

So yes, we do need to talk about it – we need to talk about what’s helpful and unhelpful, how we should approach self-care with our visitors/clients, and reflect on our own attitudes and relationship to self-care.

Here are a few things I have learned from our recent self-care series on social media. I hope that this might be helpful for other social media managers and professionals in the voluntary sector or mental health care as food for thought when posting about self-care on social media.

  • Talk to your clients

I got a sense of what people did and didn’t like when I discussed it with people who use/ have used crisis services. The people I spoke to didn’t want the kind of ‘stock advice’ you get in internet listicles, like “take a bubble bath” – because that’s already out there and it’s been done to death. They wanted a more creative approach, which gave me a great challenge!

  • Use humour

Injecting a bit of humour helps. Self-care posts can come across a bit too earnest, so if you can find ways to have a bit of fun with it – choose funny images or make a pun, for example (but don’t go completely Moses Beacon) – it’s less likely to be received as a directive. And if all else fails, turn to the animal world for inspiration. I mean, who could resist a sunbathing polar bear as self-care inspiration?

  • Affordability matters

A common criticism of self-care advice is that not everybody can afford to pay for things like exercise classes, complementary therapies, etc, especially those out of work due to physical or mental health. Link people to organisations offering free or reduced cost options.

  • What works is highly individual

Offer tips/suggestions rather than universal advice and acknowledge that different things work for different people. It can be very hard to convey that in 240 characters or less, however! One person’s bad advice is another’s lifeline and sometimes people will disagree.

  • Be willing to reflect and be self-aware

If someone finds your post unhelpful or even triggering, ask them about it. We can learn from these discussions. It’s also good for services and individuals involved in offering mental health care and services to model being reflective and admit if we have pitched something wrong or could have worded a post differently. It’s hard when we put a lot of effort into a campaign and someone criticises it, but it’s part of the job when we’re posting about potentially sensitive topics to listen, reflect and learn.

It’s also easy to get hung up on our own likes and dislikes – don’t get offended if someone else dislikes a strategy that we find particularly helpful. Be aware of your own trigger points. And possibly do a bit of your own self care. Or something like that.

By Liz Smith, LSLCS social media manager and comms support worker 

Incredibly cute photo by Mark Soller, used under Creative Commons license