I Swapped My Nonexistent Self-Care Routine For My Maximalist Colleague’s — & I’ll Never Be The Same

To understand my attitude toward self-care, all you need to know is my standard-issue response whenever I’ve worked myself up over a passing dog and someone asks why I don’t just adopt one: a guffaw, then “I can barely take care of myself.”

It’s not modesty — I have managed to avoid calamity and keep my vital organs functioning for 2.5 decades, but only just barely, and not without much physical and emotional discomfort. My personal brand is more self-denial than indulgence, of grimly carrying on doing the bare minimum rather than leaning in to bath bombs and bottomless mimosas. So, as the bodily antithesis of Zen, I was tasked with swapping self-care routines with someone who actually puts effort toward their own relaxation and happiness.

Enter: my colleague Paulina, who is not only continually well hydrated but also carries herself with the serenity of someone who can easily meditate on the visual of a clear blue sky for two minutes without giving in to the urge to distract herself with, say, the entire internet’s worth of articles on the history of the wooden nutmeg. With her blessing and three-page regimen in hand, I set off on a week of pampering, reflection, and generally looking after myself, including astrology, crystals, energy healing, and using the new Vera Bradley Venus razor, which was designed to deliver a spa-like shaving experience with its cheery paisley print and smooth gliding structure. Could a hardened self-care skeptic be converted by some sage and an unsettling amount of moisturizers? Find out, ahead, broken down by category.

When it comes to how I present myself to the world, I know exactly what I “should” be doing to have smoother hair and non-patchy skin, but…I can’t be bothered. Usually, I just use whatever serum and moisturizer I’m testing at the moment, so following a modified version of Paulina’s comparatively much more involved skin-care program exponentially increased the amount of product for me to accidentally knock from my phonebook-size vanity.

But first, I test-drove the Vera Bradley Venus razor. With its super-sharp, thin blades, it deftly navigated knobby knees and bony ankles, while the water-activated moisture ribbon protected my skin from nicks. These features (and the mood-lifting print) made shaving not so much a chore as a disarmingly quick, luxe-feeling ritual that left me plenty of time to turn slowly under the shower like a rotisserie chicken while my conditioner absorbed and I mentally geared up for the undertaking to follow. After a pat dry, on went Nécessaire’s superlative body lotion, used in conjunction with a pre-wash dry brush from Esker (upward motions toward the heart to exfoliate and promote circulation), which left my skin eerily soft and hydrated, for once. This was followed by a deluge of oils and creams to the face: either Innisfree’s Green Tea Micellar Water or one from Girl Undiscovered Under The Waterfall — which contains charged moon-bathed crystals (emphasis mine) to compensate for my usual slapdash cleansing — along with Tatcha Essence, massaged in with a fridge-cold rose quartz roller from Maggie Wu Studio. I’m winded reciting this now, but in the moment, it felt lovely and a tiny bit indulgent to be taking my time doing something with no other benefit than inflating my own self-esteem.

My personal brand is more self-denial than indulgence, of grimly carrying on doing the bare minimum rather than leaning in to bath bombs and bottomless mimosas.

On top of all of the above, I also got a facial at Sacred Skincare, during which the aesthetician confirmed my suspicions that I’ve got nice skin that would be better if I only exfoliated once in a while (oops). This seems to be the recurring lesson from my descent into hyaluronic-acid-slicked hedonism: that, independent of performing feminine beauty for public approval, a small amount of effort can yield personally meaningful results, such as a higher frequency of smiling and making finger guns at yourself in the mirror. Which does count for something.

Did some gentle exercise! This included CorePower Yoga, which is heated and left me stretched out and satisfyingly sore, and loads of walking, my preferred form of movement. I went for short strolls on my lunch break when I could and deliberately made after-work plans a bit later so I had time to walk there, during which I called friends or listened to Aussie disco by way of Berlin or just the well-loved sounds of the city. This much walking can cause tightness, so I used an OPTP foam roller before bed to knead my quads and IT bands (and to complement my SS19 aesthetic with its blue and white marble print).

Nutrition-wise, my guide Paulina’s a.m. process involves an AeroPress and grinding her own beans, but coffee gives me the ability to feel my atoms vibrating, so I opted for lukewarm water with lemon, a diluted apple cider vinegar shot, or The Nue Co.’s Energy Food Prebiotic instead; these gave me sufficient, steadier boosts of energy without catapulting my brain into outer space. And because I’d meal prepped the evening before — aka boiling 7-minute eggs for breakfast and slopping veg-based leftovers into a glass container for lunch — the rest of my uncharacteristically non-hectic mornings this week were spent on sitting down for an unhurried meal, completing my newly turbo-boosted skin-care routine, and swaddling myself in LIANA’s rib-knit co-ords, which I didn’t actually sleep in but easily could have. I’m the sort of person who wears rigid denim on a plane and is always hurtling headlong somewhere, so treating myself softly — with my clothes or by restructuring my day to tend to my body — felt unfamiliar at first. But the relative stillness that came from giving myself the space to move and think has convinced me that this is something I ought to keep doing.

I prefer not to be talked to, ever, but especially not as I’m struggling to fall asleep, so it was a bit jarring trying to nod off to a playlist of manifesting videos. I did, however, have more success putting my phone away an hour before bed, during which time I chose to read or journal rather than watch television (or futilely swipe on the dating apps). I also dabbled in some meditation via the Calm app, had my aura read at Magic Jewelry (very purple around my head, meaning I’ve got a strong intuition but am really just a chronic overthinker), and unloaded my belongings from the day and put them in their designated places straight after arriving at home (highly recommend for a microdose of having-it-together-ness).

Much more difficult to unpack, though, was my astrology reading with astrologer Patricia Janvier and an energy healing session (best described as part intensive therapy, part reiki) with Jennifer Hickman of FullBloomHealing — both of which affected me so deeply that I’m still coming down from them. Together, these experiences form a spooky Venn diagram with the following common themes of things I should be working on: prioritizing my self-preservation (fitting!), keeping the faith that I’ve got something unique to offer the world, slowing down/grounding myself, overcoming the fear surrounding my creativity, and drinking more water.

I subscribe neither to astrology nor energy healing — in fact, I tend to view anything along the lines of the two as, at best, a diversion — but here, it didn’t really matter to me how Patricia or Jennifer divined their information, because I knew it all to be true. It was simultaneously uncomfortable and moving and life-affirming to have my innermost troubles read out loud, as I laid prostrate under a bunch of smoking dried shrubbery while a stranger rested her hand on my solar plexus.

I’m now of the mind that if a bit of planet-gazing or chakra-realigning can get you to confront your fears with some insight into how to better manage them, this modern-day New Age stuff can’t be that bad. It took two turbulently emotional discussions that covered Saturn, generational trauma, magnesium supplements, my spirit animal (a swan), numerology, flower essences, and hematite to reinforce something else this former skeptic wholeheartedly knows: that I’m a girl on the verge — of a breakdown or breakthrough, it’s up to me.

It was simultaneously uncomfortable and moving and life-affirming to have my innermost troubles read out loud, as I laid prostrate under a bunch of smoking dried shrubbery while a stranger rested her hand on my solar plexus.

Today, the most visible brand of self-care — the treat-yourself, balling-out-at-brunch kind — has arguably become a way of justifying self-soothing behaviors that might, in the long run, prove counterproductive (whether for your bank account or stress levels; ironically, scheduling and coordinating all these treatments and classes and products actually caused me a fair amount of stress). And while my own experiment did involve an eyeball-sweating-ly obscene amount of goods and services, I can say that doing this much is completely unnecessary if you’re not documenting your life for the internet’s amusement.

In its most unadulterated form, then, self-care can be as simple or involved as you want it to be — the only requirement is that you’re doing something for you. Anybody can pause for 60 seconds to close their eyes and focus on their breathing. Anybody (with some level of self-awareness) can resolve to be kinder to themselves. And once you do decide to put yourself first and take a step, however small, it can set off a chain reaction, which in turn can expand into a calmer, happier existence.

As women, we’re so accustomed to looking after others that it’s easy to get caught up in the periodic, here-for-a-good-time-not-a-long-time version of self-care. But after this painfully illuminating week, I found that, for me at least, the best, most helpful type of self-care isn’t found at the bottom of a shopping bag or a Champagne flute with orange pulp. It’s found within, and it’s continuous. And, perhaps most importantly, I found that self-care doesn’t need to be a temporary escape from your life, but a way to live it more fully.

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