Anna Borges wears multiple hats — when she's not working as the senior health editor at SELF, she's spotlighting diverse young adult fiction on her podcast We Are YA or fearlessly advocating for more conversation around wellness and self-care. Borges never intended to write a book on the subject, but when a book publisher reached out to her after reading her self-care guide on BuzzFeed, she agreed to turn her article into a full-fledged, comprehensive text, The More or Less Definitive Guide To Self Care (out today). For her part, Borges hopes that her perspective as a mental health advocate, reporter, and frequent therapy-goer can help people speak about mental health in a more relatable way.
"I'm not a doctor, and I'm not a health expert by any means," she says. "But I do feel like I can be a translator from scary medical talk to more accessible language, and give people the everyday tools they need to talk about mental health or self-care."
Borges' mission has never been more needed. The state of mental health in America has consistently been declining for the last several decades, particularly for young people. Despite this, the mental health care system in America has proven hugely inaccessible for a number of financial and social reasons, particularly for people of color, queer, and transgender people, and other marginalized communities. As it becomes increasingly difficult to trust our health care system to provide accessible therapy and mental health resources, the prioritization of self-care becomes even more important.
The More or Less Definitive Guide To Self Care is a tool for anyone feeling overwhelmed and looking for the tools and validation to intentionally take care of themselves. In true Virgo form, Borges says she hopes people will cover the book in sticky notes and write notes in the margins. But she also doesn't want the book to feel like "homework"; rather, she wants people to see themselves in the testimonies that it holds.
"I'd honestly just be happy if people could see the book on their nightstand and it comforted them," said Borges. "I hope that reading the book is a nice experience for people and reminds them to take care of themselves; it may feel silly that we have to remind ourselves to hydrate or go to bed early, but sometimes we do, and that's okay."
What inspired you to write this book, and why do you think now is the right time for a guide to self-care?
It really shocked me that there hasn't been a book like this, because self-care has been at the forefront of our cultural conversation for a while. As a health writer, I am pretty much always talking about self-care, but if you mention self-care to five different people, they will all picture five different things. I decided that I really needed all the information in one place. I didn't want to reinvent the wheel with this book because so many people have written really eloquent things about self-care, so instead, I wanted this to be an exhaustive guide.
I started my career as a health and sex writer, so I did have a health background. When I got to BuzzFeed, my editor said they needed someone to be on the mental health beat. So I said, "I'm anxious and depressed and sad, so sure!" At BuzzFeed, we were trying to figure out mental health in a very accessible way, so I started writing a bit more about my own experience and through the years, I've gotten to talk to a bunch of wonderful experts who have bolstered my expertise in a great way.
One of the coolest tips for me was to "drop the plot," or to stop making up hypothetical stories about your life or someone else's motives when you don't have all the information. Can you elaborate a little bit on this technique, and how it's worked for you?
This was actually one of the most common tips that people told me they got from their therapists, and it's something that my therapist has talked to me about too, just in a different way. It's really easy to get caught in loops of wondering why people do what they do or said what they said, but real people are not stories, and thinking about life that way is a waste of time. So you just have to "drop the plot" and recognize that everyone is their own person and everyone has their own internal world. I know that if people try to think about me like a character in a book, I would make no sense. So when I find myself spinning out that way, I find this is a really useful tool, because you can't know what other people are thinking, and if you want to know, you have to ask them. I understand that it can feel healing to try to understand why certain things happen to you, especially if you're dealing with certain trauma or abuse, but people should try to move forward instead of trying to figure out why you were dealt the hand you were given.
You also talk a lot about planning and prioritization. How do you go about prioritizing things in your life? How can we prioritize happiness or self-care in a capitalist culture that usually prioritizes money and work?
This was a tip in the book that I very much focus on and struggle with in tandem. I have so many things going on in my life, and I have so many things I want to do at once, but the first thing to go is taking care of myself. There's no magic tip for prioritizing self-care, but it starts with being mindful of it. Sometimes I'll look back on the week and realize, Wow, I really didn't slow down and check in with myself all week, so next week I'm gonna do better and take time for myself.
I'm a big bullet journal person, but I'm currently taking a break from it to try this 90-day planner which has a section for what I want to prioritize. That's been super helpful for me lately. For me, it's really all about the intentional work of sitting down and trying to prioritize what you would in your ideal world, and trying to do maybe 50 percent of it. I think when it comes to planning in general, you have to be okay with failing sometimes. It's not all always gonna happen, but I feel good that I tried.
You touch on this in the book, but can you talk a little bit about how self-care is now so associated with capitalism? What are some tips for people trying to implement self-care tactics while avoiding consumer culture?
It's definitely easier said than done. People are talking more about the importance of treating yourself and taking care of yourself, and brands kind of co-opted the language and said, "Yes, you do deserve to treat yourself — do it with our products!" I do go out of my way in the book to say that it's not a bad thing if your self-care practices are tied to capitalism in some way. I go to TJ Maxx and buy myself a candle after pretty every therapy session. I feel like it's unavoidable. But if you feel like some of your self-care habits are too tied to this consumer culture, make sure you feel okay about that. I want to make sure I'm at least supporting brands that are women-run or queer-run or run by people of color. So, if you're going to be throwing money at a problem, make sure you're giving your money to people you want to have your money. It's definitely a balancing act.
What do you think is the connection between self-care and community? Do self-care practices have to be things we do alone?
Absolutely not! Social connection and being a part of a community are foundational to self-care. Having people you can be vulnerable with and laugh with and take you out of your funk when you want to isolate are so important. Also letting people into your personal self-care routine can be healing as fuck too. Socializing is a pillar of self-care in some way.
But then there's also the conversation about actual community care, which I am not an expert in but I'm trying to learn more about. Personally what I've learned is from a community organizer Nakita Valerio, who defines community care as people leveraging their privilege to take care of one another, and says that when you are in a position to give more than you receive, you should do that. That is something that I'm really interested in right now. I think when we look at self-care the wrong way, we put the onus of mental health on individuals when there are a lot of communities struggling. I think that's a conversation I'm looking forward to us having more often.
The world is so fucked-up right now, and so much of our self-care is in reaction to the world around us. That's where community care comes in — to help other people and build a better community so we can all heal together.
You mention medication and therapy in the book, but I was wondering if you could offer some advice for people who want therapy but find it inaccessible?
The mental health care system in this country is supremely inaccessible and kind of fucked-up. At the back of the book, I have a therapy FAQ, and I do talk a bit about accessibility. There are options, but a lot of them are not ideal.
What a lot of people don't know is that many therapists have a couple pro bono spots open, so if you ask them, they may be able to provide you free care. Some therapists also have sliding scales, so if you explain your situation, you can get an extremely reduced rate. Group therapy is cheaper, as are a lot of teletherapy sessions. But I know it can be frustrating, and my heart goes out to anyone in that situation.
And for people who are unsure if therapy is the right option?
First and foremost, I'm not a doctor, so I'm not the most qualified to give that kind of advice. That being said, I'm a big believer in not waiting until you're "bad enough" to seek mental health care. I think there's this idea that there's a bit of a barrier between people who are in need of therapy and people who aren't. But therapy can be for anything! If you're burnt out at work, frustrated with your dating life, hate your job, whatever.
Therapy is a place where you can focus on yourself only. It's probably the only relationship in your life that doesn't have to be reciprocal. I think that if you're curious about trying therapy — and, big disclaimer, if it's accessible to you — then you should try it. If you feel like you need a space for yourself and you're having a hard time putting yourself first through other means of self-care, or if you need someone to validate and guide you through self-care, then therapy is the place for you.
In your opinion, how can we draw the line between self-care and selfishness?
I don't think it's a binary. We're all human, and we're all going to be selfish at some point. I think self-care can be done in selfish ways, like if you do it at the expense of others or as an excuse for something. It helps when self-care is intentional, and you're deciding that you're going to give yourself time off to take care of yourself rather than canceling plans at the last minute. Self-care is not a free pass to be an asshole. It's a delicate conversation, but we need to have that conversation because some people do need to be taught to put themselves first.
The More or Less Definitive Guide to Self-Care is available for purchase, here.
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