In recent years the self-care movement has been gathering momentum, and in many ways it is a natural extension of what came before, which was prevention. Both put the focus of remaining well on the individual. Instead of running to the doctor’s when symptoms appear, prevention taught people to avoid risks in advance. Giving up smoking to prevent the risk of lung cancer was a milestone in prevention over fifty years ago, and since then a host of preventive measures have been discovered.
But prevention focused on disease rather than wellness, which made room for self-care and its aim to attain lifelong well-being. A positive lifestyle that benefits both mind and body lies at the core of self-care, and important breakthroughs are being made, such as the vital importance of avoiding low-grade chronic inflammation and also chronic stress. Yet few realize how revolutionary self-care can actually be.
What if the self, all alone and unaided, is the ultimate healer? On the one hand modern medicine would hotly and even violently reject such a notion. Mainstream medicine still has objections to self-care insofar as it encroaches on the expertise of doctors and the accepted treatments through drugs and surgery. Let’s set aside the possible objections to the self as healer, because it’s more important to get at what the concept is all about.
An opening is provided by a first-person account on a personal website by Joey Lott, who poses what he calls “A cure for anxiety.” Lott presents himself as a longtime sufferer from anxiety whose affliction was intractable: “I failed so completely to make things better (even after years of therapy, meditation, yoga, affirmations, breathwork, prayer, hundreds of self-help books, countless workshops, and on and on) that eventually I grew hopeless. Nothing could help me, I believed. I thought I was broken.”
The cure he ultimately discovered is a form of “not doing,” to use a Buddhist term, although it was the experience, not the terminology, that was key. Lott realized that his anxiety was rooted in thought itself, in the mind’s constant attempt to attack anxiety in self-defeating ways. The cure, he declares, “is completely counterintuitive, because it is not about getting rid of unwanted symptoms. It is not about getting rid of anxiety. It is not about defeating anxiety or breaking free of anxiety. It is about actually discovering directly what anxiety is and welcoming it home.”