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Adulting 101: How I learnt that self-care is not just about Netflix, bubble baths and scented candles

SINGAPORE — Before I started working, I never really had to plan how I wanted to spend my free time. My friends and I always decided on the spur of the moment to hang out, and we would.

When he spoke to counsellors for this column, TODAY journalist Daryl Choo learnt that his understanding of self-care was somewhat off.

When he spoke to counsellors for this column, TODAY journalist Daryl Choo learnt that his understanding of self-care was somewhat off.

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Adulthood is an invigorating stage of life as young people join the workforce, take on more responsibilities and set their sights on the future. But its many facets — from managing finances and buying a home to achieving work-life balance — can be overwhelming.

In this series, TODAY’s journalists help young Singaporeans navigate this stage of their lives and learn something themselves in the process.


SINGAPORE — Before I started working, I never really had to plan how I wanted to spend my free time. My friends and I always decided on the spur of the moment to hang out, and we would.  

When I was living on campus in university, all I needed was a knock on my door and in 10 minutes, I would be ready to head out for drinks or to our favourite late-night supper places.

That all changed once I started a full-time job. 

I could no longer spontaneously say "yes" to friends on weeknights and indulge in late-night suppers, because I was so exhausted from work.

My friends and I tried scheduling to meet for dinners a few times as well, but it never worked out because someone would inevitably have to work overtime.

And when the weekend arrived, I started rejecting friends who did ask to meet, because I wanted to recharge before the next work week started.

And so gradually, I found myself sinking into a weekend routine of waking up late and staying home to nap, read and watch shows.

After all, based on aspirational messages I had seen on on social media, that is what #selfcare is about. The only things lacking in my routine were bubble baths and scented candles.

If you simply go by what Instagram says, self-care is all about focusing on yourself, spending time alone and indulging whatever impulses you may have.

Don’t want to travel for lunch? Order in — that’s self-care. Want to get a new pair of shoes? Treat yourself, self-care. Don’t want to reply to your friends’ texts? They should understand, you’re just practising self-care. 

But the thing is, I soon realised after several months that my weekend “self-care” routine was not making me feel better. 

At the end of each weekend, I would feel empty, not recharged. I started to miss my friends and the good times we had. 


When I spoke to counsellors for this column, I learnt that my understanding of self-care was somewhat off. Who knew social media might not be the best place to get free therapy?

Mr Praveen Nair, a psychologist at Raven Counselling and Consultancy, said that people need to be careful when consuming online advice about self-care.

“If you google the term ‘self-care’, you will find a generic pool of information out there,” he said.

However, what self-care means is going to be different for everyone. 

Furthermore, self-care is not just about indulging every whim that strikes you. Ms Sophia Goh, the principal counsellor of Sofia Wellness Clinic, said that it is about tending to your physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual needs.

“Exercising can be a form of self-care. Saying ‘no’ to someone who you don’t feel is a good friend can be a form of self-care.”

Mr Nair noted that the advice he has given to clients seeking help in managing stress or fatigue really depends on their individual circumstances. For example, some clients need to learn how to identify and substitute negative thinking patterns. Others require more action-oriented activities such as high-intensity workouts to destress.

It turns out self-care is quite a serious matter. Mr Nair said that knowing when to take time out to take care of your body is important. While feeling fatigued from work is common in Singapore, ignoring the tiredness and letting it build up could eventually affect your day-to-day functioning.

The common signs include: 

  • Perennial low moods

  • Having negative feelings or having constant mood swings

  • Disinterest in the things you used to enjoy 

  • Feeling physically tired

  • Headaches

  • Ulcers

  • Falling sick more often


Stripped to its core, self-care is really just as the name suggests — taking care of yourself. 

For it to be effective, properly taking care of yourself must begin with an awareness of what’s happening to your body and what your body needs.

That involves having a firm grasp of how you are spending your time every day and planning ahead, Mr Nair said.

Simply doing things that you want to do at each moment is not always the right approach to tackling exhaustion or improving your mood. 

Ms Goh agreed that planning is key — working on your mental and emotional well-being involves making intentional and deliberate decisions.

She suggests thinking back to the last few times when you felt good, and then figure out what were the factors that contributed to that feeling, rather than latching on to whatever self-care practice is trending.

“Maybe it’s knocking off work strictly at 6pm? Or is it that your weekends are well-protected? Or is it when you spend one hour outdoors in the morning before work?”

Mr Nair sees self-care as a consistent practice to incorporate in our day-to-day lives, rather than an act of recharging every time you hit a plateau.

Sure, it may soothe you in that moment, but really what that does is delay your burnout to a later date, he cautioned. 

After learning all this, I’ve come to realise that for me, self-care may involve committing to more social interactions instead of resting at home.

No judgement against those who truly find pleasure in staying home and being alone — it’s just not the right strategy for me.

Looking back, the times when I have felt the most fulfilled were moments when I was spending quality time with my friends and loved ones.

The challenge is making plans and pulling myself out of bed.

When I spoke to my editor about this column, she prescribed a simple solution: All I need to do is send out mass text messages to my friends to ask whether they want to hang out, and then schedule these meetups in my calendar as they come in.

Counter-intuitive as it may sound, caring for myself and finding real pleasure takes effort and planning — but I guess that’s just adulting.  


Daryl Choo is a journalist at TODAY, where he covers transport, defence, manpower, and crime and court.

Related topics

adulting Adulting 101 self-care fatigue social media

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