Self care needs an update


Isabel Gisser

The Finnish practice of sisu offers an update to self care.

We’re drained. We reach for Twitter threads touting self-love tips, stores selling bath bombs and aromatherapy, and apps promising easy meditation or gratitude awareness. We count down the days until spring break, when we can revert into a catatonic state under piles of blankets. We sleep away weekends and waste time and money all in attempt to decompress, to just relax.  But are we doing self care right?

The Finns would say no–we need sisu. Often referred to as the “soul of the country,” sisu is Finland’s signature mindset that develops grit, resilience, and willpower. It can better physical and mental well-being, improve communication skills, and lower stress levels. It’s essentially an “all purpose life philosophy” that can help put the chaos of the world into perspective. Sisu seems like a magical solution to the day to day stress of school or work, but it may come across as absurdly freeform– how do you adopt a state of being?

Veikka Gustafsson became a symbol of sisu after becoming the first Finn to scale Mount Everest. While we may not be climbing mountains, his advice for embodying sisu can help us to tackle the more mundane challenges we face in our lives. His first piece of advice: get used to pushing yourself just a little bit further. Whether it’s doing one more math problem or running just one more block, this strategy can help build mental toughness so when we inevitably hit a roadblock, it won’t feel like the end of the world.

His second tip: if you make a decision, stick with it. Firm opinions build confidence and a sense of self. Thirdly, when facing a challenge, think of how others before you have dealt with the problem. It’s unlikely that you’re the first person to confront this problem, and there is most definitely a way to persevere. Finally, if you’re uncomfortable, think of the situation as an experience. This will help to detach you from the discomfort of the situation in order to consider it objectively. While sisu is a mindset and therefore open to interpretation, there are easy ways to implement similar ideas for self care.

Sisu is untranslatable– it has no English parallel–and that’s indicative of how our society views self care and self betterment. We rely on superficial, temporary solutions for our stress and fatigue. Instead, we need to adopt lasting methods that have the potential to change our understanding of ourselves and the world. While the bath bombs and essential oils and sleep-filled weekends are appreciated, real self care begins with a transformation of our outlook on life.