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Self care has become a common buzzword in the wellness world. We often see Instagram posts showcasing bubbles baths with fancy bath bombs, expensive face masks, high-end candles, spa trips with friends, and weekend getaways. These all look like relaxing and fun ways to promote a sense of mental health, but these are not often realistic for most people.
When you’re struggling with a mental illness, self care has two parts. The more exciting part, the pampering, the treats, the luxurious things are what we see plastered in magazines and social media. What we don’t see is the little things that must be done every day to maintain a healthy mindset. These daily activities may not be as glamorous or fun to talk about, but they’re the things that allow us to feel a little better every day, not just when we’re choosing to put in extra effort.
This article from a respected medical journal sites numerous studies, claiming “aerobic exercises, including jogging, swimming, cycling, walking, gardening, and dancing, have been proved to reduce anxiety and depression.” I am all too aware of how hard it can be to exercise when the couch and Netflix seem perfectly reasonable alternatives. It’s even more difficult when doing anything requires extra effort to get past whatever negative mentality you may be dealing with on any given day.
I’ve learned that the hardest part is getting started. Commit to just five minutes of whatever it is, and be proactive in combating your excuses. Get your workout clothes ready ahead of time, charge your phone, have your day planned around exercise, whatever you can to avoid giving in to excuses. Once you’ve started, you’ll often find that you won’t quit after “just five minutes,” and by the time you’ve finished, you feel amazing, capable and strong!
2. Eat well
I’ve been known to fall hard into the trap of emotional or stress eating, carbs are comfort foods, but they only give us a quick burst of seretonin, which inevitably can make us feel worse later. Not only that, but poor diet, processed foods and sugars can cause physical symptoms that can compound mental illnesses. Food is one of the most common and readily accesible coping mechanisms, and breaking the bad habits of an unhealthy relationship with food takes a lot of willpower. It’s important to be gentle, never quit just because you’ve had a bad day! For two years, I changed my diet and ate whole, clean foods (minimally processed, fresh, things that don’t have long lists of unrecognizable ingredients) 90% of the time and it made a huge difference, both physically and mentally. This cookbook helped me get used to clean eating, there are even recipes that my husband and kids loved!
3. Get enough sleep
Getting the right amount of sleep is important for everyone but even more so if you are dealing with the symptoms of anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, etc. Most people know that not getting enough sleep can affect your moods, but getting too much sleep won’t help you feel any better. Figure out the right amount of sleep for you and decide what it is you need to do to commit to that.
I know that I need about nine hours of sleep and I am not a morning person. At all. Ever. I can set 203 alarms, snooze every single one and stay in bed until the very last possible second. I used to struggle to fall asleep as well, laying in bed, scrolling through Facebook until the wee hours of the morning, which obviously made getting up only a few hours later next to impossible. I discovered podcasts wayyyyy back when they were new, and whenever I can’t sleep, I listen to a few. My favorites are educational and interesting, the kind of thing that keeps me focused so my mind doesn’t wander, but won’t keep me awake wanting to know what will happen next (the HowStuffWorks network of podcasts have been my favorite from the beginning!). Mornings are still a bit of a struggle, and only in the last couple of months I’ve found that if my husband wakes me before he leaves for work, the promise of a cup of coffee with him before he goes is enough to get me out of bed. Some days, not so much, I work night shift on weekends so there are days where I really do just need another hour of sleep! Anyway, since we’ve gotten into this routine (yes, we, because getting me to bed on time and getting me up in the morning is a team effort!), falling asleep is easier and waking up is easier, I accomplish more during the day and feel a lot better than I did when I was rolling out of bed five minutes before taking the kids to school!
Meditation, yoga, quiet spiritual time, they’re all supposed to be very beneficial for you mental well-being. I have yet to find one that really works for me. I’ve tried many of the traditional kinds of meditation, but find myself bored, restless and distracted. I love this article by Amy Clover, 5 Meditation Alternatives for anxiety (that don’t require sitting still) because it offers some different ideas, and takes the pressure off. I always benefit from a walk in nature, it seems to have the same effect as meditating does for other people. Find some form of meditation that calms, centers and grounds you and practice it every day, I promise you will see a difference!
6. Keep up basic hygiene
At first glance, this sounds gross, but I get it. Showering, brushing your hair, putting on clean clothes, it all sounds exhausting. I’ve been there. Heck, it still takes me at least fifteen minutes to convince myself to take a shower. Do it anyway. Do whatever it takes to follow through. Keep a set of products for the more difficult days, a favorite outfit, a fun hair clip or this lavender chamomile body wash boasts stress relief and feels luxurious for less than $15!
7. Set up a routine
This ties together many of my other points, but having a routine is crucial for maintaining your mental balance. Getting up at the same time every morning and following a routine helps because having these habits scheduled will put muscle memory into motion, even if your mind doesn’t seem ready to follow through. Over time, you’ll find you are getting in the shower without really contemplating it because it has become so automatic as the next step in the day.
Make time for hobbies. Doing something that you enjoy, just for you, is important. We live in a culture that values how much time you spend on working towards a better future, hobbies are often put to the side for “later” which may end up being never! But it is necessary to focus on something that is just for fun, whether that is crocheting, coloring (I love this coloring book, it speaks to my sweary sarcastic side!), journaling, running, even just watching your favorite show on Netflix again! Do whatever it is that makes you happy in the moment!
Sometimes socializing can be incredibly taxing, I’m an introvert with anxiety, I dread socializing! If meeting a friend for coffee feels too difficult, take time to make a phone call. Even chatting online with a friend can improve your mood. You only need a few minutes a day of personal contact, but it’s so important to your mental health! Talking to others really helps to get you out of your own head for awhile. This article asks stay at home moms how much contact they have with other and how it affects them. Being isolated (regardless of how or why) can be detrimental to happiness! If you don’t think you will be consistent enough to reach out to someone each day, enlist a friend or loved one to be your daily chat! Chances are they’ll love to hear from you each day! And as always, I’m available through e-mail, on facebook, and I have a lovely Facebook group that has become such a supportive community, I’m always accepting new members there!