I’ll be honest, I used to roll my eyes at the word self-care. I guess I found it all a bit esoteric at first? But that was before I understood how important it is, especially for those who have struggled with mental health concerns in the past.
With an underlying mental health concern, stress can be a scary thing that could tip the carefully balanced scales. Having self-care strategies in place can help you get through the bad days better and enjoy the good days more.
When you’re already struggling with the day-to-day of figuring out your mental health situation, otherwise harmless things can drag you down. But even when you’ve already sorted your mental health concerns, stress can make you more vulnerable to those little things.
I don’t believe that self-care is a replacement for medication. Sometimes, medication is simply necessary. But self-care can be a good accompaniment to the other ways you’re treating your mental health concerns.
Here are 7 self-care strategies that could help!
1. Always Carry Headphones
Many people dealing with mental health issues seem to also be highly sensitive* to external stimuli. It’s not uncommon for those with ADHD, depression, Bipolar Disorder, ASD etc. to react strongly to loud noises, strong smells, glaring lights and so on.
When I get irate because of loud noises while I’m outside it helps me to have a pair of headphones handy. They don’t even need to be noise cancelling. I find that the sound reduction of my Sony over-the-ear headphones (I have this old model) is perfectly sufficient for drowning out or muffling most annoying sounds.
Aside from drowning out the rest of the world, listening to your favourite music can add an extra layer of protective armour against the world. But, in a pinch when you’ve forgotten your iPod, the headphones alone will do the trick as well.
*Highly sensitive and hypersensitive are often used interchangeably but there is a difference.
2. Get Some Perspective in Nature
I generally like living in a city. I like that I can go to places without using a car, that there are plenty of grocery stores, and that I don’t have to worry how I’ll get home in the evening. The downside of living in a city — most cities, at least — is that there are so many buildings.
I’m not even talking about the fact that everything is different shades of grey, brown and taupe. What bothers me most about city life is that my eyes never look farther than 10 metres before finding a building.
Fleeing into nature doesn’t just mean finding the next bit of green in the park around the corner but finding a spot where I can let my eyes roam a bit. I find it freeing, as if looking into the distance gives me perspective. Apart from looking farther, finding literally greener pastures helps us feel more balanced.
So, when everything gets a bit much, try to go outside to gain some perspective. If you don’t have any green oases where you live, try climbing the nearest hill and looking out over the world from there.
3. Get Moving, No Matter How Slowly
This one is such a cliché, right? “You’re depressed? Have you tried exercising.” I hate when people say that. So I’m not going to do that. If you feel like staying under the blanket, stay under the blanket. You deserve the comfort that blanket gives you right now and it’s okay.
Exercise is something that, in my experience, can help you stay well once you’ve gotten better. When medication, therapy and time have gotten you out of the hole you were sitting in for so long, moving can help you keep things balanced and feel good about yourself.
Whether you’re going for slow walks, taking up running again, joining a team sport, or finally trying something you’ve always wanted to try (for instance, I recently started longboarding), regular movement can help reinstitute a feeling of self-worth.
But don’t worry, no one’s taking away your blanket right now!
4. Take Some Me-Time
In a world where busy-ness is an achievement to tote around, things can easily get overwhelming. Between work, spouses, kids, friends, grandparents, parents-in-law, errands to run and households to keep afloat many parts of ourselves sort of “belong” to someone else. If we’re not careful no parts will be left for ourselves.
That’s why it’s so important to regularly take me-time. Me-time means doing something that is just for you, that makes you happy, that you enjoy. Have a cup of tea, read a book, curl up under a blanket,… it’s different for everyone. Do whatever feels right for you and forget your obligations for half an hour or so. The world won’t end in your short absence, and you can pick things up again with renewed vigour afterwards.
If you tend to forget to take time for yourself, schedule it in your calendar. In any case, make sure you’ve told your loved ones that you’re taking some time out, so they won’t feel snubbed when you disappear on them.
5. Make Time for People You Love
Just like taking time for ourselves, taking the time to be social can be beneficial. Granted, when I’m stressed out I want nothing less than to organise meeting up with someone, I just want to veg out in front of the TV or Netflix. Which is nice and all, but to refill my batteries I need a varied strategy.
I’ve noticed that going for a casual dinner with friends can work wonders for my state of mind, so I now do it even when I’m reluctant to leave the house. It’s a change of scenery, and spending time with people I love and who love me makes me feel better.
6. Consider Meditation
It took me a long time to find my way to meditating regularly and I still keep falling off the waggon occasionally. But meditation has helped me in various ways.
It’s me-time, 15 minutes out of my day that I take just for myself. I can use it to create structure in my life, by meditating at the same time every day. I can use it as a transition between work time and free time. It also functions as an emergency self-care strategy: meditating calms me down. That’s especially helpful when my ear starts ringing as a reaction to being overworked.
There are many ways to get into meditation. You can try mindfulness meditation, which is currently very popular. I started with Headspace a few years ago and, even if I have moved on to something that suits my personality better, the programme is solid.
But there’s much more than just mindfulness. Those overcoming trauma and issues of self-worth often do well with loving-kindness meditation, for example. You can try loving-kindness and a few other practices at Wildmind, for example. Don’t give up if one way of practice isn’t working for you. Shop around a bit and find what’s right for you.
7. Give Yourself Some Credit
I mentioned at the beginning that I used to roll my eyes a bit at self-care. Well, I really rolled my eyes at journaling. I just never got it. As a writer, I’d write all the time anyway and didn’t understand what kind of writing I was supposed to do in a journal. How would that be different from the other writing I was doing?
But then I read a book about healing the scars of trauma, and the author suggested journaling as a method for giving yourself some credit. And that I got! I am terribly bad at acknowledging my own achievements or stopping to celebrate successes. But having a place that is designated for exactly that has helped me be a bit kinder to myself.
I’ve set up a daily task in my Todoist called “give yourself credit” and I have set myself up with Journey (one of many diary or journal apps out there). Journey makes it easy for me to just open the app at the end of the day, whether on my phone of my Mac, and to jot down a few words. Ticking off the task as done is satisfying. I might not do it every day but I do it on most days. I’ve noticed that, even on days where everything has seemingly gone tits up, I try to actively consider something that I’ve done decently and give myself some credit.
So if you too have never understood what you should be writing in your journal, try giving yourself some credit.
Self-care is usually secondary when we’re in the thick of it. Not that it wouldn’t be great if we could take better care of ourselves all the time. But dealing with a diagnosis, getting meds sorted and working through the mess in therapy doesn’t leave a lot of energy, no matter the benefits. Simply allowing ourselves to stay curled up under the blanket constitutes self-care in those times.
For many, self-care comes into play once we’re generally well-balanced, the meds are working, and therapy has done its trick.
Everyone’s self-care strategies are different, so I’d love to know what helps you stay calm and maintain your mental health. Just leave a comment :) And if you need more than these 7 strategies check out these 45 self-care prompts.