“Our bodies are our gardens, to which our wills are gardeners.” William Shakespeare, Othello
How are you tending your garden these days? Do you water it and prune it regularly? Or is it overrun with weeds, its blossoms chewed up by bugs and wilting?
I’m not sure if I’m writing this post more for me or for you. After all, I’ve been incredibly stressed and looking for an outlet for it.
Sometimes I feel like a bit of a fraud. I offer all these pieces of wisdom, and lately, I just can’t seem to get my life together.
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Writing can be incredibly therapeutic. That’s why I recommend journaling. There is something about writing things down that just helps you think more clearly. It helps you declutter that brain of yours and make sense of the way you’re feeling. You can dust off some of the cobwebs, and begin to make your mental space fresh, clean, and orderly.
Whether this post is for me, or for you, I hope we both get a lot out of it.
What is self care?
Simply put, self care is any sort of activity by which we are taking care of ourselves. Sounds easy, right? Well, yes and no.
Yes, it is a very easy to understand concept. It sounds like it should be as intuitive as riding a bike after years of not doing so.
At the same time, self care can be a bit challenging. There are a few different factors to consider.
- What sort of rest does your body actually need? (Check out this book for some really great insight on that: Sacred Rest: Recover Your Life, Renew Your Energy, Restore Your Sanity)
- Activities that are pleasurable vs. restorative (In my case, spending a night out with friends is pleasurable but not restorative.)
- The root cause of needing self care (Once you come up with your list of effective self care activities, it might be time to examine what in your life is making you stressed in the first place.)
Why it’s critical
Human beings are simultaneously strong and fragile creatures. We can withstand so much physical and emotional torment (hello, anyone who’s ever given birth!) But at the same time, stress has a way of chipping away at us.
Picture the windshield on your car. Have you ever had a tiny rock fly into it while you’re driving? The rock might seem super small, but it creates a small hole with a web of splinters around it.
What happens if another small rock flies into the same spot? Then another? And another?
At the end of that drive, your windshield is on its way to being completely irreparable.
Our psyches are a lot like that. Little stressors in our life chip away at the windshield of our mind until we can no longer see where we’re going.
That’s why it is so important to be proactive and take care of ourselves before we lose all sense of who we are.
10 amazing ideas for self care
I wanted to share a bunch of simple (and practical) self care ideas that do not cost a lot of money. Believe me, I would enjoy the hell out of an elaborately planned day at the spa.
But the problems with using activities like that as self care are:
- It’s not a sustainable practice
- It’s not making any progress toward an emotionally healthier life
Self care activities need to be sustainable. They need to be things you can do on a daily basis to restore your mind after a long day. They need to be financially sensible, and things that don’t require advance appointments or lots of planning.
Self care also needs to be something that puts you on a path toward better emotional health. Spa days are fun and relaxing, but they aren’t action steps you can take on a regular basis with tangible effects.
This is one that can be hard to force yourself to do, but once you do, it feels so good.
We are a generation that spends an ever increasing amount of time on social media. I am not a social media hater. There is so much good that can be accomplished with it. But you have to admit, it can also be harmful to our mental health.
Everyone has that person (or people) on their friends list that makes then feel bad about themselves. Maybe their posts stir up sentiments of jealousy. Maybe they are an ex that we had a toxic relationship with.
Relationships on social media are often more complicated than necessary. Here’s a handy chart to help you decide what the appropriate step to take is:
2- Start journaling
As I mentioned earlier, journaling can have so many positive impacts on your mental health. It gives you an almost unparalleled outlet for your negative emotions.
Journaling can take so many different forms. Here are some ideas if you don’t know where to get started:
- Free association
- Positive affirmations
- Your bucket list/goals list
- A letter to a younger version of you
- A letter to a loved one you miss
This therapy is so great because the possibilities are virtually endless. And so are the benefits!
I love this gratitude journal! It is a great tool for getting started with your journaling practice:
3- Epsom salt baths
Taking regular epsom salt baths are not just soothing and relaxing, but they also have fantastic benefits for your physical self as well.
Here are just a few of them:
- Good for skin
- Helps calm digestion
- Soothes sore muscles
Do you notice how when you feel better physically you tend to feel better emotionally, and vice versa?
Health needs to take a holistic approach for it to be the most effective, and so does self care.
Snag a bag of my favorite epsom salt here:
4- Make a list of positive affirmations
Positive affirmations get kind of a bad rep. But to be fair (and only speaking for myself), their intent is not to play the denial game. You shouldn’t feel like you need to hide your mental illness to be accepted.
But science, guys. More and more science is emerging that shows our brain’s elasticity, and the power of positive thinking.
Keep in mind, it is a practice, not a magic fix. Do not be discouraged if you spend one hour of your day trying to think positively and find you are still mentally ill. (Only a little bit of sarcasm intended there.)
It does work. You just need to make it a daily ritual— and be patient before you can expect to see results.
Here’s a great gift— for you!
5- Make a check up appointment for the coming year
Being proactive about our health is so important. One easy thing we can do is make a phone call today to schedule a January physical with your primary care physician.
I recommend making a list of the following questions:
- How much water should I be drinking?
- How often should I exercise?
- What lab work does he/she recommend?
- What are some good supplements you can take?
If you see a psychiatrist, I also recommend starting off the new year with a med check. Write down any symptoms you might be experiencing, and they can tweak your meds accordingly.
6- Get some exercise
On the subject of taking care of yourself physically, I cannot stress enough the importance or regular physical exercise.
I hear this a lot: The reason I don’t exercise is because I’m chronically ill and it’s too hard.
Listen. I get it. Your health concerns are completely valid and living with them is a challenge. When you feel sick, and have no energy, the last thing you want to do is exercise.
However, I think if you can start slow (which I firmly believe everyone can), you will begin to see gradual improvement.
If you’re a 9-5er, take a walk around the office building on your lunch break. Keep a set of light hand weights and do some bicep curls during your phone conference.
There are literally an endless amount of ways to work activity into your day. You just have to make it a priority.
Use this planner to track your activity:
7- Try to be moderate
One of the best and worst parts of the holiday season is that it is a time of excess. This can be good in that we are surrounded by friends, generosity, delicious food, warm aromas, and late nights of laughter and merrymaking.
The downside? It is so easy to overdo it. We eat too much. We stay up way later than we ought to. If you’re like me, you sometimes drink too much champagne after the kids go to bed.
No? Just me?
It’s good to enjoy yourself, but attempting to stay moderate can only benefit you. Instead of stay up drinking all night with your rowdy friends, call it quits around midnight and make sure to drink plenty of water.
And maybe eat a salad or two to get some nutrients.
8- Go out of your comfort zone and socialize
This is one that is going to be highly dependent on your innate personality. I think for the mentally ill, surrounding ourselves with loved ones benefits us so much. It shows us how supported we are, and it helps us temporarily forget our troubles.
But like I mentioned earlier, excessive socializing (more than 2-3 hours at a time in my opinion) can be difficult for introverts. It takes time to find the balance between feeling restored and feeling “people’d out.”
Once you find that balance, try to make it a priority to socialize once a week, for whatever length of time your health allows.
9- Buy yourself a gift
Yes, this one is a little frivolous, but I had to include it. It doesn’t have to be anything super expensive, but pick out something that will really bring you joy.
Pick out your nicest wrapping paper, shiniest bow, and attach a card addressed to you— from YOU. Tell yourself what an amazing job you did this past year and all the rockstar things you will accomplish in 2020.
Show yourself a little love occasionally.
Here are my 5 favorite books of all time. Books are one of my favorite things to receive as gifts.
10-Practice proper hygiene
This one sounds like something I shouldn’t even have to say. But for those facing huge amounts of stress— especially when they’re already mentally ill— basic hygiene rituals seems impossible.
I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect that you are going to look runway ready every single day but here are basic things that ought to be done daily:
- Do some kind of cleansing ritual. Whether it’s a full length shower with shampoo, conditioner, and shaving cream— or just a two minute rinse off
- Wash your face
- Brush your teeth
- Comb your hair
- Put on deodorant
No fancy hairstyles or complicated makeup routines necessary. But sometimes getting back to basics really helps you feel better about yourself.
The benefits of taking care of you
Make sure you take care of yourself this holiday season. We all have a lot going on, and it’s super easy to get burned out.
Think you might be burned out but not sure? Here are some classic signs to look out for:
Every day is a bad day.
Caring about your work or home life seems like a total waste of energy.
You’re exhausted all the time.
The majority of your day is spent on tasks you find either mind-numbingly dull or overwhelming.
You feel like nothing you do makes a difference or is appreciated.(Source: Burnout Prevention & Treatment)
Be proactive, and remember: Sometimes you need to come first.
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