Self-care is a growing trend that seems to mostly consist of bubble baths and face masks. While I certainly love some "me time" and treating myself to my Glossier masks and a Netflix marathon, I think it's important to remember that "treating yourself" is not necessarily the same thing as self-care.
Self-care looks different on everyone, and I'm not here to tell people how they can or can't take time for themselves. I've simply come to realize that as a person with mental illness, sometimes my self-care needs to be a little more intensive and regimented than a trip to Lush.
1. Keep yourself hydrated
It's something small, but drinking an adequate amount of water can dramatically impact your physical and mental wellbeing. Though exact numbers differ, it's commonly recommended that we drink two liters of water per day, or eight 8-ounce glasses. Even if everything else in the world feels too difficult, just try and remember to keep a glass of water near you.
Sometimes, the best thing you can do for yourself is catch up on sleep. Poor mental health can severely disrupt sleeping patterns, so allow yourself time to simply rest. This is something that's personally difficult for me because when I allow myself time to nap, I feel guilty for not doing something more productive. But the fact is that in order to truly be productive, you need to allow your brain and body time to recharge.
3. Practice journaling and reflecting
This may sound cliche, but taking a few minutes out of each day to reflect can help track your mental health progress and patterns. I keep a mood tracker for myself in the back of my planner, and comparing that to my daily reflections can help me identify emotional or environmental patterns that trigger my mental health flare-ups.
4. Go for a walk or a drive
Even when you don't feel like it, it's so important to give yourself time each day to get out of the house. Whether that means taking your dog for a walk or simply driving a few minutes down the road to get a coffee, make it a goal to leave the house at least once a day. This also requires that you be conscious of your personal limits, so never get behind the wheel if you feel like you're a danger to yourself, and always tell a friend or family member if you're going out so someone knows where you are.
Reading is a great way to slow down and get out of your head for a little while. TV and movies can do the same thing, but sometimes you need to give your brain a break from screens.
6. Do yoga
Nowadays, you don't even need to head downtown to a yoga studio to squeeze in a good yoga session. Heck, even my Amazon Alexa offers yoga practices. Yoga is a great way to exercise your mind and body, and with so many variations and flows available, there is truly a pace for everyone. I recommend Yoga With Adriene, a free YouTube channel offering numerous yoga practices for LITERALLY everything and anything you may be feeling physically or emotionally, including yoga for depression, yoga for nurses, and yoga for text neck.
7. Make a therapy appointment
I am of the belief that if you have access to therapy, take advantage of it, even if you think you don't need it. If you're already in therapy but haven't gone in a while, schedule an appointment. Making a therapy appointment is the first thing I do on self-care days because I know that even if I don't want to go, my brain could use it.
Another cliche, but meditation can be incredibly beneficial to people with mental health problems. It's an easy way to slow down, ground yourself, and check in with your mind and body. I have been using the Calm app for a few weeks now and would highly recommend it for meditation beginners. I've found it especially useful for when I'm feeling anxious as it helps ease my racing thoughts and focus on my breathing.
9. Make positive affirmations in the mirror
Sounds cheesy, but just give it a try. Self-care means reminding yourself that you are worth the time and energy it takes to heal, so speak kindly to yourself and remember that your life is worth cherishing.
10. Do a phone detox
It's easy to get wrapped up in the chaos of group texts, social media, overflowing inboxes, and Snap streaks when you're on your phone 24/7. For me, my phone is definitely a crutch I cling to in order to distract myself, and I know that isn't healthy. Allowing yourself a phone detox gives you a chance to come back to the present and focus on your immediate surroundings. The texts and emails can wait, but your mental health can't (just be sure to notify people if you won't have your phone on you for a set period of time).
11. Take time to shower and groom yourself
Face masks and bath bombs can sound boujee when you're in the middle of a depressive episode. Like...no, Karen, a trip to Lush is not going to cure my depression, but thanks for the suggestion. But it is important to maintain your physical wellness because these are often the first things to go when you're feeling mentally drained. It may feel impossible, but make it a goal each day to shower, brush your teeth, and brush your hair, even if that's all you can do some days.
12. Make sure you're getting proper nutrients
When you're feeling mentally unwell, remember to start by fulfilling your physiological hierarchy of needs. Before you can enjoy a spa day or shopping spree, make sure your body is physically capable of carrying you around in the world by eating a nutritional diet and taking any vitamins or supplements you may need.
13. Record advice for yourself for when you have bad mental health days
This takes a little bit of planning in advance, but on good mental health days, try recording yourself giving love and advice to your future self on bad mental health days. It's so easy to get caught up in listening to the negative thoughts about yourself when you're having a mental health flare-up, but those thoughts are lies. Know that good-mental-health you would not lie to bad-mental-health you and keep these videos as a resource for when your negative thoughts become too much to handle.
14. Be honest with the people around you
Sometimes, self-care means letting people know that you are not OK and you need help. Have a circle of people who you can trust to look after you when your mental health takes a turn. Depending on your relationship with the people you work with, this may even mean sitting down with your boss to discuss what you need when you aren't feeling well or having a coworker you can reach out to who can help you with your workload.
15. Clean your living space
Your environment has a huge impact on your emotional wellbeing. Your physical living space is an embodiment of your mind, so if your room is dirty and cluttered, you're not doing your brain any favors. Try cleaning your sheets, cleaning out your closet, and working more light into your room.
16. Make a doctor's appointment
If you have the resources, try scheduling an appointment to check in with your doctor, especially if you're more than a few years overdue for a physical. You may hate it, but it really is important to keep up with your health. A trip the doctor can help pinpoint certain things that may be affecting your mental wellbeing, as well as help you get on the right medications and supplements for your brain and body.
17. Allow yourself to be broken, but don't let yourself stay that way
It's OK to not be OK. You're allowed to break down, spend the day in bed, and let yourself be a little broken. What isn't OK is letting yourself stay that way for too long. Know when it's time to reach out for help and remind yourself that you owe yourself the chance to get better. You are worth it.