Everything is Awful and I'm Not Okay: Self-Care Tips
I’ve been thinking a lot about self-care this week. I stopped taking the Pill, which I was thrilled to finally do, but the sudden drop in hormones sent my body on a hormonal roller coaster that had me cramping, crying, and generally feeling miserable. I did the usual self-care activities as suggested by my favorite podcast – drink some water, take your meds, call your person – but I also have an arsenal of other favorites when the usual just won’t do. The much-parroted bubble baths and aromatherapy have their place, but sometimes the self-care you need is not of the treat-yo-self variety. Here’s what I do when I can’t afford a massage, don’t want a bath, and need to take care of myself.
Say no. My first tip is a classic for a reason. Overcommitting yourself can wreak havoc on your wellbeing, and the resulting stress can cause anything from a sleepless night to a full-blown panic attack. Say no to big things, like volunteering or running a 5k or taking a job that you know will demand long hours (if possible; I know many of us have little choice when it comes to work). Say no to little things, like getting a coffee with that acquaintance or going out on Friday night or tutoring your best friend’s cousin’s kid. Say no to things before you commit to them, or (if you’re like me) say no to things after you’ve committed by calling to cancel and apologizing and then try to move on without feeling guilty. Say no to things you really want to do but just don’t have the time or energy to complete, say no to things that you only kinda-sorta want to do, and definitely say no to things that give you a bad feeling in the pit of your stomach. Say no to things without giving a specific reason. Self-care is enough of a reason. I am giving you permission to say no.
Schedule an imperfect day. Imperfect Day is definitely one of the best ideas to ever come out of any of my therapists (thanks, Dr. Lisa!) and I’ve been observing it for the last five years. As a recovering perfectionist, I needed a tool to cut myself some slack, because I am just not one of those people who can “go easy” on myself through sheer Jedi mind-power. One day in therapy, after telling me for the umpteenth time that I need to give myself a damn break already, my therapist suggested I choose a day of the week on which I can be utterly imperfect. Thus, Imperfect Day was born. My Imperfect Day just so happens to be Sunday, but you can choose any day, ideally a day off from work or school if you have one available. On Imperfect Day, I do not have to do anything. I do not have to shower or be “productive.” I can watch Netflix naked all day or spend five hours reading or eat bagels for every meal. I have recently recommitted to keeping my Imperfect Day completely unscheduled so that I have total freedom to do whatever I want, and it’s made a huge difference in my stress levels.
Get shit done – or don’t. I’m willing to bet that most of us have at least one item on our to-do list that has been dogging us for a while. We put it off, we move it to next week’s list, and we never get it done. For June and July, that item on my to-do list was starting this blog. At a certain point, I had to create the site or scupper the whole idea, because it was highly anxiety-producing to see the same to-do item week in and week out. Get that bugger off your list – either get shit done now, or decide that you just aren’t going to do it and cross it out.
Make an emergency plan. No, I’m not talking about natural disaster preparedness – this is an emotional emergency plan, which is especially helpful if you deal with mental illness. The best time do to this activity is when you’re feeling calm and relaxed, because it won’t do you much good if you’re already freaking out. I used to make these all the time, and not only did I have a plan when I was panicking and couldn’t think straight, I also felt better all the time knowing I was prepared. Make a list of what you know will comfort you: people to call, movies to watch, food to eat, and any other coping techniques like yoga, visualization, or breathing exercises.
Clean your space. Tracy Clayton, one of my personal heroes and host of my favorite podcast Another Round, mentioned recently that she has started to view cleaning as self-care. Genius! I often say that I “stress-clean” to soothe myself when I feel anxious, but that term feels negative and disparaging. I love the idea of reframing chores as self-care, because research shows that humans feel better in clean, tidy, and spacious environments. So wipe down your countertops, make your bed (every day!), and get rid of stuff you don’t need or love.
Create. Maybe it’s just me, but I always feel better when I am exercising my creativity in some way. Creation is fun, therapeutic, and makes me feel like I’m adding some beauty or good back into the world. You don’t need to create your own fashion line or oil-paint masterpiece; an activity as simple as trying a new recipe in the kitchen or coloring in one of those trendy “adult” coloring books can be enough to get the creative juices flowing.
Fuel your body with the good stuff. I think we vastly underestimate the impact that physical fuel can have on our emotional and psychological health. The reality is – and I’m sure every one of us has experienced this firsthand – that we feel more emotionally stable when we’re putting fruits, veggies, and a balance of macronutrients (carbs, proteins, and fats) into our bodies. As a vegan, I will of course encourage you to fill up on a delicious, plant-based meal that will do your mind and body good. Plus, taking the time to make yourself a healthy, hearty meal is an act of self-love in itself. You can find simple, inexpensive vegan recipes here, here, and here. It also bears noting that when you’re feeling down or anxious, substances like alcohol will probably only make you feel worse. As Reese Witherspoon says, “Never drink to feel better, only drink to feel even better.” I love a glass (or several) of red wine, but it’s not self-care.
Make necessary medical appointments and stick to them. I work at a community health center, but I still hate shots and Pap smears just as much as the next person. This brilliant article is an important reminder that no matter how much you don’t want to go to the doctor, making and keeping key medical appointments like annual exams is a crucial component of self-care. My personal strategy is to reward myself after an appointment with a vegan cookie or fancy kombucha.
Get off social media. You’ve heard this so much by now that I don’t need to elaborate. Social media is a fantastic tool, but scrolling through Facebook to see the latest slur Donald Trump spewed on air is not going to make you feel good. Take a social media sabbatical for an hour or a day.
Write it down and burn it up. If all else fails and you just want to curl up into a crying stress-ball (hey, I’ve been there), write down everything you’re thinking and feeling and then set it on fire. Literally. As long as you have a safe place to do it where you won’t piss off your roommates or set off the fire alarm. I find that I don’t enjoy journaling when I’m unhappy or anxious, because it just feels like I’m permanently memorializing a particularly crappy moment in my life. Getting your thoughts down on paper can be immensely freeing, though, so writing everything down knowing that you’re going to destroy it five minutes later can be a helpful exercise in letting go. Bonus points if you use an aromatherapeutic candle to start the blaze.
I hope my list inspires you to do some self-care today, and that you know that you are worthy of TLC on the daily. And remember: self-care is not a substitute for mental healthcare, so reach out to your doctor or therapist if you’re struggling and feeling overwhelmed.