Self-care is anything that supports and nourishes you mentally, physically, or spiritually. The practice is about showing yourself kindness and compassion with simple, gentle things that help you move in healthier directions. If you live with a mental health issue, you know how important it is to develop a self-care routine to get you through the bad days.
The great part about this practice is that there is no "right" way to do it. You get to decide which options resonate with you in the moment.
This isn't a comprehensive list, but I hope it inspires you to add a few things to your own routine. If you have a favorite that I missed and you think could help others, DM me or leave me a message and let me know!
In ideal conditions, science says that 20 minutes of sun and fresh air can do wonders for your mood. Summer in the desert and winter in New England aren't ideal conditions! Neither is Agoraphobia. If you can't actually go outside, pick an alternative. Studies have shown that listening to bird songs can be equally helpful. YouTube has a whole supply of wild bird videos. Make a list of your favorites and spend a few minutes focusing on the sound. (It's also a great way to entertain fur babies!)
Depression is great at robbing you of your motivation to do anything more than lie in bed and watch TV. I know it's a lot of effort for something that doesn't seem important, but many people find that being clean makes them feel better. The good news it that washing doesn't have to be done all at once. Feel free to break it into smaller tasks. One day, soak in the tub and watch Netflix or take a sponge bath. The next, wash your hair. The day after that, wash your face.
Give yourself permission to be tired and take a nap! If you're worried about feeling too tired when you wake up, set an alarm for 30 or 40 minutes. That's enough to recharge a little but not so much that you wake up more exhausted than when you shut your eyes.
This one is hard for people-pleasers. It makes you feel guilty or selfish to turn down a request, even if it's a favor for someone you don't like. But one thing I've learned is that if you don't look out for yourself, no one else will. It doesn't make you a bad person to prioritize your needs every once in a while. So, sometime this week, give yourself permission to say "no" to something you don't want to do. If you need an excuse, let me know. I'll write you a note.
Some people will give you a hard time for treating your mental health issues with medication. It's easy for someone who doesn't need a prescription to tell you that drugs aren't necessary. IMO, if there is something on the market that makes managing your issues easier, take it! Treatment isn't "one size fits all." Not when there are NINE different kinds of depression and a different body chemistry for every person. Do yourself a favor. If you have the option, take your meds.
Most of us are well-versed in our flaws and failures. We never need help listing those. What we overlook too often are our good qualities. Everyone has them. Yes, even you! Take a moment to list two things you like about yourself. Keep them somewhere you can find them, and when you start to beat yourself up over something this week, remind yourself of those two good things. You get bonus points if you can list more than two!
Gratitude practice can sometimes feel hollow. On my worst days, when pessimism is my overriding view, I find it easier to keep things simple and small. For instance, I can be grateful that my phone is charged and the WIFI is working so I can binge-watch things on Netflix. Send a small "thank you" out to the universe for something that made your life better today.
Have you ever had a day when your motivation is in negative numbers, and you don't want to do anything -- including get out of bed? (Raises hand). Give yourself credit for accomplishing something you didn't want to do today! Even if all you did was drag yourself from the bed to the bathtub to soak, that counts. You did it. Give yourself a pat on the back.
This might not seem like self-care, but it is! You feel like crying because your body needs it. Those tears release stress hormones and relieve emotional pressure. The next time you feel yourself fighting tears, find a quiet place (bedroom, bathroom, your car) and make time to have a good cry.
Study after study says that social media can be destructive to your mental health. (Let's be honest, Twitter is a dumpster fire.) The good news is, social media doesn't have to involve doom scrolling if you don't want it to. You have a choice. Break out the unfollow button and turn your social media feeds into happy places. Fill them with puppies, kittens, laughing babies, comedians, nature photography, or whatever makes you happy. There are plenty of positive accounts out there. Go find them!
If you're not familiar with these, support groups are gatherings of people with similar issues (grief, depression, addiction, etc.). There are few things more validating than finding people who understand what you're going through. Thanks to the Pandamnit, most of these went virtual on Zoom. If you need support, find a group that fits and check out a meeting. Anxious about strangers? Choose a virtual meeting and turn off your camera.
This one might not seem like fun, but it's important. Studies have found clear links between physical and mental health. Let's be honest, you can't run a healthy body on junk food. Work veggies into your daily routine even if you have to hide them in a protein shake. (My favorite is Country Farms Super Greens.)
Sometimes, I find the best way to get out of my head is to get into someone else's! You know how it makes you feel when someone does something nice for no reason. Pass that along! Compliment a stranger's shoes, nails, ink, clothes, whatever catches your eye. Leave your UPS driver a thank you card. Bake cookies for your veterinarian. Think of someone in your life who needs to feel appreciated, and send a little kindness in their direction.
If you're like me, you have a fake smile that you break out in public to make everyone think you're okay when you're not. (I've put several hundred thousand miles on mine in the last few years alone.) Give yourself permission to turn it off. If you don't want to wear a pleasant expression in the grocery store today, don't. If you don't want to make eye contact with people for a friendly smile/nod in the hall, don't. Put away the mask for a day and be real.
Do you know that feeling you get when a meeting at work is canceled at the last minute? It's like finding money in your pocket! Why not do that on purpose? Cancel something on your schedule and spend that time on yourself. Go get a latte. Drop by the library and smell the books. Go to a museum on the free admission day and spend an hour in the peace and quiet.
Can't cancel anything? Then put yourself on the calendar instead. Schedule time to do something just for you.
This one probably seems odd for this list, but hear me out. Have you ever heard someone spreading positive gossip? It doesn't happen often. Most gossip is negative and critical. In order to spread it, you have to be in a negative, critical place in your head. It's hard to be compassionate and understand with anyone -- including yourself -- when all you see are faults. If you want to talk about other people, make it something positive and inspiring!
No, not that kind of exercise. This doesn't involve going to the gym, jogging for miles, or anything else that leaves you sweaty and tired. Studies have shown that just seven minutes of movement can make a positive impact on both your mind and body. This can include gentle stretching or a quick yoga routine. YouTube has plenty of free options. Find a couple you like and try them out this week.
Can't find the motivation to do 7 minutes? Start with 3.
A lack of sleep affects everything from mental clarity to your metabolism. I know it's tempting to stay up watching "just one more" episode on Netflix, but do yourself a favor. Make time on the weekend to catch up on what you missed and go to bed on time.
I know sometimes things just aren't funny. (Been there!) But the experts say laughter relieves stress, anxiety, depression, and even grief. Do you have a favorite comedian? Do doorbell videos of people falling down the stairs make you giggle? Do you find baby laughter infectious? Build a collection of favorites on social media, YouTube, or Hulu, and spend some time cracking yourself up!
When you think about it, eating, staying hydrated, and taking bathroom breaks when you need them are the most fundamental bits of self-care. I know sometimes you can't. If you have a job with designated breaks and you have no choice but to follow the schedule, there's not much you can do. But when you have the choice, show yourself some love by pressing pause for a minute and taking care of your body's needs.
I don't mean slip into a rapper persona and tell the world how awesome you are. I mean that many of us have a long-standing practice of beating ourselves up for every mistake we make. Years later, we can still recall some of those moments and punish ourselves all over again. Today, instead of kicking yourself for your mistakes, take a moment to acknowledge something you did right! (Btw, exercising a little self-care counts as doing something right.)