I’ll be the first to admit I’m terrible at self care. Any time someone asks me what I do to relax, they get nothing but a blank stare. I’m one that believes that if there’s no productive result of the activity, then what’s the point?
Therein lies the problem: there is a point. I was looking at the concept in a black and white way. My defense mechanisms have been engraved in me to think I’m being lazy, I’m being selfish, the I’m part. Here’s how I’ve been working on getting around the block.
Every day tasks are self care. I never stopped to think of this, but it’s true. If it’s a particularly bad day, a brief shower can change everything. Basic needs can change mood: remember to HALT. Are you hungry? Angry? Lonely? Tired/thirsty? Focus on those first.
If my living space is messy, it causes changes in my mood and tension. The activities that I do (vacuuming, dishes, sorting etc.) help reduce my stress. Sitting down and do a grocery list lowers my anxiety for when I need to go grocery shopping (keeps me focus and on tasks).
Removing some terminology takes away pressure. If you’re someone who ruminates on the constant, hearing words such as calm and relax may cause a counter-productive train of thought. Am I doing this right? Why am I not feeling closer to baseline? What is my baseline? Why am I still thinking? Why can’t I focus? When is this gonna start working? What if I never calm down? Why can’t I do this? Why aren’t I normal? Why, why, why. Someone who doesn’t have a mental illness where a predominate symptom is hyper-arousal may not understand that self-criticism swiftly follows, which is all unnecessary pressure. My suggestion? Axe those words from your vocabulary for the time being.
Set limits on time and choices. Same with removing the pressure of states you may not have yet grasps, remove the limit of time (wherever possible) and your choices. Initially when learning about this topic, I came to learn that there are so many activities that are considered self care. Start with things you like (or used) to do. If you’ve lost your interest in everything, find five activities that engage at least one of your senses (see, smell, hear, taste, touch). Give it 15 minutes. If you’re still in the same state, move on to something else. If it fully consumes you, great. You’ve found a winner. If nothing works, go back to HALT.
Usually, you won’t feel 100% better. If self care was the panacea for all mental health, psychologists would be out of a job. They’re meant as tools to work in congruent with a mixing pot of help. Be sure to check in with yourself at the start, middle, and end. Self awareness is a crucial part in all recovery. Some people have a rating system, others can identify what their moods are. Being able to notice differences, even subtle, is progress.
Learning how to use self care effectively is change. Change is difficult. Do your best not to be hard on yourself, and DON’T compare yourself to others. We’ll get there, we just need a bit more time. Noticing that you need to work on this concept itself is a sign of recovery.