5 Ways to Practice Self-Care
The term "self-care" has kind of gone out-of-control in the media the past few years. Bubble baths, spa days, all these different ways to make sure we're getting "me time" in. Interestingly, this is not what any mental health professional considers to be self-care. I saw that as someone who loves a good bubble bath. While there is nothing wrong with treating yourself, and it certainly can be an aspect of self-care, it's not really what we mean (or need) in terms of caring for ourselves. What it really comes down to is Activities of Daily Living (ADLs), or the fundamental skills we do to care for ourselves. The basics of self-care.
People with mental health issues and people with chronic illness and pain can all struggle with self-care and ADLs. Depression, for example, can make it hard to get out of bed, hard to shower, and can lead us to eating too much or too little. Anxiety can make it difficult to leave the house or engage in hobbies. Chronic pain and illness can make it difficult to do all of the above, and also to engage in things like exercise. Yet this self-care can also really improve our overall physical and mental health. We feel better when we actively practice self-care, as difficult as it can be to get into the habit of doing so when we are struggling.
So, let's start about a starting place with self-care, taking care of 5 of those ADLs:
Getting out of bed and taking a shower/getting dressed - even if you need assistance doing so, we often feel refreshed and have a bit more energy when we can move from our bed. Depending on your physical functioning it might mean just sitting in another room. Staying in bed can increase depression, and taking a shower and putting on fresh clothing often makes us feel really good. Doing this everyday can make huge improvements on your mental health. Physical health-wise it can get your muscles and joints moving and prevent things like bedsores.
Eat healthy meals - sticking to anti-inflammatory diets can be really good for depression, which has been linked to inflammation in the brain, as well as autoimmune diseases. If you can cook the meals yourself, it can add some extra joy (especially if you like cooking). Even if you can't, ensuring that you're eating a lot of fruit and vegetables, getting adequate protein, and reducing sugar improves overall health. (The hard part is that sugar gives us a dopamine boost, leaving us temporarily happy, but doesn't help in the long-term.)
Going for a walk - getting some sort of exercise in. This can be a walk, strength training, yoga, even stretching, or any combination of these. This also gives us a dopamine boost, improving mood. Many people find it decreases anxiety (some people find intense exercise increases their anxiety, so in that cases exercise such as yoga and stretching may be more beneficial). It increases mobility, strength and flexibility for anyone struggling with pain and illness (and has been shown to decrease pain as well, something I have lived experience with).
Engaging in a hobby - doing something you enjoy. Preferably something that stimulates your mind as well. It could be reading, writing, crafts, volunteering, etc. There are endless options. Doing things we enjoy makes life better. It improves mood, decreases anxiety, and reminds us that we are more than our pain/illness. Even spending half an hour per day on an enjoyable activity can give us these benefits.
Being present - engaging in some mindfulness activity. This doesn't have to be meditation (though it can be). It could be grounding exercises, deep breathing, fully engaging in an activity (noticing the feeling of the water on your body as you shower for example), mindful walking, yoga, etc. The more we are present with our whole experience of being, as opposed to the ruminative thoughts, worry thoughts, or hyper-focus on pain, the better our mood is, the less anxiety we have, and the more overall resilience we have when dealing with adversity.
If you are struggling with self-care, you can always book a session with a counsellor, who can help you with your thoughts and feelings around this.