How many times has someone told you to take care or look after yourself for you to respond with something along the lines of ‘thank you, you too’? It happens more than we think but its very rare that we actually break down what is being said. To look after yourself or take care may seem like a given, something we automatically do in our day to day life, but it’s something so many of us overlook. The worst part is we don’t even realise just how often we do the opposite. In this post we will discuss what ‘Self-Care’ is, why it is essential for everyone and also explore some potential ideas to help you get started.
Self-care is by no means a new term, but it has become a much more common point of discussion in recent years, and rightly so. The term itself is quite broad as there are several types of self-care, but essentially it means taking stock, putting you first, and treating yourself with love and care. So many of us feel awkward and selfish when making ourselves the priority, but self-care is not about narcissism or selfishness, it’s about understanding our own personal limits and taking the time to rest and recover.
This process can start in several different ways. Firstly, there are the basic levels of self-care, which include getting enough sleep, eating well, and exercising regularly. It can be so easy to get caught up in the busy day to day that we either, forget to eat enough, stay up later than we should to catch up on work, check emails or do things we didn’t get finished earlier in the day.
On the other side of this it’s so easy to confuse these basic levels of self-care and instead replace them with cheap thrills such as takeaway food, alcohol, or rash decisions. Don’t get me wrong, it is possible to treat yourself to your favourite cheat meal or go to the pub with some friends without it being unhealthy, but it’s when we overindulge in order to feel better about the stress of our everyday lives that this becomes a problem. I know just how easy it is to get caught up in these cheap thrills. When the smoke clears and the food is finished or I get home from a night at the pub, I realise that it may have made me briefly happy in that moment but didn’t solve the initial problem, just distracted me from it.
You see, learning and practicing self-care is a journey which can be tough at first, but even starting with something as simple as making the bed or brushing your teeth is a great step in the right direction. Once you’ve managed to get through some of those smaller challenges, maybe take on something bigger, like going out for a walk once a day or making sure you get a shower and fresh set of clothes each day. When suffering from depression, these may seem like the last things in the world you want to do, but powering through the best you can and doing them anyway ends up making you feel a little better.
There are several activities and routines I have when I am feeling low in order to provide that level of care to myself. One of these that helps me a lot is decluttering and tidying. If you were to ask me whether or not I like to tidy, I’d probably respond with something along the lines of ‘not really, but I also hate when things get messy.’ However, that being said, whilst I may not like the activity in and of itself all that much, I get a sense of achievement and emotional order when I finish each cleaning or decluttering task. I can’t begin to guess how many times I have rearranged a certain shelf or bookcase in my living room, making sure everything is clean and organised, and each time when I’m done I feel a moment of calm, which is much needed when my anxiety levels are high.
My favourite suggestion to anyone who is suffering from depression, anxiety, or another mental illness, or even just somebody who is feeling very run down, is that they have a Self-Care Day. Whilst I know this isn’t always an option for everyone, as we all have responsibilities and potential limits to taking a full day to ourselves, with a little planning it should be possible. If you know there is an upcoming stressful event or even have a gut feeling that you’re going to need some time, plan a day off work and clear your calendar. Ask your partner or parents to watch the children if you have them, or politely cancel any non-important plans you had. This all may feel selfish but it’s not. Prioritising yourself isn’t something that you should feel bad about, it’s something that we are so easily willing to do for others, so why not ourselves?
This self-care day can take many different shapes depending on your own preferences. It can be a day where you lay in, spend some time in pyjamas, watch that TV show you’re always too busy to make time for, or maybe it’s getting a train out of the city or to a nearby town, going shopping or for a coffee as a way to clear your head. Maybe it’s a full-on spa day, buying something new for yourself, or just enjoying a day without your phone or any other screen. You’ll know what this day looks like to you when you start to plan it.
Self-care is something that every single one of us is capable of doing, and better yet it’s something all of us need. Depression is a cruel and vicious illness which will latch its claws into us every time we feel low, or tired, or sad. Whilst there are ways to help break this cycle and fight back against depression, such as medication or therapy, those little acts of self-care and self-love can be just as important and just as impactful. This is how we start to stand up and fight back.
So, start standing up again. Make the bed. Brush your teeth. Buy that cosy looking jumper you want or order that delicious looking slice of cake with your coffee. Start advocating for yourself and loving yourself. Lots of others already do.
If you’re experiencing depression, anxiety or any other mental illness that is causing you harm, or know somebody who is, then there are many things you can do to help. Talking to somebody about how you or they are feeling can be very beneficial. If you’re not sure what to do but need urgent help, there are many emergency hotlines that provide support and encouragement such as Mind.org and Samaritans.org. You’re not alone in feeling this way, others are there to help.