There’s a misconception that self-care has to be some sort of self-indulgent luxury — like you’re doing it wrong if you’re not taking some expensive spa vacation or going on a shopping spree. But self-care — especially the self-care often necessary for taking care of your mental health — doesn’t have to be some fancy, expensive venture. In reality, self-care can be simply taking a second to make sure you’re taking care of you, and it looks different for everyone.

To get some unique self-care ideas for people who may turned off by the idea of “self-care,” we asked our community to share some ways they try to take care of themselves.

Here’s what they shared with us:

1. “Honestly, helping other people really helps me, so I consider it self-care. Mostly just talking to people with similar pain as I have or even lending an ear! It helps me as much as it helps them I think. I also do a lot of animal-related charity work.” — Morticia A.

2. “Twenty minutes a day doing anything… just for me. Whether I get my camera out and take pictures of whatever in my yard, string beads for jewelry or play in the dirt with my plants. Twenty minutes dedicated to just me and my sanity.” — Jennifer T.

3. “I go rock climbing. I’ve had panic attacks on the walls before, but I keep returning. It is one thing that helps manage my anxiety because it shows me just how much I am capable of when I reach the top. It just requires so much focus that it helps me forget about my anxiety for awhile.” — Madeleine D.

4. “Jigsaw puzzles are amazing for self-care. They are great for concentration and distraction and are some achievement once you complete them! (I’ve framed some for around my walls.)” — Christine C.

5. “I crochet! It is fantastic for keeping your mind and hands occupied, and it also lets you feel the accomplishment of having made something either for yourself or someone you care about. I’m currently working on a blanket for my niece.” — Jenny B.

6. “I enjoy trash TV. It’s my favorite stress-reliever. I lay in bed and allow myself to relax, to color and to watch whatever TLC has on or whatever Housewives are playing on Bravo. Sometimes you need to escape into a life that isn’t yours, especially on bad days.” — Jaclyn R.

7. “It’s has to be sitting in the sun (when we get some)! No matter how terrible I feel, sitting outside and letting the warm sunshine down on my face is calming. When my thoughts are racing and I feel like I might explode, it grounds me and helps clear my mind. When I feel empty it comforts me and reconnects me to the world around me. I guess it recharges my batteries just enough to keep me going.” — Phillippa C.

8. “Sometimes it’s just getting out of bed, putting my hair up and sitting on the couch doing something other than laying in bed all day. Other times I like to go for a quick drive somewhere even if it’s just a 10-minute drive and straight back home… it helps get me out the house and clears my head a little bit.” — Catherine V.

9. “Martial arts. I can switch off the outside world and just focus on the activity at hand. Either as a student or instructor this always works for me. Plus a great outlet for pent-up frustration. And after I get all the benefits of endorphins. I feel calmer after every class.” — Penny U.

10. “I go and feed my pet cows. They are so affectionate and appreciative that it always cheers me up.” — Kat S.

11. “Things like exercise/social outings don’t really work for me, so I try and do things like play video games, hang out with my pets and really invest in my own growth.” — Aliçia R.

12. “Larping. Pretending to be someone else for a weekend. Allowing to show a wide range of emotions depending on the character you are playing.” — Sarah L.

13. “I have plants I take care of. If I feel too sad or anxious to take care of myself, I use them as a way to motivate myself to do so. If I don’t take care of myself, how will my plants get water or sun?” — Kasey C.

14. “Music is where I can lose myself within lyrics and notes. Gaming is where I can live as someone else. Just stopping and breathing allows me to calm down and remind myself that my anxious thoughts are not real. They’re there to make me panic more. I try to not allow myself to be consumed by anxiety and depression.” — Bree N.

15. “I paint. It’s really one of the few things that make me feel anything. My eating, sleeping, socializing can all go out the window, but I rarely let a day go by without making art.” — Jen L.

16. “I put on my headphones and roller skate. It quiets my mind and exhausts my body. I can let go and just move. I do have to be aware of the music I listen to and make specific up-beat playlists for skating.” — Lisa L.

17. “Lay on the floor and listen to Sherlock Holmes audiobooks. It’s weird, but something about focusing on the crime in the dark is relaxing.” — Lauryn G.

18. “Blowing bubbles. It helps to breathe. It helps to move and maybe go outside (on a really bad day). Bubbles are beautiful — watching them is like watching a globe rainbow. It there’s a cat or dog companion animal, they will probably chase the bubbles and act foolishly. This causes anything from a heart burst of love, or a smile, a laugh or eventually, laughing and crying. Laughing makes me feel that I’m part of the world again. Not separate. Carrying a small ziplock bag with the bubble mixture and the wand is easy. I take them out with me. Great distraction.” — Lynda K.

19. “I talk to myself. I tell myself I’ve survived another day and I’m doing an amazing job at recovery.” — Megan E.

20. “I dance and sing around the house when I’m feeling really bad — sometimes it’s nicer to imagine I am rock star rather than who I am.” — Isobel T.

21.Over-analyzing movies! I really enjoy finding strange symbolism in the strangest of places in films.” — Charity F.

22. “Dog training – it brings me joy when my service dog learns a new task and gets really excited!” — Adele E.

23. “I draw cartoons! It calms the finger tapping associated with my obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and it allows each alter to have a creative outlet.” — Kallie C.

24. “I make a list of things I’ve done each day. Even if I just woke up and took a shower, it helps me cope with my depression.” — Rebecca W.

25. “I write a letter to myself.” — Rida M.

What would you add? Tell us in the comments below.

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25 Self-Care Tips for People Who Hate Self-Care

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Trying to manage one mental illness is already difficult, but juggling multiple disorders is very confusing to say the least, because not only will the thoughts that stem from these illnesses contradict each other — I still have a rational side of my brain that knows they are just feeding me lies. But the conviction of those lies is so strong, there is a constant internal war going on in my head about what is true and what is false.

My depression tells me I am worthless and I should end my life, although I know that’s nowhere near the truth. On the other hand, my anxiety worries about what would happen if I did die. My borderline personality disorder (BPD) tells me that everybody hates me and would be better off without me, and my obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) tendencies repeat these intrusive thoughts in case I didn’t receive the message the first time. I constantly have to challenge these thoughts and ask myself what evidence I have to support these false claims.

My BPD also craves close relationships with people and social contact, but my depression tells me it’s better to isolate myself and withdraw. I’ll then feel lonely and wonder why I’m listening to the negative thoughts. Logically, I know that I have a lot of people who love and care about me, but it’s almost like my depression and my BPD are working together, taking turns to hit me on the head with a rolled up magazine while chanting, “You! Are! Wrong!” Or when I’m fully aware that I’m splitting on a loved one or completely overreacting to a situation and I want to flick my emotions off like a switch, but I just can’t seem to control it, like I’m a passenger in my own mind.

Am I suspicious and paranoid because my subconscious is picking up on something wrong, or am I really just manipulative and conniving and I’m projecting my own flaws onto others? Do I truly like someone, or do I just idealize them for giving me attention? Do I feel empty and unfulfilled, or am I feeling so many emotions at once that I’m too overwhelmed and have shut down and dissociated?

It’s a struggle just to get through the day sometimes when you are regularly questioning the validity of your own thoughts. If I’ve had a bad day, it’s easier to listen to the nasty ones. For people with BPD, depression and other mental illnesses, just simply “thinking positive” isn’t nearly enough to fight off our negative internal monologue. So when I’m quiet, it could mean I’m running a metaphorical marathon of conflicting thoughts in my mind. No wonder people who battle mental illness are so exhausted! 

We really are trying the best we can. 

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So, you’re really sick — like with the flu, or a stomach bug — and you cannot leave the house. Maybe you call into work, or text a friend to cancel plans, and they tell you to “take good care of yourself.” What does that phrase mean to you?

If you’re fighting your way through the flu, it probably means lots of rest. You might think of hunkering down on your couch or in your bed with lots of Gatorade and water, a Netflix show to binge-watch, a caring parent or significant other or roommate to bring you chicken noodle soup. You might think of all the Nyquil you’re going to pop at bedtime to try to get some sleep. You’ll cuddle up under some blankets and doze and pet your cat and groan for your loved ones to bring you tissues. You’re taking care of yourself.

Or, maybe you’re told to take care of yourself when you’re stressed, or overworked, or going through a breakup. Then you might think of soaking in a luxurious bubble bath, wine glass at hand, soothing music in the background… or, if you’re less like me and more like my husband, it could involve a long session of intense video game playing. Self-care means different things to everyone, and that’s a good thing.

The term “self-care,” though, as it’s intended in the mental health community, is a little trickier to get a handle on, and it’s important to clearly define. It’s easy to settle the idea of self-care into a cozy, comfy box that contains only the warm, fuzzy, happy things we do to take care of ourselves. And don’t misunderstand me: all the things above are absolutely forms of self-care, and valuable ones (for those with mental illness and those without). But now I want to talk about the nitty gritty, hard-fought, hard-won self-care that those of us with mental illness need to do to really learn to value who we are, to know what we need and want and to love ourselves (Cheesy? Yes. True? Also yes.)

In my personal experience, this kind of self-care is not pretty. It’s not the steam of a comforting bowl of soup wafting up toward your face or sinking into a foot massage during a pedicure. It’s raw, and real, and painful, and it’s absolutely critical to recovery.

It’s picking up the phone, of which you are terrified, to call a therapist, whom you do not know and of whom you are also terrified, to seek help.

It’s baring your soul to said therapist, after one session or after many, many sessions, and fighting back or letting forth tears as you allow the true contents of your heart and mind to leak out into someone else’s presence.

It’s dragging yourself from your bed, with long-unchanged sheets, out of your long-unchanged pajamas, to your shower, though you’re unable to believe that you’re worthy of feeling warm and clean and presentable to the world.

It’s being brave enough to go to work, to the grocery store, to the coffee shop, despite the fear that your desperate sadness, your inexplicable hopelessness might just seep out into the world around you, poisoning the innocent people you come across, or showing them how truly indefensible you are.

It’s learning that night after night of bingeing on greasy takeout and reality TV is not indulging in self-care and comfort food, but denying your body the invigoration of a brisk walk and the decency of some vegetables, and teaching it that the many things it does for you each day are worthless and without meaning.

It’s facing the man at the running shoe store who wants you to take a test run in the shoes you’ve tried on, though you’re mortified because you haven’t run in years, because you have realized that you deserve sneakers that will let you move your body and get healthy.

It’s an acknowledgement that what your illness is making you want — to hide from the world, to stay in bed, to eat all the ice cream, to refuse to make plans — are not the things that your soul needs to be well. It’s a process of realizing you are capable of doing things that are not fun. That do not feel good. That make you afraid and anxious and sad and overwhelmed. And once you do them, you will be a step closer to being a more whole person.

Each January I make all kinds of promises to myself surrounding self-care, but I’ve come to realize how backwards my motivation has been. I resolved to lose weight because I didn’t like the way I looked — not because I deserve to be healthy and have more energy. I resolved to read certain books because I told myself I’m not well-read enough — not because I just love to read. I resolved to organize some part of my house because I felt ashamed at how it looked to others — not because I deserve to feel peaceful and comfortable in my home.

This year brings many of those same goals, but with an entirely different perspective. I still want to eat better and exercise, to read certain things and clean certain things and on and on. But after a year of therapy and of evaluating the idea of self-care, I’m no longer doing them out of shame and guilt and embarrassment. I’m doing them to take care of myself in ways that feed my body and soul, because I am strong and I am brave and I can do them and I deserve more out of life than what my depression tells me I can have.

There will be days of Netflix marathons, and ice cream, and bubble baths, and greasy takeout. But they will be in the company of days of daring myself to do the hard things that I deserve to do, not because I should, but because I can, and because I will be more well because of them.

Follow this journey on Go Where It Hurts.

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When you live with depression and bipolar disorder, you may often feel like you are under a lot of pressure (much of it self-induced) to appear “OK.” As most would assume, this is absolutely exhausting. It can feel like you have to smile and laugh when you’re so sad that you feel like the blood in your veins is made of lead and you might fall to the floor at any minute. It can feel like you have to remain professional when you’re seconds away from tearing your hair out and crying in a ball beneath your desk, or you have to stay calm when anxiety and/or hypomania have you feeling like you should open the door and run as far and as fast as you possibly can.

We live in a culture that doesn’t tend to be warm and welcoming when we reply to, “How are you?” with answers like, “Not well,” rather than the standard, “Fine” — which we all know can be code for, “I’m just being polite and don’t want to make you uncomfortable by telling you about all of my problems.” Thus, it takes a lot to tell someone you’re canceling plans because of your mental illness, rather than making up a lie about why you can’t do something. It’s taken me 10 years to get to the place where I feel I can be honest about calling out of work or canceling plans because “I’m having a bad mental health day.”

It’s such a relief when that honesty is met with support rather than a perceived guilt trip. Today, a close friend gave me the best reply I think I’ve ever received. When I called to say, “I need to cancel tonight, I’m having a bad mental health day and I’m not going to be very good company,” she said, “Well, I hope that I’ll be able make you feel better, but I understand and respect your decision if you want to cancel. I hope you’ll change your mind because I really want to see you. If you just aren’t feeling up to it, then of course do what you need to do. But if you’re canceling because you’re worried about being bad company, that shouldn’t be a concern.” A few minutes after hanging up the phone, she sent a quote via text that read, “When the world has you feeling like a weed in the garden, know that someone out there sees you as a wish and a beacon of hope.”

Through that conversation and text, she basically sent the message that even when I’m depressed, she wants to be around me, that it’s OK to be sad, that I don’t have to be Mary Poppins at all times in order to maintain our relationship. These are not messages I’m used to receiving, but I’m grateful to have heard them today, and I’m grateful for the girl who delivered them.

To anyone who loves and supports someone with depression or other mental health challenges — thank you for letting us be sad sometimes.

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Over the last couple of decades, campuses have made great strides in accommodating students when they want to take a leave of absence from their home campuses. Some people study abroad. Others take time off to tour with their band or take care of a sick loved one. Others have medical issues they need to take care of or leave to have and take care of a newborn baby. And for the most part, these students can expect that when they’re ready to come back, their spot will be waiting for them.

Unfortunately, students with mental health disorders don’t always have the same experience.

Since the tragedy at Virginia Tech in 2007, campuses have become far more cautious in dealing with students with mental health issues. As a result, even when students choose on their own to take a leave of absence to work on their mental health, they’re sometimes met with hesitancy, skepticism, additional requirements and on some campuses, a higher likelihood of having their re-enrollment denied. The fear is perhaps any student with depression could be the next perpetrator of mass violence.

However, that’s just not how the statistics play out. Most people who struggle with their mental health aren’t going to be violent. In fact, they’re more likely to be victims of violence. But as a former student affairs professional myself, I know fear can be a really strong force when you care about the students you’re working with every day. Sometimes the seeds of stigma and discrimination around mental illness win over our fearful brains. This is understandable, but at the end of the day these extra requirements and higher levels of scrutiny aren’t only unfair, but can be unlawful.

The Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act protect all students with disabilities — including psychological disabilities. Reasonable accommodations must be offered to students unless they cause an undue burden to the university or significantly alter the educational program. Reasonable accommodations for students with mental health disabilities may include (but are not limited to) more time on tests, an alternate testing site or allowing a reduced course load or increased time to finish degree requirements.

In keeping with this last accommodation, students need to be allowed to step away from their studies to work on their mental health. After all, the age of onset of most mental health disorders is between 16 and 25 (which aligns with traditionally-aged college students). Non-traditional students may face mental health triggers in the form of social alienation, work-life balance and transition difficulties that can impact their work. So, like pregnant students, these students may need to step away for a bit and then step back in when they’re ready.

Since Virginia Tech, in defiance of the ADA’s equal coverage of physical and psychological disabilities, many schools have imposed additional restrictions and requirements for students taking a leave of absence for mental health reasons. Students may be required to stay off campus for a prescribed minimum amount of time, release private treatment records, be assessed by a university-affiliated psychologist for fitness to return or write a personal essay and prove they’ve held down volunteer work or a part-time job while they were away.

These additional restrictions are unlawful. But other policies are just confusing. In my research I found at many universities, there’s a different leave of absence policy for every school, college or department within it. The policies are hard to find, written generally, lack emphasis on the needs of individual students and do not properly outline all the steps (and office visits and paperwork) necessary for processing the leave. For someone with depression or social anxiety, wading through an opaque policy and bureaucracy can be overwhelming.

And then there are involuntary leaves of absence.

You’ve heard of these. It’s when a student seeks help for suicidal ideation or an attempt, is immediately hospitalized and before they’re even discharged from the hospital is served with notice they’ve been put on a leave of absence for up to two semesters, are required to seek professional treatment if they ever wish to re-enroll and have a limited time to get everything out of their residence hall room.

Here’s the thing about an involuntary leave of absence. Unless someone is a direct threat to someone else, has a plan and the means to execute it, then putting them on a leave of absence without their consent puts the cart before the horse. Not only is it not helpful to the student and their mental health, but it discourages other students from seeking help when they are struggling, too. What’s more, if a school doesn’t provide due process—like a hearing where a student can explain their circumstances and why it isn’t in their best interest to leave—then, they’re not acting lawfully, either.

Obviously, this student leave of absence issue is extremely complex and that’s why Active Minds has your back. We heard from so many students about how much they’d like to push for changes to their leaves of absence policies. That’s why we’ve created Transform Your Leave of Absence, a featured campaign of our Transform Your Campus advocacy program. On our website, you can find diagnostic tools to help you determine whether your school’s policies need work (and how much). You can check out our resources and tips to help you advocate for more equitable and compassionate policies for all–including how to work with administrators to make sustainable change.

I had a severe eating disorder that came to a head during my senior year of college in 2005, (pre-Virginia Tech). The Dean of Students, my advisors and my parents were able to work together to process my leave of absence in short order while I was in the hospital and more than that, I was able to stay connected to my classes while I was in inpatient treatment. I returned to campus a few weeks later, to a network of people — including a psychiatrist, therapist and nutritionist — who welcomed me back, caught me up and helped me graduate on time. Their response was as individualized as it was compassionate.

It was clear to them — as it was to me — that being able to get back to my daily life and graduate with my friends were critical to the success of my treatment. That’s why I will always be incredibly grateful to my alma mater.

You can make sure future students are lucky, too. Check out our resources here and sign up for Transform Your Campus. Once you unlock the resources, you’ll be able to browse all of our featured campaigns as well as many other resources that will support you as you seek to trade campus controversy for compassion.

Are you interested in learning more about the leave of absence policies on your campus and how they could be improved? Check out the Transform Your Campus Leave of Absence Campaign!

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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When I was admitted to hospital in the middle of the night, my life was in tatters. My fragile mind had shattered. I was lost and alone in a strange environment, not knowing what was happening to me, when a fellow patient offered me a cup of tea. That cup of tea was my life raft, helping to keep me afloat in a raging sea of fear and emotions. I knew then I wasn’t alone and there were other people who understood what I was going through.

While in hospital I took to writing a book I had started, using a beat up old laptop the staff kept in the linen cupboard for safekeeping.

My trips to and from the linen cupboard eventually aroused my fellow patients’ curiosity. I explained my laptop was there and that I was using it to write a book.

As the weeks went by I was asked more and more about my book, until eventually I was persuaded to read a chapter to them. I deliberately picked a humorous chapter and I can honestly say there is nothing more rewarding than have a ward full of people with depression laughing at something I had written.

The end of my stay in hospital coincided with the completion of my book. It had become a kind of therapy to me.

Buoyed by the support I had received from my peers in hospital, I nervously sent my manuscript to a publisher and was amazed to get a publishing contract by return post.

I then went on to have a successful book launch in Nottingham Waterstones and a full page article about me and my book in the Nottingham Evening Post.

This made me want to give something back and I started volunteering for Rethink mental health charity. As part of this organization, I campaigned at the political party conferences and got to meet Boris Johnson, the British foreign secretary. As a result of this, I had a full page article in The Guardian newspaper about people power and mental health. There was a very fetching picture of me, sporting a Mad Hatter’s outfit, standing next to Boris Johnson.

Rethink then told me about a trial leadership program Radar (now Disability Rights UK) was running. At that time I didn’t know mental health could be classified as a disability. I also lacked the confidence to apply, thinking there must be far better leadership candidates than me. Despite this, I was persuaded to apply and was amazed to get accepted to the program.

The experience turned out to be transformational, for as much as I got out of the workshops and coaching, it was other people in the course who inspired me most. Although we came from a variety of different backgrounds and health conditions, we were all peers who overcame the odds every single day. It was this peer support and the amazing things people had done or were going to do, that were the keys to the success of the program.

After graduating from the leadership program, I felt inspired to do more to help other people like me and started volunteering for Radar. Through Radar, I took part in their MP Dialogue Scheme, in which you contact your Member of Parliament (MP) to discuss disability issues. I felt nervous about this. Even though I had spoken to Boris Johnson, I was, after all, disguised as a Mad Hatter at the time.

I arranged to meet my MP, who I thought must eat policies for lunch and quite possibly constituents too. He turned out to be a regular guy, just like any member of the public and he assured me he didn’t know everything. He explained he had a team to brief him on each new area in which he got involved. We had a good meeting, learning a lot from each other and setting plans in place to improve disabled access in the area.

On completion of the MP Dialogue Scheme, a reception was held in Parliament. I was invited along and also asked if I would like to speak about my experiences of the scheme. At this point I had done a number of things that had tested my self-confidence to the limit. This, however, was way out of my comfort zone! I politely suggested perhaps there was someone better suited to the task then me. I don’t know how they did it or why I agreed, but eventually I was persuaded to speak in Parliament.

On the day, I was a bag of nerves, not helped by the fact the room was packed to the rafters with Lords, Ladies, Baronesses, members of Parliament and OBEs (Officers of the Order of the British Empire) – to name but a few – with standing room only. In that room, where so much of history had been made, I nervously got up on the lectern and though Oh sh*t. I then went on to speak for about 10 minutes, at the end of which you could hear a pin drop, followed by the biggest round of applause I had ever heard. To this day, I have no idea what I talked about.

It was not long afterwards that Radar received funding for a full-blown leadership program and I was asked if I would like to apply for the Leadership Empowerment Manager role. After interviewing, I was amazed when I got a call the next day to say I had gotten the job! It turned out to be the best job I have ever had with some amazing success stories.

It wasn’t the high profile successes that meant the most to me, however. It was the people who, at the start of the program, had the stuffing knocked out of them throughout life. By the end of the program, they were standing in front of a hundred people saying what a difference the program had made to them and how they were now going to pursue goals they would never previously have dreamed of.

I am telling this story because it is not a story about me. It is a story about other people – people who were there for me at my time of need. It if wasn’t for that cup of tea, none of this may have happened. That cup of tea was a cup of hope, in which peer support was fundamental in changing my life for better and making me who I am today. It, in turn, has empowered me to offer the cup of hope to other people.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via KariHoglund.

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