7 Ways I Practiced 'Boring' Self-Care
As someone with a mental illness, self-care is something I have to practice on a regular basis. I really enjoyed the idea of the Mighty Month Challenge for June which highlighted the idea that self-care isn’t always bubble baths and massages. While the more stereotypical methods of self-care are certainly important, I sometimes am annoyed by the general public’s perception of what self-care is. Many people don’t realize the many choices I make on a regular basis in order to keep myself healthy are not always pleasant and can feel unfair at times. In order to help increase others understanding of what self-care really means and involves, I thought it would be a good idea to share the activities I engaged in during the month of June that I try to practice on a regular basis.
1. I took my medication every day.
While this may seem like common sense, it is really important especially when it comes to psychoactive medications. Stopping them suddenly — whether intentionally or not — can have very unpleasant physical effects. And depending on the medication, even missing one dose can affect how you feel. I find this is the case for me, so I am very vigilant about making sure I am on top of taking my meds.
2. I rarely ingested caffeine.
As someone with panic disorder, my nervous system and brain are already more sensitive to internal and external sensory information and often misinterpret this, especially if overstimulated. I am also very sensitive to caffeine. In the last year, I have really limited my intake of caffeine as I have found that it makes me more susceptible to panic attacks and I want to do everything I can to keep my nervous system in a balanced state. This one can be hard at times — especially on early mornings when I have to drag myself out of bed. I have never been a morning person!
3. I drank non-alcoholic beer instead of alcohol.
For those who take antidepressants, they may have noticed a sticker on their prescription that says, “Do not take with alcohol.” From my understanding, drinking alcohol can make antidepressants less effective. This is something I have experienced and have found I get what I call an “anxiety hangover” a couple of days post-drinking.When this happens, I am more likely to have a panic attack which also seems to be worse than usual. When I was younger, I drank on a regular basis as I had a hard time missing out on the fun. Now the cost of a panic attack for a night of drinking is really not worth it for me, especially when I have to be a functioning adult. One thing that has helped me stick to this regimen is drinking non-alcoholic beer. I still get the taste of something I enjoy and feel less like I am being deprived of something I want when my friends are imbibing. I also find it helps to lessen judgment from others who may not be as accepting of those who choose not to drink and helps to avoid awkward conversations at parties.
4. I cooked healthy meals.
I have never really been someone who enjoys cooking, especially after getting home from a long day at work. On those days when I really didn’t feel up to it, I would often go for frozen things that were quick and easy to make or things from a box or can. I recently decided to sign up for a meal delivery service which provides you with the ingredients and recipe, all you have to do is cook. This has definitely increased my motivation to cook as a lot of the work is done for you already. While I still have nights when I don’t feel as up to it, I find I am cooking more as I have all the ingredients all ready and I don’t want them to go bad. This has made it easier for me to eat healthier and has also provided me with leftovers for lunch so I am not eating out as much either.
5. I rested when I was physically ill.
Knowing when to push yourself and when to give yourself a break is also an important part of self-care. It can be tempting to push through it or try to ignore how crappy you feel when work and life is busy, but taking time to take care of yourself — even for a short period — can actually make you more effective in the long run. As someone once said, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.”
6. I attended counseling appointments.
I have been in therapy off and on since the age of 15. I say off and on because once I learned the skills to manage the panic disorder, I would go back in every so often for “booster” sessions. This was very important to prevent me from getting really sick. For a variety of reasons, this past year has been particularly difficult for me. Luckily, I was able to access support through my work’s employee assistance program which helped to prevent me from needing to take time off work in order to take care of my mental health. It is really important to recognize when you are starting to become unwell and access services before your functioning is severely affected.
7. I went easy on myself when I didn’t practice what I preached.
As I said above, practicing can be no fun at all sometimes and there are times when you slip up or just want to give yourself a break and that’s OK. Part of self-care is also knowing you won’t always be perfect and accepting that. The important thing is to keep working on it on a regular basis and to be aware of things you could be better at — without being overly critical. It is also important to recognize when you are struggling with self-care, as it may be a sign that you need more support and so you can refocus to make sure you are able to maintain your wellness. There are certainly areas I could benefit from working on that I completely neglected this month like getting more sleep ( I always have a hard time going to bed at a reasonable time) and exercising more.
I hope these examples have shed some light on what self-care can mean. I also want to acknowledge that while there are general principles to self-care such as eating healthy, getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, etc. each person’s specific activities are going to look a little bit different depending on their condition, lifestyle, individual physiology, etc. The more we talk about self-care the greater the understanding will be. While it’s vital for those living with chronic conditions, it is a great practice for everyone to increase their overall wellness.
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Thinkstock photo via Photodisc.