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How to Avoid Isolation While Practicing Self-Care

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I’ve been reflecting on self-care a lot recently. I’ve also been reading a lot on it. Not so much the practical “How to take care of yourself” part, but the way in which the concept of self-care is written about and portrayed.

Throughout the next year of university, my aim as Mental Health Liberation Coordinator is to hold self-care groups and events to explore the topic, share tips and ultimately give people a safe space to reflect on their feelings.

My reflection started with a piece I read by Kate Mccombs, entitled ‘5 Self-Care Strategies That Aren’t Fucking Mani-Pedis.” It was more interesting than anything I’d read before on the topic and I loved the angry rejection of gendered, superficial acts of “care.”

Don’t get me wrong, I love all things beauty and find them very therapeutic — but it’s not for everyone. Self-care like this is often rooted in gender normativity and materialism.

The article also strayed from physical acts of care and went deeper — offering advice on how to sustain self-care practices rather than mask negative emotions with quick fixes.

In my experience, it’s hard to strike a balance between physical and emotional self-care, and sometimes the pressure of “treating yourself” or “thinking yourself better” can be exhausting in itself.

I’ve also been thinking about how often it’s implied that self-care should always be practiced alone — as “me time” or when you’re having a bath, or in bed alone.

In the past, I have definitely isolated myself through this kind of “care” — often believing I should enjoy being alone and forcing myself to do things for “me” as if that is the only way to achieve happiness and self-esteem.

I absolutely treasure time alone, in a way I never thought I would. Previously I had ended relationships because the anxiety I had about being alone was so strong that I felt I had to explore and conquer it. But what I’ve learned from years of being single is that it’s OK to rely on people and it’s incredibly important to nurture your friendships.

Those things sound so obvious, but when stuck in a relationship where I relied on that one person for everything, including my self-esteem and sanity, it was a significant realization for me.

So why shouldn’t self-care be practiced in a group? Alone time is excellent, but if you start feeling isolated or disconnected from people, remember you’re a social creature and even when you don’t feel like it, connecting with someone could do you a lot of good. If you’re not feeling up to socializing but want some kind of human comfort, try spending time with someone close to you who will understand that you won’t be 100 percent yourself and do something nice and quiet together. Sometimes just having another person there, who knows what you’re going through, can make all the difference. And if a human isn’t available, cats (and all animals) are amazing comforters. Even mine who regularly greets me by hissing (she loves me).

Anyway — long story short, I wanted to share a few of my own self-care strategies that don’t cost a thing and aren’t sexist (yay!). I’m always hesitant to be giving advice because anyone with health problems will know how irritating it can be to have the same stuff barked at you again and again by people who know nothing about your condition, but if even one person finds this helpful, I will be pleased.

1. Move.

This one sounds basic AF but I’m not talking about hardcore exercise (trust me I’ve been given that advice enough to inherently resent it now). Sometimes when I’m in pain or feeling depressed I literally do not move for hours. I tell myself I need to rest and stay in bed which is completely right, but not moving at all can actually cause you to be in more physical pain and mean that your brain is getting no stimulation whatsoever. Now I simply try and make sure I move every half an hour. Whether it’s getting up to make a cup of tea, hobbling to the shop for ice cream or just a walk around the park, you know it will benefit you even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time. Also specifically to people struggling with endo — my muscles get insanely tense when I lie down for long periods of time, which makes cramps and back pain so much worse. Simply doing a couple of basic yoga poses can improve the tension (even if I want to throw up after). Literally even just moving position every 10 to 20 minutes — if that’s all you can manage, that’s fine!

2· Write about it.

Another cliché! This one is easier said than done because I wouldn’t have dreamt of it a few years ago. But since I started writing things down, I have felt better. Even if you literally feel nothing (pretty common with depression), try and describe the nothingness and make it into something tangible. It can help discover things you didn’t know you felt and can stop feelings of depression and anxiety feeling all-consuming. Also, it really helps pin down mood patterns and also prevents you from getting nostalgic about the past. When I have a bad spell, I often think, This is the worst I have ever felt. It has never been as bad as this and I can’t see it getting any better. But obviously, I think this every time I have a bad spell. It passes, and I feel better. The more I reflect on my feelings each time, the more evidence I have to help prove to myself next time the feeling won’t last forever.

3. Stop shaming yourself.

This is the thing I still find the hardest. All I do is preach vulnerability, the importance of human connection and honesty with yourself and during bad spells (like right now), I tell myself I am pathetic. It’s mean and unnecessary and untrue, but I do it. All the time. It’s a constant stream of negativity running through my brain that I am hardly even aware of. Every time I go through therapy, it stops for a couple of months and as soon as I hit a rough patch, it’s back. The only thing I’ve found helps with this is meditation. It has by no means stopped it, but when you meditate, you become much more aware of your own thoughts and that is what it’s all about. I used to even shame myself while meditating, thinking, I’m not good at this. I can’t stop thinking. Shut up brain. Give up. But just the act of sitting silently with your thoughts and trying to figure them out can be beneficial. Calm is an excellent app and has a lot of free sessions (or you can subscribe for more specific sessions that target self-esteem, anxiety, etc).

4· Review your medication.

I often get stuck in a rut with my prescriptions, taking them without a thought and assuming they’re at the correct dosages and they should be making me feel better. As we all know, this is often not the case. Every few months I visit my GP and we go through my medications to see what is better or worse. I was actually surprised when he first suggested this to me — no doctor had ever questioned the fact that I’ve been taking medication since the age of 6 and was rarely noticing the effects that it had on me. Through this super simple conversation, you can reflect on your physical and emotional health and adjust things if you need to. Or if everything seems to be working, it can give you a little boost to know that for now, your symptoms are under control.

As the random quote I found on Google says, “Whatever soothes your soul.” Try not to feel pressured to do certain things, or to be alone, or to enjoy being alone, or to go out and get drunk because everyone else is. Just do you.

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Thinkstock photo via n_chetkova.

Originally published: August 24, 2017
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