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6 Foundational Self-Care Practices That Don’t Cost Money

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One of the myths that I hate most about self-care is that it costs something. In reality, the most effective self-care doesn’t cost anything. I know that in the middle of the pandemic, especially, it can feel nice to treat yourself once in a while. But you don’t need to spend money on stuff you don’t really need just to make your self-care Instagram-worthy.

In caring for depression, especially, it can be easy to be tempted to get that quick hit of serotonin that comes from pressing “add to cart.” The trouble is that it’s also easy to get hooked on that feeling. It doesn’t last long and before, you know it, you’re back for more.

What I’ve found is that there are a few foundational self-care practices that actually deliver more support for my depression than any Target run ever could. As you’ll see, my self-care is much more about knowing myself than it is doing or having any one particular thing.

1. Sleep (and sleep hygiene).

One of the hardest things about having depression is sometimes feeling like I’ll never have enough energy, no matter how much sleep I get. And ironically, having anxiety and depression make sleep all that more difficult to come by. (So, if you’re an insomniac with depression or anxiety, I have absolutely been in your shoes. It’s terrible.)

That being said, I go to sleep ridiculously early. I also endeavor to turn off screens an hour before bed and to start powering down well ahead of when I want to actually sleep. By guarding my sleep over, well, most other things, I feel like I’m able to give myself the best shot possible at supporting myself even through depressive episodes.

2. Alone time.

This is not about depression, per se, but about honoring my nature. At my core, I’m an introvert. That means that while I can enjoy people, they don’t recharge my batteries. Time to myself does that. By resourcing myself in the way that nourishes me most, I feel less overwhelmed and burned out.

By allowing myself to have time alone to journal, process, marinate, daydream, nap, make art or snuggle my cats, I’m much more prepared and well-resourced to be out in the world and part of things. As someone who is sensitive to noise (and who also has a small child) I know that having dedicated quiet time to myself is essential to ward off those feelings of exhaustion (sensory, mental, emotional) that exacerbate my depression.

3. Understanding my rhythms.

With depression, it’s not always easy to anticipate when I’ll have energy — and when I won’t — but there are some things I have learned. I know that I tend to do my best generative work in the morning, so I try not to schedule calls or appointments during that time. I try to reserve mornings for writing and other work that requires creativity and concentration. I know that the beginning of the week is usually more productive for me, so I schedule self-care, get-togethers, coworking and interviews later in the week.

This also goes for the year as a whole. I like taking breaks in the summer when the weather is beautiful, and I tend to go inward and work on more internal or longer-term projects like writing when the weather is dreary in the winter. This isn’t a perfect system. By its nature, it’s always in flow. But acknowledging that my energy isn’t consistent day-or-day or month-to-month has been a source of grace in my life.

4. Eat meals.

When I get myself into a depressive funk, it can be easy for me to revert to grazing all day. Snacking can feel satisfying temporarily, but sometimes I need to rally my strength to make an actual meal. Ideally, multiple food groups are represented and it contains vegetables.

Then I sit down at my actual table and eat my meal while not staring at my phone. Maybe I even drink a glass of water. To someone who doesn’t have depression that just looks like… eating? But when I’m deep in my depression, it can take a lot of energy to decide not to just have yogurt for dinner. The fact is, a complete meal like this gives me so much more strength and energy that can help to break that depressive cycle.

5. Hot water.

OK, so tea and epsom salts do cost money. But warmth and water are very nourishing for me, as someone whose constitution runs toward the dry and cool side of the spectrums. A cup of tea — or chai — is a nice treat when I’m feeling chilled, especially in the winter. And while I used to poke fun at the bubble bath brand of self-care, I now take a hot bath almost every night.

Even just a hot shower in the morning can have a hugely positive impact on my mental well-being and help me to shake off the dullness I can feel sometimes. It’s not necessarily “invigorating” the way some people describe cold showers (which are not my cup of tea, no pun intended), but they suit my temperament and constitution.

Stop the comparison.

Finally, I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that not all social media is good for my mental health. I love social platforms as much as the next person (and definitely do say hi if you’re on Instagram or Twitter), but I have to be careful about who I follow and what I consume. Some people are perfectly lovely, but leave me feeling tired, unworthy and self-conscious.

I’ve learned to embrace the mute and unfollow buttons as a way of honoring this important boundary for myself: I am allowed to choose to not feel like crap about myself on the Internet. I am allowed to consume the social media channels that make me feel great: cute animals, fun recipes, dear friends who root for me as much as I root for them and beautiful places (and ideas). It’s OK to make that choice for myself.

Photo by Kirk Schwarz on Unsplash

Originally published: February 26, 2021
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