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25 Self-Care Strategies in the Wake of a Nightmarish Year

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I’m heartbroken and exhausted.

I know I’m not alone in this.

When tragedy strikes, as it has repeatedly this year, I go through the same routine as many: I cry, I stay up too late watching the news coverage, I wake up and read story after story about the aftermath and the lives lost and impacted, I pray, I cry some more, I try to distract myself, I feel guilty about distracting myself, I pray some more, and then I go back to the news coverage. Obsessively.

I first experienced this cycle as a sophomore in college at Texas A&M, living out a nightmare after the Bonfire collapse on our campus killed 12 students and injured many others. Grief surrounded us. Not for days and weeks, but for years. We watched as logs and friends were carried away, and once the news cameras left, we tried to reconcile the life of a “carefree college student” with the tragedy we had witnessed.

Two years later, we huddled around campus televisions in horror as planes flew into the Twin Towers. Once again, classes and activities were canceled, and public mourning and tragedy became our education.

As someone who leans into grief, I never learned a healthy balance. And as a writer, I crave authentic stories. Whether it’s one life or hundreds lost, I’m left heartbroken and with an insatiable urge to learn more about those who died or are left behind.

I struggle with the self-care strategies I know I should be doing, because I feel guilty that I’m left unharmed and alive to actually do them. “Turn off the television and go meet some friends for dinner! Or pamper yourself with a massage or pedicure! Go for a walk and enjoy the beauty of nature!”

How? All I want to do is focus on whatever disaster or tragedy is in front of me, because tuning it out feels like turning a blind eye.

But, dear reader, please hear me when I say … it is OK to turn off the television. It is OK to log off social media and avert your eyes as you walk past newspaper and magazine stands. And it’s OK to excuse yourself from the conversation from time to time.

Self-care is not the same thing as selfishness.

Those of us who have depression and/or anxiety spend many days living in a darkness that feels beyond our control. When a different darkness presents itself in the form of unspeakable tragedy, we are allowed to control our exposure. In fact, we must.

Self-care is not selfish. It’s an act of love for ourselves and our families. It’s putting our oxygen mask on first so we still have the breath to help others when they need it.

Below is a list of 25 self-care strategies for the times you feel powerless and need to disengage, but also want to bring more light into the world.

1. Write a love letter.

2. Go through your home and select 15 items to donate to charity.

3. Actually donate the items that have been sitting in your car or closets for months.

4. Go for a run. Smile at someone as they pass you.

5. Pay for someone’s coffee.

6. Mail a $20 bill to your old address, or to your old college mailbox. Anonymously.

7. Pray.

8. Offer to treat a friend to lunch.

9. Deliver cookies to a local firehouse or police station.

10. Write a thank-you note to someone with a thankless job.

11. Go see a movie. Pay for a stranger’s movie ticket.

12. Listen to the “Hamilton” soundtrack. (Or other music, but seriously, start with “Hamilton.”)

13. Create something — art, music, crafts, a story, food, anything.

14. Get a haircut and donate your locks.

15. Visit your local children’s hospital website and see if they need any new toys or volunteers.

16. Take your dog for a long walk around the lake or park. Learn a dog owner’s name.

17. Read a magazine and then donate your old magazines to a doctor’s office for the waiting room.

18. Send a thank-you card to someone “just for being a friend.”

19. Invite your extended family over for a cookout or potluck.

20. Deliver a hot meal to a new mom. Hug that baby.

21. Play at the park with your kids. Volunteer with your kids. Hug your kids.

22. Take a bubble bath. Because they are awesome.

23. E-mail/tweet your favorite author or musician and let them know how much their work has meant to you. Then re-read or re-watch it.

24. Call your mom or dad. If they’re no longer living, share your favorite memory of them with a friend.

25. Get in the car and just drive. Someplace new, someplace familiar, anywhere. Just be out in the world, searching for goodness and beauty.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

 25 Self-Care Strategies in the Wake of a Nightmarish Year

Originally published: July 15, 2016
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