We often hear about self care, but what is it, really? Apparently, there's a whole other side to it that I never knew about.
I read an article recently about self-care that hit home. Whenever I confide in people about my struggles, I always hear how I have to practice self-care. But the actual definition of this concept can mean different things to different people.
In general, and in the plainest sense possible, self-care is doing something that makes you feel good. In my experience, this has often been equated to getting my hair done, buying a new pair of shoes, or indulging in a 10 pack of Chicken McNuggets (as opposed to six).
Don’t get me wrong, these things are all amazing. I wish it were as simple as just getting manicures, highlights and indulging in delicious foods. While these are certainly important, it only makes up a small part of my personal self-care strategy. And let’s be honest, these things all cost money. Manicures, meals out and all that other good stuff add up fast, often making it impractical to do on a consistent basis.
What I loved about this article is how it talks about the other side of self-care; a side I honestly didn’t know existed up until a few years ago. When I was experiencing a particularly bad depressive or anxious episode, I always turned to excessive spending and shopping or treating myself to fast foods (that I would typically try to limit) to find happiness. I began to learn that while these things made me feel good in the moment, it would quickly subside into guilt and disappointment, and shortly, I’d be right back at square one where I started.
When I was experiencing a particularly bad depressive or anxious episode, I always turned to excessive spending and shopping or treating myself to fast foods (that I would typically try to limit) to find happiness. I began to learn that while these things made me feel good in the moment, it would quickly subside into guilt and disappointment, and shortly, I’d be right back at square one where I started.
It took me years to realize that this self-care routine just wasn’t working. I’ve since managed to really understand the importance of the other side of self-care.
So, what is my 'other side' of self-care?
Pay my bills and stick to a budget
Years of excessing spending and shopping on multiple credit cards, combined with being a student who was funding post-secondary education on my own, put me in a financial hole that took years to crawl out of. My new healthy financial norm involves watching my spending by sticking to a budget between pay cheques and making the payment of my bills and saving first priority as often as possible.
Drink lots of water and limit caffeine intake
Drinking lots of water just makes me feel better: I find I sleep better, my skin is clearer, and I don’t get as many anxiety headaches. I’ve also since limited my caffeine intake significantly. I now limit myself to a cup of Orange Pekoe tea a day (and anything above that, I choose decaf).
Get eight hours of sleep a night
This is sometimes a tough one. Even though I get made fun of by my parents, fiancée, friends and family, I try to the best of my ability to be in bed and sleeping at least eight hours before I need to be awake. On weeknights, this usually means I’m in bed sleeping by 9:30 p.m. at the latest. I now find when I don’t get my eight hours in my eating suffers, I can’t focus, I become more emotional and irrational, I experience symptoms close to being hungover, and I’m all around less productive.
I sometimes struggle with this given that I experience insomnia quite frequently as a result of my mental illness. If I am going through a period where I’m having difficulty falling or staying asleep, I take one or two melatonin capsules and make sure I’m giving myself lots of extra time if needed to fall asleep.
Choose clothing that is comfortable and makes me feel good
For years, fuelled by my excessive spending habits, I purchased clothing that I yearned to be able to wear, but didn’t really fit properly or make me feel good. For one reason or another, I would force myself to wear things that were extremely uncomfortable because I thought it’s what I needed to do to feel good about myself. This resulted in me having bins full of clothing that I refused to give away, thinking that one day, I’d be able to fit into it.
Eventually I questioned why I was doing this, and realized that I was always happier when I was comfortable. I donated everything that didn’t fit, and now always buy what feels good and fits, regardless of the size tag on it (also, traditional sizing standards are completely messed up and you definitely shouldn’t base your value and worth on whether you wear a size 8 or 18.)
Shower every morning
As Michael Landsberg has said, “be proud of the shower!” Having a shower is the first accomplishment I make each and every day. That small sense of achievement helps me start my day off on the right foot and set a positive tone for the rest of it.
Make healthier food choices
I’ve struggled with my weight my entire life, so my eating habits have always been a sore spot for me. After many years yo-yo dieting while constantly in a state of mind that I needed to lose weight, I’ve found a place of balance. Now I try to focus on (as best as I can!) eating healthy foods that make me feel full and satisfied. Luckily as I’ve gotten older my palate has expanded and I actually quite happen to enjoy fruits, veggies and whole grains more than I used to, which makes healthy eating a bit easier.
Don’t get me wrong, I still have days/weeks where I get a little off track and indulge more than I should. I like the way I feel when I’m making healthy choices; I’m more alert, I sleep better, I don’t feel as sluggish, just as a few examples. Feeling good thanks to healthy eating has inspired me make it a lifestyle, not just a temporary thing to lose weight.
Go to the doctor for a physical once a year
I roll my eyes, groan and am overcome with anxiety when January approaches each year and my family doctor emails me about making an appointment for my annual physical. Even though this is a very routine procedure, I struggle each and every year with getting it done.
Why is the other side so important?
Why is the other side of self-care so important, you might ask? For me it helps keep those depressive and anxious episodes further apart (or makes them a bit more manageable.) But let’s be real, I’m not perfect, and sometimes, some or all these boring self-care strategies get thrown out the window. But regardless of how far I stray from optimal self-care, I am always striving to follow these strategies as best as I can because I know these help me manage with my mental illness.