My Big List of Self-Care Tips
I have been doing a lot of research this year on how to handle anxiety and depression without using medication. Note, I advocate for medicine if you need it. But personally, I would rather use medication as a last resort.
I’ve been really into the self-care movement this past year. But I’ve noticed a lot of it revolves around surface ways of relaxing. So today I’m going to share my top tips of self-care.
As Always: Get Professional Help When Needed
I always encourage people to do what they can though to get professional help when they need it. If money or work is an issue, I suggest reaching out to your insurance, organizations that specialize in helping you get help, free hotlines, and other resources.
——— If you can’t get a professional therapist, I also recommend talking to a spiritual guide, a mentor, your HR contact, a doctor, a friend, or anyone else who can listen and help you if needed. When it’s too much, you are never alone. ———Click here to Tweet
Unfortunately for most of us in America, going to a therapist when we need it is often unattainable. Either due to work or school conflicts, social pressure, money, or whatever, we often don’t get mental health help when we need it the most.
That’s why the following tips I recommend to try as a first line of defense and as you need them.
I believe a lot of self care is doing things even when we don’t want to. I’d honestly rather be reading a book or watching a show right now, but blogging is important to me and something I want to do more of in 2019. So here we are.
But I personally always feel better doing something than nothing at all. Even if I only accomplished one thing that day, it was better then nothing else. I love writing to-do lists and crossing things off as I go. And then looking back on it at the end of the day to see what I got done and what needs to be done tomorrow.
I’m also really forgetful so there’s that.
Take Care of Your Self
Like I made the point of earlier, self care is doing things even when we don’t feel like it.
Take a shower
Get your car washed or fixed
Go to the doctor or make an appointment
Eat something healthy
Clean your home
Make your bed
Trim your nails
Wash those dishes
Do something you have been putting off
Smile and find something to laugh at
Fix something around your home
Do your laundry
I’m not a dietitian by any means, but I believe a well balanced meal is something we could ALL strive to do better. Look into well researched ways of eating and set small goals for your self. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get to them. And don’t restrict your diet unless you need to for medical reasons. Everything in moderation! Always consult your doctor first before starting any diet.
Eat more fruits and veggies. (small goals: A banana in the morning, Parmesan and garlic baked chickpeas for a snack, frozen veggies mixed with your favorite pasta, carrots with hummus, etc.)
Cut down on sugar (replace pop with a soda water like Bubbly) or eat some fruit when you want something sweet.
Explore the wide variety of food and try new food. Make your plate a rainbow.
Mindful eating. Focus on eating, enjoy your meals.
Eat until your full, but don’t stuff yourself.
Eat with friends instead of by yourself.
Cut down on alcohol.
Drink more water.
I try to stick to water, tea, milk, and coffee as my main drinks and enjoy other drinks when I want.
It’s okay if you can’t make it to the gym a lot. In fact you don’t even have to at all. Recent studies have shown that 7 minutes of high intensity workouts is just as good as an hour at the gym. Or try a 30 minute walk with friends. Walk a dog. Find a running buddy. Just moving is shown to improve your mood. And there are lots of free apps and great friends out there to help you get started. Find a method of working out that you enjoy.
Play a Sport
Humans are social creatures by nature. We’re meant to be around other people. But a lot of us suffer from social anxiety or lack of social skills. For whatever reason when you’re feeling down or have lots of anxiety, find a way to connect with someone.
Invite one friend to do something with you
Volunteer or mentor someone
Go to a Meetup or a social event at your local library or check FB for fun, interesting and free things to do
Go to a concert
Have dinner with someone
Call someone to talk or skype
Text someone you haven’t in a while
Host a party
Comment nicely on social media
Talk to a coworker
Give a compliment
Pet an animal or go to the zoo
Have a board game night with friends
We all known just how important it is to get between 6-9 hours of sleep a night, but most of us don’t get in that range. We’re busy, we have insomnia, really bad nightmares, etc. But the important thing is to try and get as much sleep as our bodies need.
Avoid screens an hour before bed, instead do something relaxing like listen to an audiobook or podcast, color, or do something really boring.
Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and exercise before bed. You’ll either be awake, or just won’t sleep well.
Drink a relaxing tea
Read a book before bed
Get your bedroom dark
Reduce distracting noise or invest in some white noise apps or devices or calming music.
Get comfy PJs
Get some good bedding and make sure you’re not too warm or cold
Journal before bed or write out a to-do list if that doesn’t stress you out.
Write a list of everything you accomplished that day.
Self care’s poster child.
Take a bath or shower
Use a face mask
Read a book
Go out in nature
Hang out with a pet or friend
Enjoy some tea or hot cocoa
Watch a movie or TV show
Listen to something relaxing
Do a craft or a project around the house
Get out in Nature
Getting out in nature is a really interesting way to relax and take care of ourselves. The Japanese even specifically have a word for it called Shinrin-yoku or “Forest Bathing”. Our Western society increasingly is stuck indoors so finding even little ways to be outside can be really beneficial.
Go outside for a walk
Go to a park
Take your work outside if you can
Play a sport outside or a game with friends
Even if you’re not great, draw or paint nature around you
Take a pet outside if you can
Go to the zoo
Stand outside in the rain
Play in snow
If religion is your thing, great. Pray or attend a religious service. But if it isn’t then think about something you believe in personally. This applies even if you are religious. I’ll be talking about more stuff to help your soul or thought space in the following sections. But if something brings you joy, focus on that. Tell yourself something happy.
There are a lot of mediation apps out there and resources now that you can use to help you get into mediation. Eastern and other areas of the world have been aware for centuries the benefits of meditation that took 2018 American society by storm. I learned more about it while I studied abroad in Japan several years ago. It doesn’t have to be a spiritual practice if that’s something you’re not comfortable with.
How to meditate:
But the focus isn’t to completely clear your mind, but instead focus on your breathing and just being present in the moment. If a thought comes to you, that’s okay. Acknowledge it and return to breathing or a candle or something else to focus on. Some people use rocks. Or a pretty object.
Studies have shown that being at peace with what we have and being thankful can lead to a more positive outlook and more happiness in our lives over all. So a new trend is to start a gratitude journal.
The idea is pretty simple, every day make a list of five or more things that you are grateful. Maybe someone went out of their way for you that day, maybe you are grateful you have a job or a house, maybe even despite it all, you managed to find a moment of peace.
It might be hard at first, but I think especially in our society where we are told we need more and more things to make us happy, I think it’s good to reflect on what we already have. Appreciate the good things we already have in our lives. Maybe even doing that can cut down on some spending habits you might want to ditch.
Here is an idea list to get you started:
Today I am grateful for (something about your body or health)
Today I am grateful for (something about a friend, family, pet, coworker, or stranger)
Today I am grateful for (something about your work or school)
Today I am grateful for (something about where you live)
Today I am grateful for (something about a thing you love or an activity that brings you joy)
Above I linked to more ideas and tips for gratitude journals.
Keep a Journal
Journaling for self care and mental health is a great technique. You don’t even have to keep a written journal if you don’t want to. Although most journal advice recommends that you keep a handwritten journal (as handwriting makes our mind slow down), I don’t believe you need it.
If you go the handwriting route, it’s important to note that you don’t have to have a fancy journal if you don’t want or can’t afford one. It’s more important to use that cheap dollar store notebook than nothing at all. And the same goes for pens or pencils.
Keep it judgement free.
How to Write
There are a lot of techniques out there for journals, but there is an important distinction between casually writing and writing with the intent of helping your mental health and stress.
The important difference here is reviewing what you write about and the actions or takeaways from it.
And in case you’re sitting there not wanting to write about what’s going on or you need ideas, there are plenty of prompts on the internet to get you started. Remember to find prompts that help you explore the situation, your emotions, and thoughts.
You can also try ideas like writing unsent letters, drawing, scrapbooking, lists, fill-in-the-blank, and more.
Confidence takes a while to build but can help us feel better in our day to day lives.
To help build your confidence-
Find a thing or two you either enjoy or are good at and focus on building those.
Ask people around you what you’re good at or what they like about you.
Hang out with positive, supportive people who enrich your life.
Get coffee with someone who inspires you or whom you want to know better (in a platonic way).
Do something that gets you off the couch, even if its strolling around Target.
Do something you’ve been putting off.
Go to an informational interview- remember that interviews are all about what makes you great! Even if you’re not qualified for the job but it’s something you want to do, ask someone in that field to meet with you or show you what they do.
Look at your skill list on Linkedin and if you don’t already, ask people to recommend you or to endorse a skill. Remind yourself that you are worthy of your skills and accomplishments. You’ve worked hard for those.
Every day remind yourself about that skill you’re good at or what makes you unique.
Tell people something you like about them, don’t focus on appearances. Tell them things they do well or how they bring value into someone else’s life.
Ask people what exciting thing is going on their lives or what they’ve accomplished recently.
Spend a extra time getting ready, when you look good- you feel good!
Make a list of your accomplishments or whatever you accomplished every day. Allow yourself to feel great even about the small wins. You got this!
Being mindful is a part of mediation but it actually plays a lot into our mental health. Being mindful is another way of saying to be aware or be present.
Instead of being on your phone while outside, put it away and focus on your sensations around you. How is the grass under the feet, can you feel the sun on your skin, are there any birds outside or is it raining?
Being present and aware of what is going on not only can help prevent accidents from happening, but allows you to slow down. It helps your brain process better what’s going on.
When you’re feeling anxious: Focus on your five senses. What do you taste? What can you hear? What can you touch? What do you smell? And what do you see?
OR play a game with yourself to find five objects around you and spend a little bit of time focusing on those objects. Bring your senses into it if you can and try that until you relax.
I really enjoyed that link on Mindfulness above. Give it a shot!
A mantra is a repeated saying that can help inspire you on a daily basis to improve, do better, and to heal and relax. One of my favorite mantras that I keep as a background on my phone is, “Everything is going to be okay.” That way when I’m feeling anxious and I open my phone, I see that reminder.
If you know anything about Buddhism or Asian religion, you’ll probably be familiar with monks chanting. Some Christian monasteries also do this.
Mantras can be really helpful for mental health, especially in crisis situations, because they help remind us to stay positive when we need it.
Some common mantras are familiar to most people.
“I am stronger than I think.”
“Five years from now this won’t matter.”
“I can do anything I set myself to.”
“Try, try, and try again.”
These saying aren’t something you have to repeat outloud to be effective. You can keep them as backgrounds on your phone, hung up as a picture on your wall, written on a sticky note on your mirror, etc.
The important thing is to have it somewhere where even if you’re stressed, you’ll see it. It can be hard to remember these sayings when we’re stressed. So I recommend having it written down somewhere you can reference when you need it.
One of the biggest things I’ve personally learned how to do is breathing for anxiety. I’m currently in two different therapies, mental and physical. Both focus on the way we breathe. When we get anxious or upset or are exercising, we tend to start to breathe heavy. But when we’re at rest, we breathe slower.
Therefore, we can calm ourselves down by slowing our breathing.
Hold out your dominate hand in front of your face, palm open. Slowly breathe in through your nose, and try to length your exhale by pursing your lips and blowing gently onto your hand. You want to hold your hand about half a foot away from your face. Each time, focus on making your exhale longer and breathing in longer.
Put your hands on your stomach and focus on belly breathing. On your inhale, you want to relax. On your exhale you want to tighten. Again focus on taking deep long breaths.
Hold your right thumb over your right nostril and inhale through your left nostril. Hold your left nostril closed with your ring finger and exhale through your right nostril. Alternate nostrils or repeat. (Said to help you wake up)
This technique is called the 4-7-8 pattern. It’s said to help you fall asleep.