Self-care has been a hot topic for a good while now, and in these times of global pandemic, constantly changing rules, political unrest, and the rest, it’s become even more prevalent. The problem with self-care, though, is that the things people often suggest – having a soak in the bath, drinking a nice cup of tea, eating a bar of good chocolate – are all lovely, but they don’t last very long, and you can’t really do them every day.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a bubble bath, with a cup of tea and a bar of good chocolate. Yes, all at the same time. Those things are lovely and wonderful and definitely do help me relax and, well, take a moment or two to care for myself. But they are just that – moments. Self-care should be more about little changes, good habits, that allow us to make sure that we are looking after ourselves all the time so that in turn we can do good and be good for others.
Last week I shared a post about toxic positivity (which you can read here, please do, it’s an important topic) and how overly positive one-upmanship can really get me down, so I’m not about to share a list of things I think you should do to make you happier. Rather, I wanted to at least follow up that post by suggesting a bunch of things I try and do to make sure that I’m in a good enough place to be affected by toxic positivity as little as possible. I don’t always get it right, I have as many wobbles and down days as anyone, but when I am incorporating these habits into my routine, life feel good.
Get Outside. Every Day.
I’ll start with the big one. There isn’t a blog on here that doesn’t mention how good spending time outdoors is for you. It is simply essential. Good for the body as our physiology needs the fresh air and natural light, for the mind as it can free our thoughts and provides us with time to make decisions, and for the soul as it gives us a bigger view and wider perspective than we get when sat at home. Staying inside all day really is a recipe for sadness. It has been proven time and time again that being outdoors, even for as little as 15 minutes at a time, is hugely beneficial for our wellbeing.
I set my personal challenge at One Hour Outside every day, I do this for my sanity, and I can attest to it working wonders in every situation. Will you join me and aim for at least One Hour Outside today, this week, this month? Find out more about my project and read more on the importance of spending time outside here.
In all honesty, you could stop reading this post here and, providing you do make a habit of spending time outside every day, you will find that helps. I don’t go on about it for no reason, it absolutely and genuinely helps. The top up of vitamin D, the real life views away from a screen, and the fact that you are also probably moving your body, is the catch all antidote to the stresses and strains of life.
Get Up. Have a Shower. Get Dressed.
With so many of us working at home at the moment, or maybe not working at all due to the circumstances, it’s very easy to skip the shower and stay in pyjamas all day. Far too easy. But getting out of bed, having a wash, and putting on clean clothes (even if those clothes are only one step up from pyjamas… joggers and leggings are wonderful inventions) is an excellent way to tell your body and mind that the day has started and you are ready to get stuff done. I know it sounds like the simplest of things, probably too simple to include in a list of good self-care habits, but it is far too easy to fall an ever increasing feeling of lethargy when our minds are being bombarded with all the things all of the time. Remember how good a shower feels after a bout of illness? Or after a particularly sweaty hike? The act of “getting up properly” can really help start the day right, is an excellent way to reset, and can be the catalyst to an excellent day rather than a mediocre one. If you’re currently not doing this, please start today.
Eat Food and Drink Water
Another very basic suggestion here, but eating food and drinking (plenty of) water is super important to both our physical and mental wellbeing. When stressed, some people find themselves eating loads, probably all the carbs, and others find themselves eating hardly anything at all, and let’s face it, neither of those is particularly good for us. Eating good food and drinking water (in the form of tea, if you like…) will always make you feel better than not.
I’m not here to tell you what to eat, I’m no nutritionist and while I prefer to eat natural and freshly prepared food most of the time, my diet is certainly not something to compare yours to. Rather, I would say that you should listen to your body, how it feels and what it needs, and eat accordingly. If that means eating salad followed by a bowl of fresh fruit for lunch one day and a big pile of sausages and mash followed by a dollop of rice pudding for lunch the next, then so be it.
I’m also not going to tell you that you have to eat breakfast. I normally don’t, it isn’t for everyone. But whatever you choose to eat first in the day, whatever you choose to break fast with, whether it’s 7am or 12 noon or somewhere in the middle, make it something good, tasty and enjoyable.
If you find you’re not eating properly, or you are developing a poor relationship with food, then it can be a sign that you need to take self-care a little more seriously than you have been. And if it spirals, and you or someone you love spots this, please seek help from a professional.
Consume Less Gossip
While consuming food and water is something we should do, consuming gossip is something we really shouldn’t. This includes the obvious news and trashy magazines, but also refers to the books you read, the shows you watch on the television, the podcasts and radio programmes you tune into, and the music you listen to. Gossip and fake news is rife, and life is better when we do not partake in it. I’m not suggesting you never watch the news, but get yours from decent sources and be compulsive fact checker.
It’s not just online, either. I suggest you try to avoid toxic people too. That is, people who spout gossip, spread rumours, and share fake news. Unfollow them, unfriend them, block them if you need to. Choose not to engage. Even if you’re related. If the current state of the world has taught us anything is it that extreme viewpoints are wrong and unhelpful, and while it’s commendable to at least try and educate others to change their opinions, or call it out when you see someone sharing things that are simply not true or that are hurtful to others, it is not easy and can often make things worse. The more we stop giving a platform to gossip, the less we feed the trolls, the more gossip is stifled.
This might be less about the gossip itself and more about looking after yourself by taking care over the people you have in your life. Know that you don’t have to spend time with people you don’t like. Pay attention to how people in your company make you feel, what they talk about, and how they talk about other people. If they are talking about a person you mutually know in a derogatory way, it could be that they’re talking that way about you when you’re not there. Better to remove those toxic people from your life than get into all that.
Moving your body isn’t all about getting fitter or losing weight (although that is an excellent side effect if you move enough), it’s much more about feeling good. Whether you walk, swim, cycle, run, dance, join in with online classes, or just have a bit of a wiggle every now and then, it’s all good. You don’t need a set pattern or to do the same thing each time, or even to be working towards a specific fitness goal, just make sure you move every day.
Personally, I find that combining my need to move with my time outside works best for me, with a brisk walk from my own front door. It’s not enough to up my fitness but it gets my heart pumping, my legs working, and I’m away from my desk for a bit. I also try and make sure I don’t sit still all the time I’m indoors too, by getting up regularly to walk around the house, especially on a working day when I spend many hours sat in front of my computer screen. This is one thing I like about FitBits and Apple Watches, they can remind you to get up and move if you’ve been sat still for a while – but if you find you sit still from 9am to 1pm and again from 2pm to 6pm then setting an alarm every 50 minutes to remind you to have a 10 minute move-around also works. And if you really really struggle to move your body every day, invite a friend to join you for a walk, try the same online class at the same time as someone else, or set yourself a little goal to run up and down the stairs while you wait for dinner to cook.
Write it Down
I don’t know about you, but I find that if I write something down or say it out loud, it helps me to stop thinking about it. Have a notebook, a real one with a pen or one on your phone, to jot down those thoughts, feelings, frustrations, dreams, short and long term goals, and anything else that you think of. It’s a really great way to process your emotions and put them to one side so you can get back to whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing; working, sleeping or something else. Getting into the habit of writing things down as they pop into your head is an excellent way to keep your mind clear without worrying about forgetting things or dwelling on your emotions for too long, especially when you’re feeling down. There is a lot of research in the field of psychology about why this helps, and I like this blog post with other reasons why writing things down can help your wellbeing.
You can also use this to your advantage by purposefully setting time aside each day to write down the things that are making you feel worried, stuck or scared. Writing a regular diary that focuses on your thoughts and feelings, or journaling each night before you go to bed, can be hugely beneficial to your outlook on life and general wellbeing. I gave this a try last year to see what difference it might make to me, you can read about that here, and while I no longer write a journal every day, that same notebook is still helping me to process my daily thoughts even nine months later.
Please, if you find the same thoughts fill your notebook regularly, or if you find something that is so hard to write down it causes the emotions to get much worse, then please speak to someone. It could be a professional therapist, it could be a brother or sister, it could be anyone, but make sure you speak it aloud to someone who will listen.
Get Rid of Stuff
You don’t have to go full on minimalist, but it is much easier to keep a tidy house – and therefore a tidy mind – if you have less things to tidy up… And getting rid of stuff you don’t use or need is such a good way to instigate a reset. Don’t feel like you have to chuck away or donate all your favourite books, maps, or travel trinkets, but at least take regular time to sort through the things you own and clear out the things you no longer need. You know you have too much stuff if you buy something and then realise you already own it, can’t find things inside your cupboards, or you
In my case, this mainly includes things like worn out gear, I have a tendency to keep hold of old boots and coasts even when they are way past their best days, you know, just in case they come in handy one day. If life is getting a bit overwhelming one of the ways I find really helps me stop and start again is to have a sort out and fill a box with stuff for charity. The act of going through my wardrobe, kitchen cupboards, or book shelves and removing things that I no longer want or use seems to work wonders for my productivity afterwards. What a strange thing that is.
Even if you don’t get rid of things, try and at least make sure that everything you own has a “home” so that it can be put away. Knowing where things are, being able to reach for exactly what you need instantly, and keeping your personal space clean and tidy, is an excellent self-care habit to keep.
Don’t Work Constantly
Last but by no means least in my list of self-care habits to keep, I want to say that it is okay not to work all the time; you don’t have to busy yourself with things every hour of every day. Getting stuff done is laudable, but you don’t have to be productive all the time, and it’s dangerous to our wellbeing to believe that life is only successful if you are constantly doing. It really is okay if you want to just sit and watch television for an hour each evening to give your mind and body time to relax, or it might be that you choose other activities just because you like doing them. Don’t let anyone make you feel guilty for having regular down time.
What do you love to do? Not what is your job, or what are your must-dos, but what do you enjoy? What makes you feel more like you? Do you love to bake? Enjoy short (or long) hikes? Play a musical instrument? Wish you had some of your own artwork on your bedroom wall? Maybe reading books is your thing? These are the things you should be making time for regularly make you feel good. They are as important as working your day job, running your side hustle, or taking those classes.
And if all of this fails, know that you can do anything, but you can’t do everything. You may always choose to do nothing at all. Run that bath, put the kettle on, grab your favourite bar of chocolate and take a few moments to warm all your senses before starting again.
I’d love to hear your self-care tips. What longstanding habits have you formed that make you resilient? How do you make sure that toxic positivity, the negativity of social media, or the business of life doesn’t get you down.
I hope that if you are reading this post because you are looking for ideas to help your own wellbeing, you found something useful here.