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Self Care: Learning How to Look After Yourself

In a departure from my usual subject matter, I'm gonna talk a little bit about self care today.

I have lived with anxiety and depression for a very long time. Like most people with mental health conditions I have ups and downs, good patches and bad patches. Sometimes I can slip into a bad space for no reason at all. Other times circumstances start pushing me towards the darkness. It's never clear what will or won't trigger it but time living with my condition has meant I am better at recognising the onset. And I am better at fighting it.

My reaction to those early warning signs can vary. Sometimes I calmly and bleakly resign myself and sink without struggling. But usually I feel the familiar desperate scrabbling of anxiety as I fight against it. But this post is not about describing my struggles with mental health issues. That's for another day, maybe. What this is about is some of the small coping strategies I have learnt after years of trial and (a crapload of) error.

When I start getting depressed I basically want to eat junk food, sleep 18 hours a day and watch box sets for the other 6 hours. Avoid contact with all people. Stop going to work, stop turning up at social occasions. Stop washing my hair. Only wear pajamas. Not leave the house. I hibernate, and when I'm not sleeping, even in the middle of the best box set ever, I am just constantly thinking anxiety racked negative thoughts. On a loop. As you can imagine it's just excellent.

So, that's one course of action. How do I go about choosing life? Part of staying well is just going through the motions of normality. I take care of myself. I try to give myself what I need. And generally it's small gestures that get me through. Here are some of the things I try to keep on track.

Like Goldilocks, I need my amount of sleep to be just right. Not too much and not too little. I need a solid 8 hours. That may seem so obvious, but my sleep has always been a thing of extremes. During the week I never get enough, at the weekends I have way too much. The temptation when I am down is just to avoid all the feelings by staying in that dream space but it leads to feelings of lethargy and uselessness I just don't need when I am attempting to vanquish my demons. So here are my top tips for getting some good sleep:

  1. Routine is really important for me when I am struggling, so I try sticking to a standard bed time every night, and to getting up at the same time every morning. Building a pattern means my body starts to know when it should be getting sleepy which helps when I am not sleeping so well. 
  2. Clean linen, clean PJs and a bit of lavender linen spray make going to a bed a real treat. It's like falling asleep in a fragrant little cocoon!
  3. This can be a real tough one for me, but putting my phone on flight mode and leaving it on the other side of the room is a good trick. I am sucker for checking notifications, or quickly googling something if it is taking me a little while to drop off, and before you know it you've spent an hour or more pinning crap on Pintrest or reading about every cast member of Orange is the New Black... 

I know this is not something that works for everyone. And to be honest it tends to be the first bit of advice given to depressed people which can be really annoying. Sometimes making the time to go the gym can be an honestly impossible task. However, if I can manage do it, it is so worth it. Using that physical energy makes me tired, which means I sleep better. Going to the gym or doing any sort of exercise, is like a sneaky short cut to feeling good. We all know it releases endorphins, and it also gives me a feeling of smugness. I never really enjoy it while I am doing it, but afterwards I always feel great. This comic strip pretty much sums it up.  My tips for getting your quota of exercise in:

  1. I often like to imagine I am going to get up in the morning and go to the gym before work. I am pants in the morning. I am an evil zombie bitch. It's never going to happen. So, I say plan to go to the gym when you actually have a chance of making it. That way you don't start the day feeling a failure.
  2. I try to stick to what I like doing in the gym, especially when I am first getting back into it. I like the bike, the cross trainer and the weight machines so I focus my time on the stuff I enjoy. I am not a big fan of the treadmill or the step machine so I don't force myself to do what I don't enjoy. It makes going a much more enjoyable experience all round.

When I wake up with the swirl of anxiety clouding my senses I want to numb myself with TV and eventually drift back off to sleep.In the depths of depression I stop wearing make up, move permanenly into pjs, go two weeks without washing my hair. And every time I catch sight of myself in a reflective surface it's just a reminder of what's going on inside my head.
Clean hair, manicured nails, face masks, neatly plucked eyebrows - all of these help me to feel a little more in control. It's the same effect wearing a beautiful dress has on me. I think dressing myself nicely and looking my best is a part of my way of showing myself that I am valuing me. I am physically communicating with myself that I am important and worth caring for, even when inside I feel that the opposite is true.

  1. Makeup immediately gives me a little bit of a boost, so I make sure I give myself enough time in the morning to put my makeup on properly. Getting up in the morning and putting on my make up immediately boosts my confidence. This is not a solution for everyone, but it makes me feel stronger and more able to deal with whatever the day has in store. 
  2. I try to schedule things in, like doing a face mask every Monday, doing my nails on a Sunday, giving myself a monthly coconut oil hair mask, and exfoliating twice a week. It just feels like I am pampering and taking care of myself.

Quality time:
Life is busy and fast. Sometimes living in London, working full time, blogging and trying to have a social life means I just rush from one thing to another. This can become exhausting, so when I am feeling burnt out I try to make sure I prioritise what it I want to do and make sure my time is used wisely. 

  1. Sometimes I just need a day off. Some people save all their leave for holidays and trips away, but I like to add the occasional day onto a weekend and just give myself a little bit of a time out. Sleep late, watch a good movie, drink copious cups of tea and catch up on my laundry. It doesn't feel like a wasted day of the weekend, and makes me feel like I am a little more on top of everything. 
  2. I can sometimes just want to retreat into myself and not leave the house. But I always feel better once I have spent time with family and friends. I am not saying say yes to every social engagement, but sometimes when you really don't feel like seeing people is when you need it most. Seeing my friends and getting out of my own head a bit can be really good for me, and offer some light relief and much needed perspective. 
  3. Make sure you make time for what you actually like doing, whatever that may be. Whatever fills you with purpose, happiness, contentment - do that!  For me, one of those things is this blog. And reading the blogs of others. I also love literature and listening to music.
So...those are some of the ways I take care of myself. I know it is a little bit of a departure from my usual fashion posts, but I think it might be helpful to some people, as all of this has taken me a long time to learn.

How do you look after yourself? Are any of these things you do to keep yourself together? Let me know in the comments... 


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