I’m writing this partially to myself. I’m in a bit of a funk– I just got back from a vacation and I’m finding it very hard to get back on schedule. I’m in the middle of a job hunt, a move, and I contracted some sort of virus. I’ve been binge watching Netflix and had ice cream for breakfast. I’ve had a stiff neck for the past 2 weeks, that I know is due to stress. I had a fight with my boyfriend that we’re still working out.
I know how important self-care has been in my recovery, and I know how easily I can slide back into a state of anxiety and depression without it. I spent most of my life doing things that I felt I needed to do rather than wanted to do–working, going to school, studying, spending time with people who drained me…
When my mom died, all that went out the window. I hit rock bottom. When you hit rock bottom, you have an opportunity to relearn everything you’ve been taught that does not serve you any longer. I was fortunate enough to be able to attend an intensive outpatient Cognitive Behavioral Therapy program for several weeks where I learned new skills to manage my relationships with myself and others, and ultimately lead a happier and more fulfilling life. I’m not a huge fan of CBT in general–I don’t think it works very well by itself, but at this particular program I learned many additional important skills that help me communicate with others more effectively, healthily, and productively. I learned about setting and respecting boundaries, how to consider others’ perspectives more thoughtfully, how to express my needs, and most importantly, I learned about self-care.
At the program I attended, we learned about GRAPES as a guide to self-care. This helped me tremendously in learning about self-care. For homework we had to do one of each per day:
Here are some examples we were given at the program I attended:
G: Counter critical self-talk, make a list of your good qualities, set a boundary with someone, think about what you’re thankful for
R: Meditate, practice mindfulness, practice yoga, get a massage, take a bubble bath
A: Get a chore done, go to work, cook a healthy meal
P: Read a book, paint a picture, watch a funny movie, get a mani/pedi, watch the sunset, listen to music
E: Go for a run, go for a brisk walk, take an exercise class, go on a hike
S: Call a friend, call a family member, spend time with someone face-to-face, get coffee with a friend, join a club
I have NOT been taking very good care of myself for the past week. Ironically, vacation is supposed to make you feel more relaxed, and I had a great time, but I came back feeling a bit off track. I spent two days in a car on a road trip, ate more unhealthily than usual, and didn’t have much time to relax. I did get to see the Grand Canyon, go for a hike, and spend time with loved ones, which was amazing. But like I said, I contracted a virus and got off track from my schedule, especially regarding self-care.
Once you are in a strong habit of self-care, you become more in tune with your own needs. When I’m on schedule, it feels easy to exercise for 30 minutes a day and meditate for 10. But for me, being out of that routine for just 4 days really threw me off. I’m still in a place of recovery so maintaining regular self-care is still very important for me.
Personally, I don’t follow GRAPES anymore because I’ve learned what works for me in terms of self-care. Do I follow through with it everyday? No. But I definitely notice a day-to-day difference when I am able to take care of myself and when I’m not. I think that attending the CBT program really did help me learn about myself, and helped me to explore different ways to take care of myself. But I know I don’t have to be a stickler and make sure I do each and every one of the GRAPES every single day. This especially goes for those who are new to the idea of self-care. I’m sure if I did do each one every day, I’d be even happier. But realistically, it can’t always happen.
Here’s what I like to do for myself when I’m not feeling good/what I do regularly to keep myself feeling good:
1. Write in my journal. For me writing has always been a great outlet. I’m not always the best at communicating in person, which is something I’m working on, but writing allows me to process what I’m thinking straight from my brain to a place where I can see it right in front of me. I’ve solved so many problems in my life by writing. Bonus points if you cry.
2. Exercise!!! This is probably the most important thing anyone can do for themselves. Our bodies are made to move, and we don’t move enough. I always feel good after I work out. 30 minutes is all it takes– check out my workout for people with anxiety and depression who find it hard to get motivated.
3. Look at or listen to reminders of my mom and cry. Crying is so good for you! It releases stress hormones and can release a lot of stuck emotions. This is just what I do as someone who is still grieving a loss, but watching a sad movie can do the trick too. I might sound insane, but watching the scene in Bambi where Bambi’s mother dies always does the trick for me. Sometimes I don’t even know what’s upsetting me but when the tears start flowing, so do my problems, out of my body. BYEEEEEEE.
4. Take a nap. Sometimes life is just too overwhelming. Maybe I have a lot going on. Maybe I didn’t get enough sleep the night before. I used to be a nap-aholic. I think it was a coping mechanism for me when I was stressed. I don’t nap very often anymore since I started really dealing with my shit in healthier ways, but every once in a while I realize that it would be good for me and I make that decision to let myself be revitalized by a catnap. Meow.
5. Cuddle/hug someone. Bonus if you’re crying. Haha no really, physical contact has real health benefits too. Sometimes you just need a hug, or someone will hug you and you realize you needed it. Read this article on the health benefits of hugging. Experts recommend 8-12 hugs per day! I definitely need to fill my quota…
6. Talk to someone about my problems. I’ve learned to save the really heavy stuff for those I’m closest to, and for the therapist. I currently don’t go to therapy but will be starting again this week. I’ve realized that I really do have a lot going on in my life and I’ve been through a lot at a young age. And even if I hadn’t, it’s nice to have someone professional to talk to. Friends and family members are great to vent to from time to time. But I’ve learned through my intense experiences that there is such thing as crossing a line of depending on them too much. It’s emotionally draining to hear about someone who you care about’s problems. I used to be angry at that fact, but I’ve realized that even your best friends can’t handle everything. We’re all only human. It’s best to spread out the venting among people you’re close with. And anything extra can be handled in therapy. There are other purposes for therapy, of course, but the most important one in my opinion is having someone who’s there for you to vent to.
7. Spend time in nature. Nature is extremely healing for me. As a child I spent a lot of time outdoors. My mom was very influential in my love for nature. Whether it’s for the purpose of connecting me to her, my spirituality, or some bigger human need to be outside, it has a way of making my problems seem less important for the time being. It’s both an escape and a place to think about things more deeply. I’ve come up with some potential future plans while surfing. I’ve cried while hiking several times. I enjoy letting go and releasing emotions into nature. It’s always there for me to pick that up. Plus, the Vitamin D from the sun is always good stuff. I especially enjoy getting outside with my dog, because her pure excitement to be outside with me makes me feel awesome. Owning a pet in general is good for mental health. Plus she’s the best hiking companion.
While I’m not perfect at self-care, I do realize its essentialness in my life. There were times in my life where I was in such a bad place that not even self-care could save me. But little by little, over time, and by adopting self-care habits, I’ve gotten to know my mind and my body better. When the stress starts building, I know it’s important to practice more self-care as soon as possible to prevent a breakdown. And whenever I’m stuck in a rut, even doing just one of these things never fails to help me feel just a little bit better.
Our society commends values of selflessness and hard work. But I’ve come to understand that in order to be truly kind to yourself and others, and to be your most productive, it’s vital to practice self-care. So go ahead and put yourself first for a change.