I deliberately didn’t title this post with self-care, solely because it’s been an overused phrase. In fact, I think it’s so overused that it’s almost lost its meaning. Self-care can involve putting on a face mask or using a body scrub in a tub, but it’s not the face mask and it’s not the body scrub. It’s the act, the purpose, the meaning behind what you’re doing and why you’re doing it and what you’re looking to gain from it.
Anyway, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I actually take care of myself. Like actually what I do to make sure I’m cared for. I think it was last year, but I read something somewhere about how you “mother yourself” and it’s really stuck with me. I have definitely gone through periods of time in my adult life where I was definitely not taking care of myself. Maybe it’s because I am a mom now, I know I would never not take care of my child… so why would I treat myself any differently? I deserve good care– and it’s not just going to magically unfold for me.
Also as I’m writing this I’m realizing that a lot of it is so basic and so straightforward. Maybe if you’ve never experienced anxiety or difficult period where it’s hard to actually take care of yourself, you may read this and think, “duh,” but trust me, sometimes the most basic things are what fall through the cracks first. I was inspired to write this because after having gone through something pretty hard recently, I was surprised to see how resilient I was and how, five years ago, it would have caused me to completely unravel. I think I’ve been taking good care of myself and thought what’s helped me might help someone else. I’m a naturally highly anxious person who is also in recovery from perfectionism, yet, I am in a much better place today than I was five years ago, in large part because I figured out how to truly take care of myself versus just moving through life trying to survive.
SCHEDULING DOCTOR’S APPOINTMENTS
Probably the thing that I struggle with the most when it comes to taking care of myself is scheduling and going to doctor’s appointments. The dentist. The OBGYN. Regular check ups. The dermatologist. I’ve gone… years at times avoiding all of the above. It’s all rooted in fear– I’m afraid something will be wrong, I’m afraid to go somewhere new (and I’ve moved a lot), I’m afraid of what the appointment will entail. If I just don’t make an appointment, I don’t have to suffer through it. But, obviously, avoidance isn’t a healthy approach to life.
I’ve come up with a couple of tricks for myself. I always, always make the next appointment before I leave the office. Once it’s on the calendar, it’s on the calendar and because it’s so far in advance, I am able to really make plans to not miss it. (Very occasionally I have to move it, but I always force myself to reschedule instead of cancel.)
I also do a lot of research when finding doctors. Especially since I’m not from here, I reach out to friends and family in the area and check our town’s Facebook group for additional recommendations. I’ve found that people are always quick to share doctors who are patient and especially kind with anxious patients!! 🙌🏻 I also am upfront about my anxiety when I meet the doctor for the first time and it helps, too.
I think it’s worth noting that while I generally get a little anxious before an appointment and feel stressed leading up to it, overall, I’m so much more at ease about my health. Turns out avoiding the doctor IS stressful– and even more stressful– than just going. I try to remind myself that the peace of mind long-term is so much better than the temporary anxiety around appointments.
(And if there was something wrong, wouldn’t I want to know as soon as possible so we could address it? Yes. Plus, now I have the arsenal of doctors to reach out to if/when I need to.)
This is another really basic one and it also sounds a little vain, too, but it makes a big difference in how I feel about myself. I know I don’t feel like “me” if my hair isn’t clean and my legs aren’t shaved. I can go without makeup and I can wear sweatpants and still feel like myself, but dirty hair and prickly legs are the “lines” I draw. I know this about myself and sometimes when I’m feeling overwhelmed or feel like I don’t have time to properly blow dry my hair, I remember how I will feel better instantly the minute my hair is done and my legs are shaved. Sometimes I can even use this as a pick me up. Like if everything else is going wrong and if everything else is out of my control, I always know I can hop in the shower and wash my hair and feel better.
Maybe for you it’s putting on a coat of mascara or wearing an outfit that makes you feel amazing… Take note of what works best for you on good days so when the bad days pop up, you can execute on the one or two basic things that you know will help.
CLASSIFYING HOUSEHOLD TASKS AS NEUTRALS
Okay, this is my best tip that I’ve only recently discovered. There are certain things that I need to do to “keep house,” that I absolutely hate. For example, I hate sweeping/vacuuming and I hate emptying the dishwasher. I have no problem folding laundry, picking up Jack’s toys, wiping down counters, fluffing pillows….. but I hate emptying the dishwasher and sweeping. Both, naturally, have to be done daily. I had tried for a while to like overly hype myself up to do it, but it didn’t work. And sulking or dreading a task didn’t make it easier, either.
Until one day I just decided to consider them neutral tasks. It’s kind of hard to explain and it sounds weird, but I just decided one day. It’s not something I need to love and it’s not something I need to even like– I just have to do it. Once I took out the pressure of trying to hype myself up about it, it allowed me to kind of just find a place in my mind where I felt totally neutral about it. It’s not a perfect system– there are occasional days when I still wish the dishwasher would magically unload itself– but for the most part I really do feel neutral about those tasks I used to hate. The dishwasher is no longer sitting clean with dishes piling up in the sink waiting for it to be emptied and I sweep the floor every morning quickly and painlessly.
One thing I’m really passionate about is hobbies. I think it’s becoming a lost art and, yet, I think it’s a critical part of being a human. 1) We spend so much time watching television and scrolling on the internet and just mindlessly watching things instead of doing things. 2) We’re also losing a sense of community (generally speaking). And 3) I think we have been deeply programmed to turn everything we like into some kind of business. At some point hobbies became side hustles.
But for me, having hobbies outside of work with absolutely zero pressure attached to it, is one of my favorite ways to take care of myself. It gets me off my phone. Stops me from doom scrolling and watching the news. I create physical, tangible objects. I use my hands! All of these things have been so beneficial for my mental health. (I actually wrote about hobbies right before the pandemic and it was truly one of my saving graces during such trying times.)
I’m a broken record about this, but movement is key for me. I’m really careful to say movement instead of working out, though a lot of times for me movement does entail a workout. I just need to move. It can be as simple as going for a walk with a friend or even wandering the aisles of Target (really!) or getting in a great sweat on my Peloton at home or going to my favorite barre class at the gym. I am better when I get up and MOVE. I know there is science behind it, but I don’t really need to read it to know how I feel with– and without– movement in my life.
When I first moved to NYC, I had this period of depression that kind of crept up on me. I had experienced depression before, but this felt similar and even still a little different. I felt depressed even though I couldn’t pinpoint why I was feeling that way or exactly how it was different from depression before. I went to my doctor to ask what I should do and she was like, “Look it may be depression and we can talk about next steps for that, but I think you’re probably deficient in Vitamin D.” It was March and I had just spent a whole winter in NYC hibernating inside and when I was outside I was bundled up head to toe. (And also working at the time at a job where I wouldn’t really leave the office until after the sun had set.) I’m not saying I’m a doctor here and you should obviously talk to yours, but it really left an impression on me. Every winter since, I’ve made a huge effort to spend time outside every day.
Generally speaking, I know I feel the best on bright sunny days (personally). I have friends who thrive on gloomy days and friends who come to life in the colder months and hibernate inside of air conditioned buildings during the summer. I know what I need and I try to get as much of it as I can. In the summer, it’s way easier for me to get in outdoor time. During the winter though, I make sure every shade is pulled up in our house to let in as much natural light as possible. I try to spend at least 15-20 minutes outside, even if it’s just in five minute increments. I schedule outdoor activities as much as possible (walks with friends, pickleball, shopping in places where you walk outside like our Main Street), etc. On days when we can’t get outside, for whatever reason, I feel it and I’m reminded just how important it is for me to get out.
LIMITING SCREEN TIME
Probably the hardest thing for me to do on my “own” is limiting screen time. Between my job and the addictive qualities of various apps, I feel like it’s hard for me to break away from screens. I can admit that! (And admitting it is the first step right?!) When I’m feeling at my worst, I am also almost always spending too much time online. Sometimes just spending too much time online makes me feel bad and sometimes I feel bad and then turn to the internet. It’s both the chicken and the egg for me.
Because of this, I try my best to both limit how much time I spend online (even with work) and also try to avoid turning to TikTok to scroll mindlessly when I already feel bad. Replacing that desire to get online helps– I know I can read a book, I usually have a project or two around the house that could use my attention, and I can always work on a needlepoint project. (See: hobbies!)
AM I PERFECT?
No. I’m far from it. The goal for me here isn’t to be perfect or to even think that perfection is attainable or the goal at all. Instead, I’ve found that when I’m aware of how I’m feeling and what I’m doing (both when I feel good and feel less than good), I am able to pinpoint some areas in my life where I could be better.