There are misconceptions about self-care, it’s something you do while you’re in a crisis or it’s all about pampering yourself. Self-care is preventative care, it’s hard work and reassuring in a way. It’s like reminding yourself, you’re going to be okay. It’s best to have a self-care toolbox instead of just one tool; just like working on your car, not only one device can fix all the possible problems. In a self-care toolbox, some tools provide the foundation to build your box on, and others help maintain your mental well-being. The ultimate goal is to prevent a crisis. Read further to learn about the tools in my box and the ones I am striving to add.
Getting consistently good sleep is my most important tool, and I do my best to protect it. According to the Sleep & Circadian Neuroscience Institute at the University of Oxford, “Small changes in brain function can have a big impact on sleep, and disrupted sleep leads to health problems ranging across increased stress hormones, heart disease, weight abnormalities, reduced immunity, increased risk of cancer, and emotional and cognitive problems.” I cultivate good sleep through a nightly routine of yoga then meditation, taking my medications, and not drinking caffeine regularly.
I’ve practiced yoga off and on for years but never really created a daily practice until my diagnosis. I started practicing in the morning and evening. I discovered that it was a way to ease into the morning and wash the day away. I strive for 20-30 minutes and offer myself compassion when I can only do five. I utilize YouTube’s Yoga with Adriene, she’s very welcoming and makes the practice easy to follow even when you can’t look at the screen. If you find you don’t gel with Adriene, YouTube has countless other yogis.
When I started meditating, I used it more as a sort of Band-Aid. When I felt an anxiety attack or any unwanted feeling come on, I’d meditate. It would calm me down, and I could take a breath, but I found it wasn’t sustainable. I was reacting to my stressors, chasing down the calm instead of having a clearer mind, to begin with. My therapist encouraged me to start a daily practice to proactively find my peacefulness. I still have my moments of frustration, but I’m learning to de-escalate while in the moment with meditation.
I am a firm believer that if you’re taking meds for your brain, you should have them prescribed by someone who went to school to prescribe meds for your brain. There are many factors to consider, and it’s nice to have someone in your corner who understands what’s going on clinically. I remember being scared for my first appointment; every negative outcome was on replay in my mind. But I took a deep breath, told her my story, she asked her questions, and by the end, we had created the start of a plan for moving forward. It’s crucial to find the right psychiatrist, using resources like Psychology Today’s directory or checking in with your support group is encouraged.
Growing up, I sought out herbal remedies. I was against taking any medication. It was definitely the stigma of what taking medication meant. A year or so before my diagnosis, I had started listening to the podcast, MyFavoriteMurder. The show is about two comedians discussing murder, of course, and their lives, especially their mental health and medication’s positive impact. I started to see taking medication as a way to be the best version of yourself.
So, when it came around for me to start that journey, I was more open to it. Should you choose to begin that journey, there might be some trial and error. What helped me was keeping a journal of what was happening to provide that data to my psychiatrist. Please remember to be patient and kind to yourself.
As with yoga, I’ve had an on-again, off-again relationship with therapy. I would go for a specific problem, and we would work through it. I thought I would go back when I needed a tune-up. Then I hit my wall and discovered that I hadn’t truly worked through my past. I had also not cultivated any tools. My therapist and I do a mixture of Talk and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Sometimes just getting her perspective helps me take a step back; things like mood logs and visualizations help stop my negative thoughts in their tracks.
Opening up and sharing all your difficulties and pain is terrifying; but, as cliché, as it sounds, people will surprise you. I was in awe of how many people had similar obstacles or knew someone who was struggling. Even just seeing the compassion people had for what I was going through. Something very beneficial to me was NAMI, National Alliance on Mental Illness. They have resources like peer-to-peer support groups for individuals dealing with mental illness. There are great educational resources for individuals with mental illness and family members trying to help and understand. For more information, please click to check out their website.
Tools I strive to add
My psychiatrist and therapist are always encouraging me to include regular exercise and eating well into my daily life. It’s tough. I love all the sugars. I enjoy having worked out but getting that motivation to work out is another story. But as Eva Selhub MD puts it in her article, Nutritional psychiatry: Your brain on food, “Put simply, what you eat directly affects the structure and function of your brain and, ultimately, your mood.”
Or from Iris Telehealth’s blog post, How Diet and Exercise Affect Your Mental Health, “There are several mental health benefits to regularly exercising and sustaining a healthy diet, including improved sleep, stress relief, and less anxiety and depression.” So, I’ve started small. I eat at least one vegan meal a day to consume more fruit and vegetables. It’s been fun experimenting and discovering vegan bloggers and YouTubers. I also take a daily short walk, getting my vitamin D and building up my stamina for more vigorous workouts.
Something to remember about a toolbox, it allows versatility and flexibility, giving you the ability to adapt.
Dara is a Wellness & Lifestyle Writer based out of the Pacific Northwest. Her passion for self-help, self-care and mental health grew from her own struggles with mental illness and a desire to showcase that you don’t need all the fancy accessories to take care of yourself. When she isn’t writing you can find her exploring local bakeries and learning everything she can about sharks. Connect with her on Instagram or LinkedIn.
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