Self-care is crucial, whether you’re mentally ill, overworked, or going through a tough spot. But when you’re mentally ill, self-care doesn’t always look like sweet scented bubble baths and getting a nice dinner. Although it is important to occasionally treat yourself, drink water, exercise, etc. some days it feels hard enough just to get out of bed, much less socialize or head to the gym. And although we usually think of self-care as spaces separate from productivity or chores, sometimes self-care IS doing your chores. Here are some tips for self-care when you feel too much like trash to bother with a bath bomb:
Take your medication. Seriously. Even if you’re not sure if it’s helping, even if the pill bottle is in a different room and your bed is sucking you into its clutches, take your medicine. In the case of the former, take it until you see your psychiatrist and therapist next and let them know if you have doubts. In the case of the latter, remember that your bed isn’t going anywhere, and although your brain is telling you to succumb to the sheets, you need to take care of yourself by keeping up your medicine. It’s even better if you take the time to come up with a system on how to remember: for example, I have an alarm set both for the morning and evening, and I have my medicine portioned out in a weekly pill case so that I know if I’ve taken my full dose for the day.
Neaten up your environment. A messy room will make you feel worse, and you don’t need to be growing new roommates in the form of bacteria. You don’t have to clean intensely: toss your clean laundry into its respective drawers, even if you don’t have the energy or care to fold it. Throw away the trash piles. Take out the trash. Even just making your bed could really brighten up your space and make you feel better about the world. And if you’re like me, sometimes organizing a piece of your space can distract you and engage you in a positive way.
Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness means directing your attention to one task, and only on that task, even just for a moment. When practicing mindfulness, you’re observing a moment nonjudgmentally. It has its roots in Buddhist meditation, but those who have difficulty clearing their mind long enough for what is traditionally assumed to be meditation may find mindfulness is a lot easier to practice. Take a deep breath. Focus entirely on the feeling of that breath. When in the shower, focus on the physical sensation of the water hitting your skin. Pick an object, like candy, and observe it. What does it look like? What does it taste like? How does it feel on your tongue? On a more advanced level: when you’re experiencing a powerful emotion, take a moment to piece apart what you’re feeling it and why you’re feeling it. Don’t judge yourself for the emotion. Recognize it, feel it, and then remember that it doesn’t define you
Take a shower. It can be really hard to keep up your hygiene when you’re in a bad space, but it’s an important part of self-care. If you have to, set up a reward system. For example, if you want to curl up in bed and watch your favorite show or eat the bag of candy sitting in your room, wait until you bathe or wash your face or brush your teeth. Take it in steps. Split up your routine so that it doesn’t feel so overwhelming. Do what you must, just get it done.
Feel proud of yourself. This can be the most difficult part of having a mental illness or struggling with feelings of self-deprecation. Taking time to step away from everything you feel you do or have done wrong, and instead, write out or speak out loud your accomplishments. Appreciate the subjective, and that your accomplishments may not be an accomplishment for someone else. Acknowledge not just the big things you’ve done (graduated high school/college, got a job, led a club or group, etc) but also the little things (made dinner, got to work on time, made your bed).
Self-care is more than just allowing yourself special treats- it’s allowing yourself to value your efforts, it’s allowing yourself hygiene and a neat environment, and it’s allowing yourself medical care. Self-care can be difficult, and unglamorous, but it’s an important part of surmounting your mental illness and it is crucial to recovery and therapy. Pause for a moment today and take care of yourself.