I’m kind of over a lot of popular “self-care” tips. I’m not even saying that some of them aren’t pleasant diversions, or that they are inherently a bad idea (hey, nothing wrong with a DIY face mask once in a while if it make you feel good), but it’s more that, I don’t know. It all seems rooted in a very consumerist (“treat yo’ self!”), pseudo-hippie (“burn this incense! Drink chai tea! Accupuncture!”), stereotypically hyper-feminine (“Get your nails done! Go to the salon! Buy new shoes!”) culture.
I’ll be blunt: I don’t have money. I’m not poor, but I don’t “have money,” you know? I can’t do spa days or salons, because my discretionary budget is – shock! – budgeted. And it’s not just a, “well, if self-care was important to you, you’d make it a priority!” because, hey, you know what? Screw you. Self care is a priority, and an important part of my self-care is not spending 3/4 of my monthly budget on a single spa trip.
I also really love incense and chai tea (yum!), but they really don’t do much to relax me, and while I do like doing my nails, I just… kind of chafe at hyper-femininity-as-de-facto-self-care as a genderqueer person still trying to find a comfortable spot on the gender-presentation spectrum. So I want to make a few suggestions about self-care that, as with most things, may not work for everyone, but I can vouche for them on a personal level.
First, some general tips:
Self-care doesn’t always mean shirking responsibilities. Sometimes the days I feel the absolute best after? Are the days where I call in sick from work, drop my son at the sitter, brew a cup of coffee, put on a YouTube playlist, and blast through all the chores on my to-do list at home. Holy hell, does that feel good. I feel productive, I feel accomplished, and after all those responsibilities are off my plate, I feel good. My mental health benefits from a sense of accomplishment and a clean slate.
Self-care sometimes means shirking all your responsibilities. You don’t have to do anything special. You don’t need to do a face mask, or take a rosewater bath, or do yoga. Sometimes you just need to call in sick to work. Sleep in. Get up whenever. Order in Chinese. Watch your favorite old stand-up specials. Nap. Just let yourself not do anything. I am very much an advocate for eating well, being active, etc. but goddamnit, sometimes you just need a judgement free day to be a friggin potato. Society puts enough pressure on us, especially women/female-aligned folk, to be healthy eating/excercising freaks. Sometimes you just need to give the finger to the weight of that expectation and just let yourself say “screw it.”
Those “shirking your responsibility” days should include a nice sit-and-think and culminate with a plan of action. The most stressful aspect of my life is trying to manage all my responsibilities on the fly. In the rush and madness of the day-to-day, trying to manage and prioritize my thoughts and responsibilities, let alone tackle them all, is overwhelming. Take your sick day, sleep in, order your Chinese, and sit down with your preferred background noise (an old favorite on TV, a Spotify playlist) and make a To-Do list, update your planner, and prioritize things. What do you need to do? What needs to be done first? You don’t need to actually do it yet; but your day of doing nothing will feel better if you have a sense of what to do afterward.
Self-care activities that I’ve found to be effective:
Doing a puzzle that engages your mind. One of my issues with ADHD is that I often feel mentally restless, and I’ve noticed one way to quiet that is to actually engage my brain and put it to work. Now, there are activities that would fall into the “puzzle” category that help me relax, and there are activities that get my blood boiling. Certain puzzle games and apps, for example, that use a tight timer make me very tense — race against the clock games can be fun, but they do not relax me. Instead, I opt for Bejeweled or Candy Crush-style games, Sudoku, crossword puzzles, cryptograms, word searches, etc. If you want to make this a lifestyle change, instead of spending an hour on your phone before bed, spend it working on a puzzle.
Journalling. I keep a pen and paper gratitude journal that is essentially just a list of whatever ephemera that made me smile that day (which could be something that happened to me (“Won $10 on a scratch ticket!”), something I did (“finished a painting!”), something I’m looking forward to (“Avengers this weekend!”), or just something that I appreciate (“Lilac blossoms! Perfume samples! Target Dollar Spot!”) I don’t have the patience to do long-hand journaling in the traditional sense, pouring out all my thoughts and concerns on to paper, so the gratitude journal is a nice way to keep a record of and to focus my mind on positive things in my life. For those of you who have trouble keeping a handwritten list (or who like long hand, but perhaps hate the physical act of writing), there are several online journaling sites with excellent privacy controls — Penzu is the first that springs to mind, but I know there are others. To develop this into a habit, keep your journal by your bed (or download an app on your phone) so it’s easily accessible to you just before bed and as soon as you wake up.
Putting away your devices (or at least uninstalling social media). Not permanently (unless that’s what you want). But social media (especially in the last couple of years, because of the political climate) often just riles me up and upsets me. Add to that the general FOMO I get from seeing what everyone else is doing with their lives (or at least the ultra-curated versions of their lives) and social media is often more of an emotional drain than it is a relaxing past-time. Take an hour, a day, a weekend, or a week to unplug from your phone. If you want to make this more of a habit, the first step is to unfriend (or if this could cause family/social tension, at least unfollow or hide) people that you find toxic or draining. Then, limit your social media use to a set amount of time a day, and know the social media habits to avoid — i.e., never red the comments on, well, most things, really.
Taking a walk. Doesn’t matter where or for how long; I used to do it at night in my old neighborhood, and all I did was circle mine and the adjoining block. I repeated the same circuit over and over for sometimes up to an hour, and let me tell you, getting in motion — with my headphones plugged in, a good playlist on, was incredible for tension relief and de-stressing. While I loved walking at night, keep in mind that sunlight can do wonderful things for your mood as well (which is why people with Seasonal Affective Disorder fare better in the summer, with it’s longer days). If you want to make this a habit, I would personally recommend not doing it too close to bed, because while it felt amazing, it was also energizing, and like any physical activity, could keep you up if you wait until too close to your normal bedtime.
Doing micro-organizational projects everyday. I do mean micro. I mean, your jewelry box. One drawer of your dresser, or desk. One shelf of your pantry. But do it thoroughly. Clear everything off that shelf. Weed through all the expiration dates and toss things. Consolidate things into smaller containers. Donate insane surplusses of canned goods (why do you need eighteen cans of sliced beets?) Wipe down the shelf. Mark off boundaries/section off space with washi tape. Like, really get into it. But let that be it. Let that one microcosm be your concern for the day. It’s a great way to feel productive and occupy your mind, but it’s also very limited, and allows you to really feel like you have a handle on something while also — gasp — slowly allowing you to actually get a handle on something.
Meal-planning. Eating well is hugely important to over-all mental and physical health, but grocery shopping and cooking without a roadmap are both hugely stressful for me, and often lead to impulsive moves, like opting for take-out way too often, or running blind into the grocery store and picking up the easiest pre-packaged meal. Meal planning can be a whole ritual; I sit and browse my Food boards on Pinterest, pick out a few recipes (we meal plan and shop twice a week, on Saturdays and Wednesdays), and make plans according to how we anticipate the week playing out (i.e., Wednesdays at work are stressful for me, but my husband is home, so we’ll plan on having an entree he can start in the slow cooker, and some easy, fresh sides I can prep when I get home (like steamed veggies, salad, or rice), while Saturdays are more laid back, so I’ll plan something more elaborate or experimental. It allows us to have varied, interesting, and well-rounded meals without adding a lot of extra stress to the process.
Hopefully you find something in this list that actually helps you feel like you’re taking better care of yourself. And hey, if you really want that face mask or that manicure, do it. They aren’t a solution to stress, but hey, sometimes they are a nice treat.