The last time I was sick with a cold, I was adamant about working through it. But when I called into my morning meeting with my boss, she said, “Take care of yourself, and do what you need to do – even if that means taking the day off.”
So, I took off my makeup, changed into my pajamas, and hopped back into bed. I spent the entire day sleeping, drinking Gatorade, eating chicken noodle soup, and most importantly, resting. I did what I needed to do, which meant taking care of myself.
When it comes to mental illness, more often than not, I neglect my own self-care. I think a lot of people who struggle with mental illness are like this. I know that just like a cold or the flu, my depression, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD) are not my fault. Yet, the idea of taking care of myself when life feels too overwhelming just feels – selfish.
But it’s not.
Taking care of yourself physically, emotionally, and mentally when you’re struggling with a mental illness is important. And it’s a fundamental part of the recovery process. But what does self-care really mean, and how can we incorporate it into our treatment?
What is Self-Care?
Self-care, in its most basic form, is anything we do deliberately to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health. But self-care for mental health can be a little trickier to understand.
It’s easy to see self-care as the warm, fuzzy, and happy things we do to care for ourselves like taking a bubble bath, getting a manicure, and binge-watching Netflix. And while those things are certainly important, sometimes, self-care is raw, real, and painful.
It’s the little things you do just to get through the day, like getting out of bed, taking a shower, putting on clothes, or taking your medication. It’s picking up the phone and calling a therapist when you realize you can no longer carry the weight of your struggles alone. It’s showing up to your psychiatrist appointment when you’d rather cancel. It’s being brave enough to go to the grocery store or coffee shop despite how sad you’re feeling.
It’s acknowledging that the things your illness is making you feel – to lay in bed all day, to hide from the world, to avoid making plans – are not the things you need to get better. It’s the process of realizing that you’re capable of doing so much more than you think you can.
These things – although they may seem small – are self-care. And they’re absolutely critical to recovery.
Self-care means different things to different people. And that’s a good thing. If you’re looking for ways to incorporate self-care into your treatment plan and day-to-day life, here are some ideas:
Ask for help when you need it
Call a trusted friend or family member and talk
Take a mental health day
Say no to extra obligations
Book a session with your therapist
Go to your psychiatrist appointment
Go to bed early
Take a shower
Brush your teeth
Do your hair and makeup in the morning
Take a walk
Workout – running, yoga, swimming, weightlifting, etc.
Hang out at a local coffee shop
Drink a hot cup of coffee or tea
Drink lots of water
Eat a healthy meal
Go outside, and enjoy the sunshine
Read a book
Take a bubble bath
Take your medications
Go to a 12-step meeting
Read inspirational quotes
Start a journal
Write a gratitude list
Do something with your hands – knit, bake, sculpt, garden, etc.
Write poems, short stories, or blogs
Make a list of all your good qualities
Write down reasons why you’ll be okay
Snuggle up with a blanket
Take a social media break
Go out in public – even if you don’t talk to anyone
Volunteer with a local organization
Listen to music
Drive around town
Color in an adult coloring book
Allow yourself to feel and express your feelings
Watch your favorite movie
Watch the sunrise or sunset
Burn a candle
Join a support group
Practice relaxation techniques
Take your dog on a walk
Go to the library
Remember: What you’re going through right now is temporary. Although it doesn’t feel like it, you won’t feel like this forever. It does get better.
This list is by no means exhaustive, and not every item on this list will work for you. Find the things that make you feel good, and add them into your self-care plan.
Take Care of Yourself: Self-Care isn’t Selfish
When you’re struggling with a mental illness, there will be times when everything feels like it’s too much to handle. There will be days, weeks, months, and maybe even years, where you struggle just to get out of bed and make it through the day. Days when putting one foot in front of the other feels really, really hard.
Being a human can be messy and painful. It’s okay to go through a tough time.
As hard as it may be, it’s crucial that you take care of yourself during these times. Choose an activity from the list above or find something else what works for you, and incorporate it into your daily routine.
While it may be difficult to put yourself first, you are worthy of self-care and self-love. You are strong, brave, and a fighter – and you deserve so much more out of life than what your mental illness tells you that you can have.