Self-care is a tricky thing for me. When I’m feeling good, taking care of myself is one of my favourite things to do! When I’m not feeling so good, even the simplest self-care can seem like work. I’m talking “I don’t even know how to do anything for myself right now because I’m so exhausted” W-O-R-K. There are days when my brain is off doing its own thing and I can’t even conjure up an idea of something that might make me feel better rather than exhausted.
I don’t think that self-care is a “quick fix” or a “cure” for mental illness. I have been learning, though, that self-care is one tool that I can use to take care of my mental health. Everyone has their own things that work for them, because everyone’s experience with mental illness and taking care of their own mental health is different. Here are some of my favourite ways to practice self-care, as well as some ways I ‘adapt’ each one to make it a little easier to still do when I’m not at my best. It’s okay not to be okay. I just make a few changes that make my self-care and life a bit easier when I’m not feeling 100%.
– Skincare –
I love taking care of my skin. If you follow me on Instagram or read through some of my past blog posts, you’ll see that I have too many skincare products for one person with one face. I continue to buy more (or desperately search for samples. I’m on a budget!)
On A “Good Day”:
Usually reserved for Saturday, I go all out with my skin-pampering. As much as I love my regular Neutrogena face wash, on Saturday I’ll break out my fancy mini Fresh Soy Cleanser to wash my face and use my O.R.G. Mineral Face Peel. After that, I’ll relax for 15-20 minutes with either my mini Fresh Rose Face Mask, or one of the sheet masks or peel-off masks from my stash (most of them are from WalMart or Shopper’s Drug Mart.)
If my eyes are looking especially rough, I break out the Skyn Iceland Eye Gels, which are miracle workers as far as I’m concerned. They don’t really fit my budget so I reserve them for really rough eye days. I’ll follow up with either my regular moisturizer with SPF if I’m leaving the house, or use a Sephora sleeping mask if it’s later in the day and I’m not planning to head out anywhere.
On A “Bad Day”:
I have yet to find a way to rinse cleanser and masks off my face without getting water all over myself and the bathroom. On a “bad day” I don’t really want to deal with slip’n’sliding around and splashing water all over my hair, clothes and bathroom while trying to rinse my face.
This is where some of my favourite things come in handy: my Batman washcloths and my micellar water. I wet a wash cloth, ring it out so it’s not dripping, and gently wipe my face before using a micellar-water-soaked cotton pad to go over it again. Then I use a sheet mask and relax for the 15-20 minutes I have it on (peel-off masks and wash-off masks are a no-go when I have no energy.) After the sheet mask comes off, my regular moisturizer with SPF or a Sephora sleeping mask goes on. It’s about 80% less work, and leaves me and my bathroom 95% more dry than my regular Saturday routine.
– Food & Drink –
I love drinking warm drinks. On the hottest summer day I don’t think I could turn down a hot chocolate. I also love to eat, but I’m learning that I love it even more when I’m not just inhaling a bag of chips or a 4-pack of chocolate bars. I still do find myself on the occasional emotional-eating binge (I’m a work in progress) but overall, I’m learning to actually enjoy food and feel less guilty about eating.
On A “Good Day”:
When I’m really feeling inspired and ready to set off the smoke detector (I’m a terrible cook) I will make time to cook myself some really good food. As a picky eater, making my own food really lets me make something I know I’ll enjoy.
I’m so glad I discovered Baking Mischief for recipes that I can make for just myself (I have an entire post about the Mac & Cheese here, and can tell you this Fettuccine Alfredo is amazing too.) I’m also starting to experiment with putting together salads that are more than just lettuce (which is great because it’s hard to burn the house down making salad.)
I don’t drink coffee (what?! yep) so for a good warm-drink-fix I’ll make myself either a tea or hot chocolate in the biggest mug I can find. If it’s a really good day, I will put marshmallows in my hot chocolate. If it’s a normal day, I have no marshmallows because I eat them out of the bag by the handful and there are none left to put in my hot chocolate.
On A “Bad Day”:
Once I drag myself out of bed you will find me in the kitchen, but you will not find me cooking. Instead, you will find me opening every cupboard and the refrigerator doors over and over as though something new is going to appear if I look one more time. I know we all know that this is not how cupboards and refrigerators work. What I have learned to do now is prepare for the bad days (or weeks, or whatever.)
About once or twice a month, I will go out and buy food that I like to eat but requires a bit of preparation. Just basics, like fruits and vegetables that I know I enjoy. When I get home, I wash them and cut them up, then store them in the fridge, ready to eat. This gives me food to snack on when I’m not able to cook for myself and would normally just eat junk food all day. I hate leftovers, so making entire meals ahead of time and reheating them is a no-go for me, but being able to grab a container of washed grapes or sliced cucumber is really helpful for me.
On many bad days I still end up at the McDonald’s drive-thru at some point at night. Preparing healthy food to eat during the day has significantly reduced how often that happens and how bad I feel about it afterwards.
– Exercise –
At one point, I was convinced that everyone who said “I LOVE working out, I feel so good afterwards!!” was a liar. I’m starting to believe that only half of those people are lying. I never thought I’d find any kind of workout I truly liked, but if you’ve scrolled through my blog you’ll see I have a bit of an obsession with SoulCycle. I’ve also recently tried out barre3 and really like how I can adapt the moves (so that I don’t struggle quite as much) and still feel exhausted enough that I want to roll instead of walk down the stairs as I leave.
As a girl on a budget these classes aren’t always feasible, and they also don’t always work with my schedule. I also have a gym membership at a gym 10 minutes away from my house that costs as close to pennies as a gym can, and where the people basically leave me alone (but are friendly. They leave me alone in a friendly way that I very much appreciate!)
On A “Good Day”:
I spend anywhere from 40 mins-1 hour at the gym on a usual day, and 9 times out of 10 when I leave I feel pretty good. For the 2.5 years I’ve been going to my gym, the stationary bike has been my favourite way to get in some cardio.
On a really good day, instead of going to the gym, I have somehow made room in my budget and my schedule to head to SoulCycle or barre3. I work a lot harder when someone is giving direction and encouragement, and I feel really good about myself when I finish a hard workout. It’s a longer trip (I have to head into downtown Toronto, which is about 40 mins – 1 hour commuting each way) but on my drive or bus ride home afterwards, I feel refreshed and accomplished.
On A “Bad Day”:
The biggest part of my exercise self-care is doing it when I can, because it helps me feel less guilty about not doing it when I can’t. On bad days I just try to move as much as possible, even if it’s wandering around the mall. I don’t focus as much on “working out” as I do on “not just lying in bed all day.” If I can manage to wander around a store for 30 mins-1 hour, I consider that a win.
I can’t lie – if I’ve had a bad week and didn’t make it to the gym at all, getting back into my normal gym routine is hard. Not only do I feel embarrassed about not being there for a week, I feel like I’ve lost some of my momentum. I still find that it is easier to get back into my routine after a week-long hiatus than it is to start all over again a month or two or more later. It helps that when I am feeling good I don’t really mind going to the gym. Sometimes to get back into the swing of things I’ll head to SoulCycle or barre3 for a class before heading back to my gym.