You've made the decision to improve your self care. Great! But...
One look at blogs and trending advice, and self care starts to look pretty scary...
It is a massive jump to go from zero self care to (for example) candlelight baths and morning yoga.
Even the so-called “simple” tips to self care can be horrendously intimidating to people with depression and anxiety, or a history of zero self care. The suggestions of using positive words in the mirror or having the time or inclination to meditate can be wildly inappropriate.
Never fear! There are “baby” steps to the “simple” steps, as I have discovered over the last 6-8 months of recovery from an acute episode depression and anxiety.
(I have to add that I have worked with a therapist and Dr as well as using prescription medication during this time, which is invaluable. If you are in a dark place, please seek professional help. That having a support network helped me to develop the list below, which is why I'd like to share what I've learned.)
The key thing is to do things in a way that pushes your comfort zone a tiny bit, but doesn't trigger anything unwanted such as anxiety or withdrawal. It may take some practice to understand that balance, but it is possible and worthwhile!
Bring self care into your daily view - follow blogs, instagram feeds, twitter hastags; anything that will put the topic of self care in front of your eyes on a regular basis. It's ok if you don't feel you can read them at the moment, just making the idea of self care a part of your day to day experience of life is enough.
Pause and take notice - when you experience a period of stillness, pause your conscious thoughts and recognise it. If you do not feel you have any stillness, find a time of less activity that you can safely pause within, such as before the kids wake up or when you are in the bus to work. As you get used to engaging with your conscious mind, it will become easier.
Stop and breathe - when you enter into negative self talk (or negative talk about others), make a conscious choice to stop speaking. It may well be impossible for you to say positive things at this stage, but stopping the negative flow is a valuable skill.
Look outwards and enjoy - as you go about life, take a moment to step out of your thoughts and deliberately focus on something that captivates your senses, whether with scent, sight, sound etc. As you consciously turn your attention outward, recognise that decision. Even if it is only for a few seconds, recognise and acknowledge it.
Record and remember - make a record of the moments when you are in a better emotional place; write a note, take a photo on your phone, draw in water on a tabletop. It doesn't matter if you never look at the record again, it is the act of marking the moment that is important.
Say the unnecessary “thank you” - we say thank you constantly; for buses, retail, holding open doors… watch out for moments when a thank you is not automatic or needed, then say it. Thank a friend for commenting on your status (rather than just hitting “like”). Thank a caller for their time. Wave a thank you as you cross the road at the lights.
Indulge your senses - small acts that give you joy through the senses can be found everywhere. Indulge in them when you can; pet the cat or dog in the street, touch the leaves on the tree, breathe deeply when you smell honeysuckle. Allow yourself small moments of joy.
Don't be afraid of change. When you chose to make small changes, when you start you may feel very silly, and you will wonder what it is supposed to achieve. You may feel like it's achieving nothing at all! This is your mind naturally trying to prevent change - change is hard, takes energy and opens us to risk. Our minds instinctively avoid it and try to stick to old habits.
Once you are doing these things regularly and they begin to feel more “natural”, that's a sign that your comfort zone has expanded to include them. Brilliant! You have started to form new habits!
When you are ready, it's time to push those boundaries a little more.
Next month: Baby Steps to Self Love...