Often I work with clients who have been struggling with depression and/or anxiety for a long time. Maybe you have felt like this too, been in survival mode, feeling like you’re all over the place, just about coping, managing to get through the days, but not much more, and are looking for some self-care ideas.
Or perhaps you have suffered through a difficult time or trauma. Maybe you have lost someone close to you, been through a relationship breakup or divorce, been in an accident or been attacked or abused.
It is at times like these that you can find it hardest to look after yourself. But the irony is that these are the times when you need to do it most.
Self-care can be a bit of a chicken-or-egg situation. You might feel like you need to feel better before you have the energy to make changes to how you are treating yourself. But actually looking after yourself is one of the most powerful things you can do to aid your recovery.
If you’re struggling to think straight, this list of self-care ideas is for you. I hope it gives you an idea or two for a little nudge in the right direction that you feel you can manage, and which helps.
Get enough sleep, or at least rest
It can be really difficult to relax enough to get to sleep, so if you are struggling with insomnia it might help to focus on at least getting enough rest. Exercise, daylight, fresh air, and warm baths will all help, as well as listening to music, podcasts or audio books.
If you have been keeping your phone or other devices by your bedside, move them into another room so you won’t be looking at a screen late at night or even during the night. If your phone has a Night Shift setting, which moves the colours of the display to the warmer end of the spectrum to encourage relaxation, set it to come on automatically around an hour before you’d like to get to sleep, and when the display changes, take it as a gentle reminder to put your phone down, get ready for bed and read if you can, or give yourself some time to think if you can’t concentrate right now.
Don’t focus on taking things away, but on adding things in. See if you can remember to eat an apple every day for a week. Add an extra vegetable to your dinner. Put a handful of nuts in a little box in your bag. Have a glass of water.
You might need to start tiny. Get off the bus a stop early. Walk the long way around. Find a five-minute yoga video on YouTube. Every bit makes a difference and you can build up from there. And when you can do more, do. Exercise is the absolute best for your mental and physical health. Running especially is its own type of therapy.
Get out of the house every single day. Preferably somewhere with trees or waves (the healing power of nature is immense), but the corner shop is better than nothing.
Do something that matters to you
It doesn’t need to be something big like litter picking or volunteering, although those things are great if they work for you. Can you do someone a little favour? Send someone a note? Share something about a local organisation you respect? Little things become big things when they give us a sense of purpose.
Some of the ways you usually socialise might feel overwhelming right now. Don’t let that get in the way of you reaching out and making the connections that make life feel worthwhile. Send a friend a text. Ask your neighbour how they are. Make small talk with the person in the shop. Little things grow.
Get some alone time
On the other hand, you might be in one of those phases of life right now when you are always in company. Everyone needs time on their own to think and restore. Say so, and take yours.
One of depression’s nastiest features is how it sucks the joy out of things you usually love. The best way to resist this is to just keep doing them. Keep listening to your favourite music. Keep watching funny TV shows. Keep pretending the cat is an enemy spy. Whatever works. Weird is good.
Be conscious of self-medicating
It is completely understandable that you might feel like reaching for the short-term comfort of alcohol or other drugs. Bear in mind that although this might dampen the overwhelming feelings you’re experiencing now, it might also lead to increased feelings of guilt, shame, embarrassment or anxiety later. Can you reach out to someone supportive instead?
It doesn’t have to be any more fancy or complicated than a note on your phone (although lovely notebooks are always a good idea). Don’t know what to write? Start with that. “I don’t know what to write. I don’t know if or how this will help…” So begun some of the most helpful journal entries in the world.
If you are recovering from some trauma (and bear in mind that trauma expert Peter Levine defines trauma as “anything that overwhelms our ability to cope”) you might start by writing “It is a real shame/a terrible thing/utterly shitty that this thing happened to me…”
By treating yourself with compassion, you can get to a place of moving through your feelings. You might have been wasting a lot of energy suppressing feelings and symptoms, feeling bad about yourself or ashamed, or beating yourself up over things that have happened to you. You could try writing about this too.
Ask for what you need
People like helping people. I gives them a sense of purpose, and so the world goes around. “Can I have a hug?” “Please will you help me make sense of this thing?” “Do you mind if I go and take a nap?”
Sometimes we don’t know what we need, and that’s ok too. You could try writing about that.
Set limits on things that drain you
We all have limited amounts of time, energy and money. Consider carefully how you’ll spend yours or you’ll end up burnt out and resentful.
Do you find it difficult to say no? Could it be that when you were a small child you got the message that if you didn’t do as you were asked you would be rejected, and that you are still carrying around this idea now?
It might seem counter-intuitive but remember that the more you take on, the less use you will actually be to anyone. When we are stressed or overwhelmed we can go into survival mode and lose our ability to think creatively. If you feel this happening, the chances are you need a break.
I hope you found these self-care ideas helpful. If you would like some support to help you make the changes you need to feel better, please get in touch.