We’ve all seen articles telling us how to ‘indulge’ in self-care in a curated, Instagrammable, Pinterest-worthy way. You know, bubble baths and pedicures, mojitos with your friends and charcuterie boards. And that’s… nice for those who can manage it. But if you read those articles, and the very thought of all that is exhausting and makes you want to cry, read on… we’ve got you covered.
What is Self-Care?
Here’s the thing: Self-care means anything that you do for your own good. And, just like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we can classify self-care in a pyramid.The bottom of the pyramid? Things like: taking your meds, brushing your teeth, getting out of bed (with or without getting dressed), making yourself eat. And if those are too much, try and think of the smallest thing that you could manage to do in your day, and prioritize. It’s probably more important that you eat something and take your meds than get dressed or brush your teeth. Of course, those things are important, too, but when you’re in crisis, you need to choose the absolute essentials.
Once you have the basics covered, the next most important thing is to add in some joyful things which will fill your cup. Are you rewatching all of Star Trek in order? (That’s mine!) Do you like to knit, crochet, paint or draw? Do you have ‘$20 in your pocket’ and enough energy to make it to the thrift store? Can you make it out for a Starbucks with a friend?
Self-Care is Necessary
If you find yourself struggling with self-care, try gently asking yourself why. Are you exhausted and in chronic pain and it’s just physically difficult to do tasks? Are you in the bottom of a depression and shame spiral and you don’t feel like you’re worthy of love and care? Do you feel like any time, effort or money spent on yourself is ‘bad’? Maybe some of these things are issues to take up with your doctor and/or counsellor. If you are struggling with everything, including eating and taking meds consistently, it may be time to make a decision to ask for help.
Make Self-Care a Judgement Free Zone
Things that tend not to be helpful: Beating yourself up about what you ‘should’ be able to do, or listening to helpful relatives suggest that ‘if you just got to bed at a decent time’ you’d be able to do everything with ease. In order to work on making changes in our lives, we first need to accept where we are – without judgement, shame, blame or self-hatred.
It can help to find someone whom you admire who has also struggled with similar issues. For example, one of my favourite authors, John Green, struggles with intrusive thought spirals due to OCD, like I do – and it makes me feel just a little bit better.
If you struggle with certain self-care tasks, look for alternatives. Please know that many, many people have specific struggles with tasks like showering, brushing their teeth, visiting the dentist or doctor, taking their medications, etc. Instead of looking at those Instagram-perfect lives, use social media to your advantage, and find YouTubers and TikTokkers who understand what you’re going through and can give you some ideas:
Alternatives to tooth brushing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AJ0YaA9nKGc
Self-Care with ADHD: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w_kOPlMttl4
Neurodivergent self-care: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pPrF73fN_oU&ab_channel=fosteronthespectrum
If you struggle to take your meds, think about whether it’s a problem remembering (and put them somewhere you will be sure to see them every day), or a mental struggle (you may have to bribe yourself with a treat, or get a loved one to check in with you to help you to be consistent).
Dentists and doctors: if you have fears or specific issues, it can seem overwhelming to tackle medical appointments. Here’s the time to take your loved ones up on their offer to advocate for you, and let them take care of scheduling, transport, being with you and checking in on you during the appointment if they recognize that you are overwhelmed.
It can be hard to work on decorating your space when you don’t have a lot of energy or motivation, but if you spend a lot of time in your room, it’s important. There are resources which can help you. Try this YouTube video for some good ideas: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ABof7aqVSoQ
The Best and Bravest Decision
Deciding to work on self-care is a very brave decision. And one of the best ways to do that is to ask for help. This is often really hard! But you probably know some people who would be happy to help if they just knew what you needed. This might involve swallowing your pride a little bit. It takes courage to let even a trusted person into your space when it’s messy or dirty. I 100% promise you that they are not judging you like you are judging yourself. I also promise you that if they were living your life right now, they’d be struggling, too. This isn’t about your sickness, disability or lack of motivation. It’s about figuring out what you need to in order to create a life worth living.
So, self-care can be hard. And yes, that sucks. But it’s the foundation which will allow you to build towards all the good things that are waiting for you. Remember that every tiny act of self-care you can manage will build up into a forward momentum towards feeling better.