[Note: I wrote this post mostly to articulate and archive these ideas for myself. Meaning, I didn’t edit the lists I wrote last night in hopes of keeping this more readable. I also put in a lot of fun mental health comics for illustration (that you should totally read more of) just because I thought they were cute. However, I hope the abundance of self care activities and visuals can help give you some ideas 🙂 ]
Since we were chatting about mental health, I figured it would be worth talking about the most vital part of maintaining good mental health: self care. Now, if you took a cursory scroll through Tumblr you might find that self care involves sleeping in and bubble baths and eating an entire tub of ice cream. I mean, that can be what it means. If you’re someone who works yourself half to death and denies yourself rest and small pleasures, self care could very well mean ice cream. I think, though, that it’s important to define what we’re really talking about here.
Self care, as I understand it, is doing the things you need to do to be a functional, healthy, and satisfied human being. Basically, being an adult. You need to imagine yourself as a baby/body you’ve been given that you need to raise and care for in order for it to be successful. Imagine yourself as your own personal secretary, or therapist, or parent. What do you need to be doing in order to succeed and survive?
The other night I had a minor break down. I was nervous about the new volunteering position I’m starting soon and cried pretty uncontrollably for about 10 minutes. Not the most logical thing, given that I worked for the same people last year and they clearly really liked me. Truly, the problem was that I had let my self care slide a bit. I had missed a dose of meds last week, wasn’t exercising, forgot to eat real meals or drink water.
There are different levels of self care and for some people showering regularly, getting work in on time, or eating healthfully might come naturally. For many of us, though, it does not. Last night I did an exercise for myself (that I do periodically) writing all of the things I consider self care actions. I tend to see self care activities as falling into four main categories. Here, I’m going to define each category and give examples of that category on my list.
Necessary maintenance items are the things you MUST do (usually every day) to function. Depending on how well life is going for you this can vary, but for me it’s just my (semi-aspirational) most basic survival skills. Here are a few of mine:
- Eating when I’m hungry in order to keep my energy up
- Brushing my teeth
- Showering (at least every other day)
- Taking my meds
- Doing some kind of Yoga or meditation
- Being on top of my chores and school work
- Drinking water
- Keeping a To-Do list
- Going to therapy
- Getting enough sleep
- Doing my laundry (about every two weeks, though I can usually stretch it to a month)
- Spending time with people I love
- Being intellectually stimulated
- Journaling/ writing
- Seeking out physical touch
- Doing Shabbos
- Conquering my fears that keep me from doing all of the above or anything that keeps me from functioning
These are things that, if I skip them for too many consecutive days I either fall into a downward emotional spiral or risk my health. While some of these come naturally or are self rewarding, others are more difficult. Keeping up physical hygiene can be pretty hard for me when I feel stressed out or physically overstimulated. I’m a picky eater (again, problems with stimulus) and I also have allergies and sometimes I’m in situations where I genuinely have nothing to eat if I don’t plan ahead.
While all of these things are necessary for my emotional, physical, mental and spiritual health, practicing them can still be a challenge. A good example of my last bullet point is when I went driving today. I got into a (all in all minor) car crash last April, shortly after I had finally gotten my license. I basically stopped driving after that, but decided that when I came home this summer I would learn to drive again.
This is because driving is a very practical thing that I genuinely need to do in order to function as an adult, at least when I’m at home or in places without good public transportation. Taking on driving again is as necessary for my future well-being as any pill I take with breakfast.
The important ones are things I try to do quite frequently, as they keep me motivated and inspired. However, I do not need to necessarily do these things every day or week in order to be happy. These are more like things that I do that make life infinitely better, but when I’m busy or in survival mode can do without.
- Eating 3 meals a day with at least 1 fruit or vegetable with each (I know this should be in the necessary pile but this is where I am in my food struggles right now)0
- Consuming good art
- Consuming good baked goods
- Cleaning my room at least 1x a week
- Being silly/laughing/watching comedy
- Carrying a journal/ pen and paper with me everywhere
- Going to the library every few weeks
- Accomplishing small chores and tasks (giving myself small successes)
- Surrounding myself with mental health/life inspiration
- Helping people in some way
- Being social and meeting new people
- Taking time to be silent
- Going outside
- Connecting to God/Judaism/Jews
- Having a calming music playlist downloaded on my phone
Nice self care activities are ones that aren’t required, or even crucial, but they’re things that I am always trying to do more of. I don’t need them to be functional, but I want them to be happy.
- Having role models (putting their pictures up in my room, talking to them, reflecting on why I look up to them)
- Going for walks
- Learning new things in my free time (listening to podcasts, reading books on a specific topic, reading articles, etc)
- Being ahead in my school work (while it’s not necessary for me to be ahead of things, I don’t work amazingly under pressure so doing things way before they’re due really improves my quality of life)
- Seeing plays, movies, concerts (immersive creative experiences)
- Bein’ cozy 🙂
- Eating out somewhere nice (either by myself or with friends, depending on my mood)
- Travelling/ seeing the world (but being mindful of exhaustion)
- Learning new hobbies or skills
A big part of self care is realizing that you deserve to enjoy life. That you’re worth your own aspirations and own your own successes. The first two categories are mostly about living, this one is about having a life.
There probably doesn’t need to be an electives section here, but I think it’s important to keep track of small things that make you happy and seek them out when you can. These things aren’t necessary to function or even have fun, they’re just things that I know make me feel good.
- Going shopping for weird art/clothes/jewelry (I’m a bit of a craft fair fiend)
- Gettin’ pretty and putting on colorful makeup
- Crafting (I’m kind of a serial crafter always trying out different things)
- Smelling nice/ being around things that smell nice
- Baking/ Cooking (this one’s a bit aspirational but I do feel good when I make something)
- Making collages (still a craft but also kind of an idea board thing)
- Being playful/ playing with dolls and miniature things
- Reading new comics
- Hearing interesting things/ learning from new people
- Spending time with babies or dogs
- Going to cool indie bookstores
- Keeping a list of compliments I receive
- Teaching something I know a lot about
- Surrounding myself with colorful things and glitter
Finally, I leave you with a true expression of my necessary self care activities: