I’m a millennial-gen z hybrid through and through. There’s no end to ways in which I can use an avocado, my coffee order has more syllables than a Haiku and I’d rather give up showering than give up my Insta grid. True to form, I’m also an adept exerciser of ‘self-care’, a concept which has been banded about in social commentary for a couple of years now.
So what is self-care? Self-care is the action of taking an active approach towards preserving one’s health of both the physical and mental kind. As someone who has grappled with debilitating anxiety (side note: I don’t use the word anxiety lightly – I feel it is used far too often in today’s lexicon to describe other emotions which are not equivalent), I have had to take conscious steps to ensure my mental wellbeing is nurtured and protected.
Of course, these steps are not bullet-proof as life inevitably throws all manner of spanners in the works and sometimes, no matter how diligently you work to bolster your health, you can be plunged into an unforeseen whirlpool of disaster upon disaster.
That said, the healthier your mind, the stronger you are to take on life’s challenges. And so, without further ado, here are my key steps for an effective and nourishing self-care routine:
Get up on your first alarm
I am one of the worst offenders for pressing the snooze button five or six times until I really have to get out of bed. But in doing so, I am starting the day chaotically which doesn’t make for a positive morning. If, like me, it really does hurt your soul to get up straight away with the first alarm, then give yourself one (and only one) warning alarm five minutes before you have to get up, then a second at the time you need to get your lazy behind out of bed.
If you don’t trust yourself not to subconsciously hit snooze and end up getting up late, then put your alarm clock / phone somewhere that you’d need to get out of bed in order to reach. The action of physically getting out of bed is the most difficult, so if you’re forced to do that then the rest of your waking up process will be easy in comparison.
The first couple of mornings may not be the most pleasant, but I promise that your body-clock will quickly adapt!
Read first thing in the morning and last thing at night
Reading something first thing in the morning is such a peaceful and cathartic way to start the day. Even if it’s just a page, it’ll open your mind, warming it up for further information coming its way. It doesn’t need to be War & Peace – it can be a magazine article, a short chapter of a book, an inspirational quote or even a short story. In the mornings I’m currently reading Dear Female Founder, a book edited by Lu Li which contains sixty six letters from businesswomen and female entrepreneurs with tips and advice on navigating the world of self-employment. The letters are short enough for me to digest one per morning in the five minutes between my shower and my horse kicking off because he wants his breakfast.
Reading before going to sleep will, without fail, give you a richer slumber than if you fall asleep watching Love Island. It can be terribly tempting at the end of a long day to numb the mind, put the TV on sleep timer and doze off to your favourite show, but you are giving your brain no wind-down time. Turn off the TV, pick up a book / magazine / newspaper and have a read until your eyelids cannot help but capitulate to the sleep washing over you. If you’re anything like me, you’ll need about four nights to get to the bottom of a single page as I tend to nod off within approximately ten seconds of beginning to read.
NB: Your reading material cannot be on a screen. That means no phone, no tablet, no laptop – a Kindle is allowed at a push as it does not project blue light – but absolutely no screens!
Set a to-do list
Battling through a whirlwind of tasks can be overwhelming – I have a tendency to realise just how much I need to do, panic at the mountain of tasks facing me and become so overwhelmed that I lie down and watch Friends instead.
Setting a to-do list can really help focus your mind on what needs to be done. Draw up your initial list, then take each task and write them out again in order of priority so you can see what absolutely has to be done right away, what needs to be done by the end of the day, and what can wait a little while. If one job seems dauntingly big, break it down into manageable chunks.
At the moment, my stress levels are low enough for me to set a weekly to-do list as opposed to one for every day, but you can choose which works best for you.
I get so smug and pleased with myself when I tick off the final task on the to-do list…I know, what a geek.
As a society we have an unhealthy attitude towards treating ourselves, as if it is some naughty, clandestine act of gluttony. But treating ourselves makes us happy, so we need to ensure we do it now and again.
I’m not telling you to go out and spend this month’s food budget on an eye-wateringly expensive dress, but work out what you can afford to spend on something nice for yourself and make sure that money goes towards you.
For me, my treat to myself if getting my nails done. It is an excessive indulgence that I don’t exactly need – I’m not Meghan Markle (sadly), I don’t have paps documenting every element of my look and 99% of the people I meet every day probably don’t even notice my perfectly manicured acrylics, but I like having nice nails, I like going to the salon and I like looking at how pretty my chubby little fingers are when I type. It’s superficial, but it makes me happy.
Your treat can be anything from an overpriced but delectable M&S meal for one, an energizing hot yoga class, a Thursday evening blow-dry or even a warming £3.50 coffee-to-go from your favourite chain. Bin the guilt and go treat yourself!
A healthy mind and a healthy body go hand in hand. You don’t need to have Ariana’s abs to be physically healthy, you just need to look after your body and be mindful of how much exercise you do. Exercise isn’t all about weight-loss, it’s about feeling able, smashing targets and believing in your own strength.
Due to the nature of my job, I am at my laptop and therefore sedentary for three if not four days of the week. I’m somewhat lucky in that living on a farm means that I have to go outside and feed animals daily which gets my body moving a little bit, but it’s still necessary for me to hit the gym four times a week if I don’t want my muscles to waste away.
Exercise doesn’t even have to be gym based. It can be a walk in the woods, a cycle to work, hula-hooping whilst watching Eastenders, nicking your nephew’s trampoline for a good bounce about…as long as it gets your heart pumping, there’s no limit to what you should do.
Even the most gruelling of workouts give you an endorphin high which boosts your mood. The jubilation you feel upon finishing makes the burn worth it – I promise!
There’s only one time in my life that I’ve exercised and actually regretted it afterwards: I had signed myself up for a 26 mile sponsored walk which entailed an incline half way through which lasted five miles. At one point, the track became so steep that I literally had to claw my way up on my hands and knees…classy. By mile 20, I was wishing for a car to come and run me over so that I didn’t have to finish the route. After crying my way to the end, my dad drove me home where he had to carry me to the house and I sat at the dinner table sobbing as I didn’t even have the energy to bite into the congratulatory steak my mum had prepared. In hindsight, I probably should have trained a bit…
Keep your space tidy
A cluttered environment does not induce a settled, content mind. Make your bed in the morning (every morning), bin last night’s used makeup wipes, open the curtains to let in some daylight and make your bedroom somewhere inviting to return to in the evening.
The same goes for your workspace – challenges are going to seem far more stressful if you’re trying to solve them on a desk littered with old post-it notes, empty water bottles, last year’s calendar and a half-eaten flapjack. Clear your space of everything you don’t need, file away the stuff that isn’t needed immediately and wipe away the crumbs from eating lunch al-desko. If your environment and surroundings are orderly, your mind will begin to follow suit.
Drink your water
This one’s pretty self-explanatory…but yeah, be sure to hydrate yourself as much as possible.
Keep a diary
Get yourself a cute notebook (I’m such a stationery fiend) and jot down a couple of sentences everyday about what has happened and how you feel. If you want to write more, go for it! Write a memoir should the mood take you. But if not, be sure just to scribble down a sentence or two a day to not only vent your feelings, but also for you to reflect on in the future to see how far you have come.
And finally, go outside
It can be easy, especially in the winter months, to dart from your house to your car, to your office, back to your car and back to your house day-in-day-out without spending any real quality time outdoors.
This isn’t a demand that you must go and live off-grid in the forest with squirrels for neighbours, but being more in tune with nature is immeasurably calming. Sit in a local park to eat your lunchtime sandwich, get off the bus a stop or two early to take the rest of the journey on foot, find the highest hill in your area and get to the top of it…and try, please, to do so without looking at your phone. The occasional Insta story shot is allowed, but no Whats’app, definitely no emails and no distracting yourself from the nature around you.
These self-care steps have helped me to surmount inimical forces projected from both inside my own head and the wider world. They can often feel like frivolous, inconsequential actions but, when I have needed it the most, they have helped me to develop inner-stability strong enough to dwarf even life’s most catastrophic afflictions. For whoever needs them, I hope they help you too.