Self-care has become a bit of a buzzword online recently, and although it is quite annoying I genuinely do think that a lot of people could benefit from a go-to routine for taking care of themselves when they feel mentally or physically worn out.
Since being diagnosed with depression and generalised anxiety disorder 4 years ago I’ve had to find ways to calm down, relax, get motivated… to basically try and bring my energy either up or down depending on where my head’s at. It’s not easy, so I’m sharing my tips for showing yourself some love on days where the world seems like too much to deal with.
Please bear in mind that this self-care advice should not be used in lieu of medical help but is simply based on my own personal experience with depression. Check out Better Help for lots of information and support.
If you’ve been reading my blog for a while you’ll know I have a complicated relationship with food. On my low days I stereotypically avoid eating all day because I associate it with guilt and being overweight. Bad idea. This inevitably ends up with me overeating in a monumental fashion late in the day, usually in the form of ice cream, chocolate and an assortment of baked goods. Aaaand cue more guilt. Not a good state of affairs and certainly not a good example of self-care.
To stop this cycle I’ve learned to start my day with a well balanced meal containing protein, carbohydrate and fat e.g. Cheese and onion omelette with a side of porridge oats, or full fat Greek yoghurt with berries. I try not to restrict foods on my bad days because chances are I’ll get emotional and this is a trigger for me to binge on unhealthy foods.
If I allow myself a few treats throughout the day as I crave them this seems to keep my emotional eating at bay and avoids the blood sugar roller-coaster I seem to go through when I deny myself things like carbs and fat.
Take it slow
My husband truly deserves a medal for handling me on a bad day. He is so good at letting me take my time, and he has made me realise that the worst thing I can do is to rush myself on these days. If I think about all the little things that need done – taking a shower, washing, drying and straightening my hair, putting on make up, finding an outfit – I feel totally overwhelmed and just hide under the covers until it’s dark again.
Without sounding patronising, my advice is to only think about the task you’re doing that very moment, and to take it in baby steps. That’s at the heart of my self-care plan and why I think it’s so successful (check out this little cleaning checklist I made too). The biggest hurdle for me is always getting in the shower. Pre-wash I feel like I will crumble at any moment and can’t string a sentence together. I’ll cry all the way through the shower and by the time I’ve washed and conditioned my hair I’ve exhausted myself enough to stop for a breath.
Sound familiar? We probably have loads in common! You might want to check out my free eBook where I talk in depth about how I got help for my mental breakdown and managed my recovery.
Somehow after a good ‘shower cry’ the world doesn’t seem quite so horrendous. Also, I need to point out the importance of washing my hair when I feel this depressed. Beforehand the task seems monumental, but when I’ve done the deed I honestly feel born again when I have clean hair. It’s a key part of my regime, not to be overlooked.
If I need to lie around for 2 hours before I consider make up and hair styling then so be it. In fact, sometimes it’s more helpful not to attempt it at all and just enjoy a make-up free face and messy hair. If I can find time, I also like to do another beauty treatment like a face mask or painting my nails just give myself that little bit of extra attention.
This might seem like an obvious thing to do, and you’ll probably want to succumb to sloth-like behaviour when you’re feeling low but it’s worth considering how you can truly feel rested in body and mind. When my brain is in overdrive, thinking about all the things I have to do and how crap I am as a human being I find if helpful to work off some of that nervous energy to allow me to ultimately feel more relaxed.
I personally really enjoy the gym as part of my self-care routine, so if I feel like I have enough energy to do a light workout then I will, and I like the feeling of achievement that comes from doing that. On the other hand if I was planning a workout and I woke up feeling incredibly low, I’ve learned it’s OK to change my plans and do absolutely nothing.
Obviously you don’t have to go to the gym if that’s not your thang, but sometimes a walk round the block and some fresh air will help tire you out enough to get a good sleep. A lot of medical professionals say you shouldn’t sleeping during the day when you have depression because it creates a unhelpful sleeping pattern but when I’ve hit a bad one and look like a zombie, an afternoon snooze is impossible to avoid. It works for me once in a while and I try not to make a habit of it.
Take a sick day
Sometimes you’ve got to bite the bullet and accept that you’re not fit for work. I personally find this incredibly hard to get my head around, so much so that I make myself ill at work and ended up giving up my career to focus on my mental health.
Although I’m not recommending you quit your job after one bad day, I think there’s some benefit to taking stock of your situation. How often are you feeling depressed? Is it normally after work? Is your job stressing you out the point where you feel like you can’t cope?
For me, stress is a trigger for anxiety and depression so being in a management role was too much for me to handle. Start by taking a sick day and imagine how your mood would be affected if you were in a different work environment.
Go make up-free
This might seem impossible to some of you – I know make up can act like a suit of armour when you’re feeling like crap – but give it a try. I swear by having at least one make up-free day per week because it makes me feel so much more comfortable. I hate taking make up off at the end of the day (mascara, why you so stubborn?) so having a bare face all day is great for when I’m feeling particularly lazy.
Make up is cool for when you want to amp up your confidence, but sometimes I just need to be honest with myself. I’m not OK and no amount of make up is going to make me feel otherwise. I’ve actually written a really detailed account of why I go make up-free and how I built myself up to do it with a super simple skincare routine. You can check out the deets here.
Take care of the physical symptoms
Your mental health is so much more than what’s going on inside your head. A relapse in my depression is often accompanied by changes in my body, which is an indicator that I need to take better care of myself.
I’ll often gain weight because I’m less active or am drawn to eating more comfort food than usual. I experience extreme fatigue and can easily sleep for 10 hours a night as well as 2-3 hour nap in the afternoon.
This isn’t laziness, although the voice in my head likes to tell me otherwise. I simply need to recharge my energy waaay more than the average person because my mind is under so much stress. I’ve written in detail about weight gain/loss, panic attacks and muscle tension in this post here.
Try and be conscious and forgiving of any physical symptoms you observe during a depression episode. They’re not to be dismissed as a sign of weakness, but instead a sign that you need to slow down and take care of yourself.
What are your self-care tips for depression?