There is an amazing organisation which supports those experiencing or recovering from depression called Blurt. They have a ‘Self-Care Starter Kit’ which has some valuable advice, especially now that the nights are drawing in and we might be feeling low. I have reproduced it here:
Self-care is the actions we undertake to look after ourselves, physically, emotionally and mentally. It incorporates the essential acts of care that we all need to focus on – like eating well, keeping ourselves clean and getting enough sleep. On top of that though, self-care is what nourishes us personally: the things we do that comfort us, calm us, and make us feel good. These will vary from person to person – you might be drawn to creative activities, physical pursuits, mindfulness techniques, a combination of all three or something different altogether.
WHY IS SELF-CARE SO IMPORTANT?
1. It’s good for our health
Some self-care activities have physical benefits that can help our mental health. Exercise, for example, instantly triggers endorphins, and taken regularly can offer a whole host of mood-boosting benefits.
2. It’s good for our hearts
Self-care can also positively impact on our emotional wellness. Some self-care activities can directly impact on the stuff that brings us down. For example, decluttering our surroundings can leave us feeling lighter. Practising self-compassion can boost our self-esteem.
It sounds basic, but doing things that make us feel good, makes us feel good. Even if we can only do the tiniest thing, and even if that tiniest thing only opens the teeniest-tiniest chink of light within the black fug of our depression, we’ve still made progress.
3. It reminds us we are worthy
Our thoughts can be cruel: they sometimes tell us we don’t matter, even though we really, really do. By prioritising self-care – taking time out to do something just for us – we counter those negative thoughts. We’re showing them that actually, WE ARE worthy of attention and care. By prioritising self-care, we remind ourselves that we are worthy. And though initially we may feel some resistance to this (sadly, self-worth sadly can’t be magicked out of the air), the more we practice self-care, the more we’ll believe in our worth too.
4. It empowers us
Although medical and therapeutic assistance are vitally important in treating illnesses like depression, self-care is extremely helpful too. And whereas we’re not always in control of the outside help we get – we rely on our doctors to make the correct choices about medication, we may need referrals or be on waiting lists for treatment – we can take control of our own self-care. Making positive choices around our self-care is empowering. We show our depression, and ourselves, that we are still in charge.
5. You can start now
Self-care is accessible to everyone, and even the smallest acts make a big difference. In fact, downloading this Self-Care Starter Kit counts as an act of self-care. You’ve started. Nourishing yourself in a way that helps you blossom in the direction you want to go is attainable, and you are worth the effort.
IDEA 1: BE KIND TO YOU
Do you find yourself apologising for everything? Beating yourself up for past mistakes? Being much kinder to others than you are to yourself?
It’s not an easy feat, but please try and be kind to you – be as patient, understanding and accepting of yourself as you are of others. It’s not easy to change a habit, for some a habit of a lifetime, but we really do need to try and take care of the way we treat ourselves. That’s the very essence of self-care, being mindful of how our words and actions can harm or heal.
IDEA 2: HAVE A DIGITAL DETOX
Are there updates which appear in your Facebook feed which make your heart sink a little? Perhaps you follow so many people on Twitter that you can’t keep up with it. Do you have an overflowing inbox, full of emails? Do the alerts on your phone interrupt your day or make you feel anxious?
1) Go through the list of people you follow on Twitter and only follow those who really interest you.
2) Use Facebook’s ‘unfollow’ feature to remove updates from your feed which make you do anything other than smile/learn/feel good. You know the ones – those which make you feel below par, less of a person. The ones which kick-start comparison and the ‘coulda, shoulda, woulda’ thoughts. This feature allows you to remain friends with people but stops their updates popping up in your feed.
3) We can often find ourselves subscribed to dozens of newsletters. We don’t know about you but we really notice this over any Christmas period when our normal email traffic is slower as people are off work. Every day, we had dozens of emails (most of which we don’t remember signing up to receive) and so we spent some time unsubscribing or setting up email filters so that they no longer clog up our inbox. There’s a really good programme to make this easier to do –> https://unroll.me/
4) Apps can be fantastic, they allow us to do so much from our smartphones and keep us connected. However, the notifications can be disruptive and cause anxiety. Consider changing the alerts in your phone settings. We’ve turned off notifications for all apps, including our personal social media networks. This means we have to mindfully check in to the sites rather than feeling demanded to do so because of a flashing light/alert. It means we can also focus more on whatever it is we’re doing (work, spending time with family, sleep) and gives us some much needed headspace.
5 Instant Self-Care Things Which Can be Done From Your Bed
IDEA 3: DEVELOP A BEDTIME ROUTINE
Sleep plays such a pivotal role in our wellbeing. It’s when our body gets the chance to repair and our brain gets the chance to file away the events of the day. So many of us struggle with getting a good night’s sleep. As babies, our parents and carers are actively encouraged to develop sleep routines for us, developing cues so that we would know it was time bed.
How can you develop a routine for yourself? Can you go to bed the same time every night? Perhaps a warm milk before bed? A vow to turn your phone off an hour before you want to go to sleep?
Soothing music might help too. Part of your routine might include proper rest breaks throughout the day to allow your brain to digest things as the day progresses, rather than when your head hits the pillow and you experience that ‘wired’ feeling.
IDEA 4: WRITE YOURSELF A LETTER AND POST IT
Be a friend to you. Write a letter to you with the same words of kindness and general loveliness that you would write to another person. It’s not easy to do and it might be that you instead, find a really lovely quote instead. If you’re anything like us, you’ll forget you’ve done this and it will be a lovely surprise.
Another thing you could try if your email provider supports it, is to email yourself some positive affirmations/words of encouragement and schedule them to arrive at ad-hoc dates. We use a Gmail add-on called Gmail Boomerang. Boomerang allows you to schedule when you’ll receive those emails. They’ll be a welcome surprise in your inbox.
IDEA 5: PRACTISE SAYING ‘NO’ TO THE THINGS YOU REALLY WANT TO SAY ‘NO’ TO.
This is a tricky one. Depression can make us really dislike ourselves. Some may start looking to others for approval and then find themselves saying ‘yes’ to every demand on their time, bending over backwards to be as helpful and accommodating to others as possible. It can be exhausting.
We may also find we’re agreeing to do things for others that we really can’t be bothered to do, but we feel we ought to do. Other people’s expectations of us can weigh heavy, we don’t want to let people down, we don’t want people to dislike us and we want to feel useful.
Doing something for someone else is a gift of your time, energy and commitment. It’s a gift from you, to them. First and foremost, you are important. Your needs are a priority. Make sure that when you are agreeing to do something, you’re not saying ‘no’ to you.
Take a look at your boundaries and how you can assert them. Take time to consider how things ‘feel’ too. If you feel taken advantage of, resentful, frustrated and angry, then those are cues that your boundaries may have gone a little wonky.
The Self-care Alphabet
Allow yourself to dream
Be honest about what you need
Drink a mug of soothing tea
Eat foods which nourish you
Go on a walk in nature
Have a long soak in a bubbly bath
Invest in yourself
Join a support group
Kite, fly one
Learn to say no to the things you want to say ‘no’ to
Make a blanket fort
Own who you are, embrace your you’ness
Play, it’s not just for kids
Question your icky boundaries, work on them
Read books, not just self-help/improvement ones
Stop making New Year’s Resolutions, choose a feeling or a
key word instead
Take time out for you
Upgrade a tatty item
Vocalise your needs
Write a journal or a letter to someone
Xenial – be as kind to yourself as you would be to others
You matter, you are important and worthy
Zzz, 7-9 hours per night
Self-care on a Budget
While spa days and shopping sprees are undoubtedly expensive, there are many other acts of self-care that cost very little or are in fact free.
1. DRINK UP
Being even the tiniest bit dehydrated can have a negative impact on our mood, so ensuring we drink enough water is one of the simplest ways we can look after ourselves. Normal tap water is fine.
If you’re not fussed about water, herbal teas (the non- caffeinated kind) also count, and you can pick up boxes relatively inexpensively – especially if you choose own-
brand over premium labels. As an added bonus, some herbs (such as chamomile) can soothe symptoms of depression and anxiety. As a few herbs can impact on the efficacy of drugs, do check the information sheet/talk to your doctor if you are on medication.
2. EAT WELL
We’ve talked about the benefits of healthy eating before, and contrary to popular belief, eating well doesn’t have to be expensive. Yes goji berries and superfood salads are good for us, but so are baked beans and tinned fish! Our podcast on food and mental health shares several low-cost nutrition ideas, and there are plenty of blogs out there where you can find inspiration: for example Cooking on a Bootstrap.
Getting a good night’s sleep is one of the kindest things we can do for ourselves, and better still it’s completely free. However, as depression often comes hand-in-hand with sleep problems, we know that can be easier said than done. You can improve your chances of getting a good night’s kip by limiting caffeine after 2pm and implementing a ‘bedtime routine’ – a series of calming activities you do every night to tell your body and your brain it’s time for bed. Limiting screen time in the evenings can also be really helpful, as the light given off by your devices can be disruptive. Our podcast on sleep explains more.
4. MOVE IT
Although it’s often the last thing we feel like doing – especially when we’re depressed – getting moving is a great way to show ourselves self-care. Exercise has innumerable health benefits, and even a short burst of movement triggers endorphins and gives us that feel good glow. You don’t need a pricey gym membership to exercise either. You can dance to in your bedroom to your favourite tunes, follow along with free fitness videos on YouTube, or you can simply pop some trainers on and head out for a walk or run. Exercising outside has additional benefits too.
5. GET OUT
We love our blanket forts and duvet days (sometimes they are much needed), but we also know how important it is to get outside. Sunlight and fresh air are instant mood-boosters – and are available to us all, completely free. Research suggests that exposure to natural surroundings is beneficial to physical and psychological wellbeing, so if you can get out into green space (even if it’s just your local park) all the better.
6. GET CREATIVE
Engaging in creative activities is a fantastic – and fun – way to integrate self-care into your day, and it needn’t be expensive. We are all innately creative (even those of us who may think otherwise!) and there are so many different ways we can express our creativity. Writing, knitting, sewing, singing, cooking, painting, sculpting, gardening, restoring furniture, playing with make-up, writing computer code… activities like these are beneficial for our wellbeing: they bring us into the present moment, boost feel-good chemicals in our brain, and give us a sense of achievement.
7. CLEAN UP
There is a bit of a trend for decluttering at the moment, and with good reason. The environment in which we live can have a real impact on our mood. If our surroundings stress us out, take up headspace, or make day-to-day living harder than it needs to be, we can definitely benefit from clearing up. (And if we sell any of the stuff that we declutter, our wallets can benefit too!) As well as decluttering physical items (the contents of our wardrobe, the random drawer of junk in the kitchen, the piles of paper lying about), we can also declutter digitally: think unwanted software that slows the computer down, unread emails or even Facebook friends.
8. TREAT YOURSELF
While clearing up can be undoubtedly helpful, there *is* something lovely about having new things. Of course when we’re on a budget, it’s not wise to buy stuff willy nilly, but there are ways to get new things on the cheap. Libraries are a good starting point: if you can’t concentrate on books (we struggle to read when we’re unwell), there are audio books and DVDs. Plus some local libraries reduce fees for those with disabilities – worth looking into if that applies to you. Then there are charity shops: you’ll be surprised by some of the awesome things you can find, and you can treat yourself while helping others. There are also bargains and freebies to be found online: look at sites like Freecycle or community Facebook groups.
9. BUILD BOUNDARIES
Those of us who struggle with depression often have issues with low self-esteem, and look externally for approval and validation. If you find yourself regularly putting other people’s needs before your own -saying ‘yes’ when you want to say ‘no’, exhausting yourself to fulfil other’s expectations – you may benefit from working on your boundaries. You are most important person in your life (yes, really!), so you need to learn to make your needs a priority. Addressing wonky boundaries can feel like a scary task but you’ll feel the benefits almost immediately. And of course looking after yourself in this way doesn’t cost financially.
10. REST UP
Many of us have high expectations of ourselves, and feel like we should always be productive: always giving, always doing. Continually putting stress on ourselves in this way is a sure fire road to burnout. As hard as it might feel sometimes, one of the best things you can do for yourself is STOP. Really. Allow yourself to just be. Run yourself a lovely bath, lie on the floor and stare at the ceiling, watch some nonsense on TV. Letting yourself rest is a fantastic act of self-care, and it doesn’t cost a penny.