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Take good care of yourself: some thoughts on mental health & self care

This is fineI’m not very comfortable with publicly discussing my mental health. So, the irony of writing a whole blog post about it is not lost on me. I’ve suffered from depression and anxiety since I was 14, but – bar a nervous breakdown when I was 21, and a rather bad episode when I was 25 – I’ve managed to deal with it relatively well. I have a good job. I have a great relationship. I earn enough money to do all the things I want to do with my life. Moaning about my own experiences of anxiety just feels a bit privileged when there are others out there with real issues to worry about.

However, I’ve had a few blips recently. Blame it on the changing seasons, my new job and the sheer exhaustion born out of a daily cross city commute, but I feel as though I haven’t been thriving as hard as I could be. I’ve spent days worrying that everyone I know and love hates me, or that I’ve made some catastrophic fuck up at work which means everyone thinks I’m useless. There’s been a lot of paranoia and breathing exercises in disabled toilets. It hasn’t been much fun.

One of my favourite podcasts is Another Round. I love it because it’s funny, it’s honest and provides so much excellent life advice (not least ‘drink more water’ and ‘call your mum’.) The two hosts – Heben and Tracey – are open about their depression and anxiety issues, and how they deal with these. Most importantly, the advice they give is never patronising. It just is what it is, two good friends exchanging coping strategies on how to navigate the world when your brain doesn’t want to play ball.

A topic they frequently discuss is ‘self care,’ which is something I’ve been thinking a lot about. Self care is, simply, the things you do to take care of yourself when you’re tired, or feeling low. They are the strategies you put in place to protect yourself. I practice it so I have the strength to keep doing all the things which I know I’m good at, and which make me feel better about myself, my abilities and my place in the world. Some days, it will be something like attending a yoga class after work, and on others it will be something as simple as remembering to perform my cleansing routine and brush my teeth before bed (which is a big deal when I’m so tired I can barely remember my own name.)

A glamorous work selfie. Because this blog post would be pointless without a gratuitous picture of my face.

A glamorous work selfie. Because this blog post would be pointless without a gratuitous picture of my face.

I think that there’s a lot of misapprehension about self care. It can sometimes be misread as being all about vanity or consumption. (And there’s a whole other conversation to be had about why neither of those things are necessarily negative.) Plus, a lot of discussions about it on the internet (or at least the internet spaces I frequent) can sometimes read as over thought and strung out. It’s great hearing about how a Brooklyn based beauty writer or the lead singer in a band practices it, but their life experiences can often feel vastly different from mine and the people I know. ‘Why should I listen to some hipster reminding me to wash my face?’ as I once saw someone comment.

But at the same time, I don’t think that a lot of us are particularly good at practicing self care. It takes time and effort, both things which are in short supply when you’re just trying to get through the day. I try and put aside a little time each day which I can commit to doing things which will make me feel better about myself, and just silence my brain for a bit. Often, this will involve going for a lunch time walk near my office, visiting the library or sitting in a cafe and reading a good book. At other times, it will be something like buying a lipstick, applying a face mask, listening to the football in the bath (one of my favourite weekend activities) or taking some selfies to remind myself that I’m of worth and my eyebags really aren’t as bad as I think they are.

I’m also an advocate for stepping away from the internet for a bit when it all gets too much. I love social media more than words can say, but it can be emotionally exhausting. Switching off the thing I do for fun (but which is also my job) allows me to get some valuable breathing space. After all, sometimes it’s OK not to have an opinion on everything.

It’s vitally important that women have discussions on how to take care of themselves in a world which often feels antagonistic and cruel. But I’d also like to see these discussions taken out of rarefied spaces. I’d be really interested in hearing how you practice self care, and what it means to you.

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4 thoughts on “Take good care of yourself: some thoughts on mental health & self care

  1. lozette says:

    For me it’s been therapy. 6 years of psychoanalysis twice a week in my late 20s to early 30s, and now I’m in a more integrative type of therapy, once a fortnight. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for talking therapies. I couldn’t rely on my family or (former) partner(s) for support as they were a big part of the problem.

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  2. Helen Cairns says:

    I made a promise to myself a few years ago that my nails would always look good. No matter what. That would be my bare minimum so every couple of days I sit down and I do them.
    Nail Polish is also a really good pick me up to buy. It’s a quick fix, easy to get your hands on, cheap and non damaging.

    Thanks for talking abiut

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  3. Thank you for writing this post! It’s really refreshing to hear mental health talked about in an ‘I’ve got an everyday person type of job and here’s how I’m getting on with it’ way. Love this. ❤

    To answer your question: my self care is yoga. I can practice any time, any place, and sometimes find empty meeting rooms to breath with my ujjayi breath in full force or some calming alternate nostril breathing. When I've had panic attacks on plans there's always a space at the back to bend and stretch and find balance again. But my ultimate favourite thing to do to show myself love is to go to bed when I am tired. I always feel stronger after a good night's sleep. xoxo

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  4. Samantha Bradey says:

    Thanks for writing about this. I can really relate. I recently went through a stressful period too; a new role, more responsibility, longer hours. Lots of fretful nights spent worrying I wasn’t up to it, questioning every decision I made. After a big campaign was done and dusted I took a holiday and realised I needed to get a handle on how I dealt with stress.

    For me swimming helps; I’ve always found water incredibly calming so fitting in a quick dip sets me up for the day. I’m lucky enough to live and work near decent pools so I try and do that a two or three times a week. Eating proper, home-cooked food is another winner and not relying on coffee to pep me up during the day. Picking outfits which I feel confident in too – nice prints, a strong colour, a favorite necklace – just gives me that extra boost to match how I feel on the inside with persona of strong, unflappable, “super lady” I’m trying to project out and about.

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