Last week I wrote a pretty heavy post about the state of my marriage. It is still a work in progress, but for the time being Neil and I have decided not to separate and to try and work through things the best we can while still living together. There’s still work to do and it’s still a process, but we are taking it one step at a time.
Although I only recently opened up about what was going on, I have been trying to hold things together for much longer than that. I wanted to take some time today to offer 10 self-care tips for when life gets hard because that’s the time when self-care is the most important and when we usually let it fall by the wayside.
1. Spend time with friends
Friends are important. Friends are even more important when life doesn’t seem to be going the way you think it should. Being able to talk to another person is incredibly therapeutic and it helps to know that there are others who are there for you when you feel like you can’t be there for yourself. Friends offer a different perspective and may even have a similar experience that they can share with you. You won’t know unless you open your mouth.
2. Go slow
For some people, negative situations actually lead them into overdrive. In an attempt to escape the discomfort and unpleasant feelings, people will throw themselves into work or other distractions. I’m advising you to do the opposite. By approaching life more slowly, you will become less overwhelmed and you will have more time to actually get through the situation and learn from it.
3. Listen to what you need
In order to take care of yourself, you need to know what that means. Take some time with yourself to think about what YOU need. Not what anyone else needs, but YOU. Spending all of your time worrying about another person/people/situations is the opposite of self-care. Going through tough times puts a lot of stress on a person and that is when self-care becomes even more important.
Really take the time to figure out what you are needing. For me, some days that looks like work and on others it’s reading, watching a TV show before bed, or going on a long walk and finding a magical lily pond. For others it may be a bubble bath, but that’s not me because I hate them.
4. Be forgiving
When life overwhelms me, I struggle with forgiving myself. I had some days where I was incredibly productive and others when I woke up and could barely get out of bed. I saw days when I was not as productive as normal as failures, which only compounded the negative feelings I was experiencing. You have to cut yourself a break.
No one expects you to be perfect and it’s virtually impossible to continue functioning at the exact same level you do when everything is going well. The more forgiving you are with yourself, the more you will be able to take on. Negativity towards yourself will only add to whatever you are dealing with and make it harder to function.
5. Play with pets
If you have a pet, make sure to take time to play with him/her. Animals are very helpful in lifting our moods and a quick snuggle session can quickly lighten your day. If you don’t have any pets, you can do what I do and talk to the dogs on the street as they walk by. Nevermind their owners; you and that dog have a bond that they will never understand.
Sleep is vitally important for any kind of functioning. Make sure that you are getting an appropriate amount for you. I need around 7-8 hours of sleep, so I make sure to insist upon that in lieu of late night conversations or worry sessions. Dealing with life’s issues is important, but I won’t be able to do that in a constructive way if I am sleep deprived. Rest your mind and your body in order to take on the next day.
Just as sleep is important, so is exercise. For some, exercise is only about preventative health measures, but for others like myself it is also critical to my mental health. I am no longer using it as an escape, but as something that starts my day off on a positive note. I am able to channel whatever negative thoughts and feelings I have into activity that improves my overall strength and clarity and leaves me feeling better than when I went in.
Meditative types of exercise such as yoga are also very beneficial in quieting the mind and establishing balance, but unfortunately I can not for the life of me force myself to do them. Props to those of you who find your outlet through these practices.
Even if you’re not a writer, get a notebook or journal to write about what is going on. If you are anything like me, your mind is racing a million miles a minute and you have a tendency to overthink every scenario. Spend a little time each day writing about your feelings, what is going on at that moment, and whatever you feel compelled to put on paper. Don’t worry about anyone reading it and just write.
Even if you think that writing will be useless, do it anyway. I am always surprised at what comes out when I start writing and the amount of free space in my brain after I am done.
One of the things that kept me in my addiction was the illusion of control. I believed that I had control over people and situations that were actually far outside of it. When something happened that I didn’t like, I tried to change it in whatever way that I could.
The key to breaking that cycle was acceptance. The only thing that I have control over is myself and my reactions to situations. While I would rather not have to go through this period in my life, I accept it and it is only through that acceptance that I can continue to move forward. Whatever bumps you may hit in the road, learn to accept the moment and ask yourself “what next?” I have accepted that this is where my life is right now. What am I going to do about it?
10. Feel what you are feeling
This is one of the most important self-care tips. For many, many, many years I didn’t know how to feel my feelings. I ran from them at every chance I got because I was so uncomfortable. This led me to using anything I could to mask them, including substances, exercise, and food. When I realized that I had to stop running, I had to learn what feelings even were and how to specifically identify them.
I know that any negative feeling is uncomfortable. No one welcomes sadness or pain with open arms, screaming “I CAN’T WAIT TO FEEL YOU!” The tough thing is, though, that we have to. By going through those feelings we come to terms with the situation, we learn from it, and we often come out stronger on the other side. The process is often the most painful, but not going through it can actually draw it out much longer.
- What ways do you practice self-care?
- Do you find it easier or harder to care for yourself when things are tough?
- How much sleep do you usually get?
Thanks to Amanda for letting me think out loud.