Last spring I had a close friend message me that she was having a tough time. One of those weeks where things don’t go so right and you’re suddenly handed some heavy issues on your plate. One of my pieces of advice was, “Don’t forget the importance of self care…” and then I tried thinking of a few examples and ended up with, “…like drink tea or take a bath.” I have been a strong believer in the importance of taking care of one’s self and felt a bit appalled that I couldn’t come up with any better examples of self care than just “drink tea and take a bath.” Yes, these are both relaxing activities, but I feel like self care is a much bigger concept than just giving yourself a mini at-home spa day. For months I have thought about this time and time again, trying to really identify what self care looks like for me.
Admittedly, the past four months have been particularly stressful ones for me. I have faced periods of great change, career decision for my digital presence, family health crises, a difficult breakup, and an on-going issue with health insurance and getting proper medical care for my psoriasis. (Brief psoriasis update: while the tanning bed helped a lot and my psoriasis almost completely went away, the high amount of stress I’ve had the past months have triggered more flare ups. Bummer!) This past week has been especially stressful—to the point where it affected my ability to concentrate, think, eat, sleep, and feel whole and healthy. I suddenly found myself breaking down into tears anytime I had a moment to myself (something I’m actually very prone to doing anytime I’m incredibly sleep deprived… this girl needs her beauty rest). If every there was a time in my life to focus on self care it is now.
I like to think of self care in the broadest of definitions: Remembering to take care of your basic needs. For me this falls into two categories—the little daily things I do to feel grounded and bigger, tougher life choicest to improve my overall situation. Let’s start with the first category. These are the type of little things I think are most associated with self care. For me they include such little tasks as: making my bed every morning, doing my laundry regularly AND folding and putting it all away, keeping my space clean and decluttered, setting aside time daily to be physically active and meditate, setting aside time to do something creative just for the fun of it, cooking most of my meals and eating well, brewing a cup of tea every night, washing my face and sitting in bed with my tea and a good book. These are little things that help me feel stable when life is chaotic and, at a minimum, gives me the allusion that I am staying whole and healthy and me.
I know these things don’t seem glamours like those photos of decadent bubble bath with a glass of wine. But what these do (unlike a bath just makes me feel a bit more stressed and like I’m waisting time sitting in lukewarm, dirty water… but no offense if baths are your thing) is give me a sense of routine. My un-glamours self care routine keeps me from neglecting my basic needs and for me that is one of the best, most kind things I can do for myself when stress is trying to get the better of me.
The next thing I try to do when life is feeling really rough is take a hard look on what in my life that has a direct, negative effect on my ability to feel happy. Sometimes tough situations are completely out of your control. Sometimes someone you care about dies and all you can do is brew a cup of tea and eat a bit of chocolate and wait for time to ease the sadness. But other times you have an opportunity to make a choice that will benefit improve your overall wellbeing. You can choose to say “No” to a situation that is causing you pain. You can take a step back or ask for help when overextended. You can choose to be a little kinder to yourself if you’re coming just under your best in an overwhelming situation. This type of self care can be small choices, like limiting the amount of time you have for volunteer projects or being honest with what’s already on your schedule when asked to do a favor by a friend. Or it can be big choices like picking a job that gives you a higher quality of life even if it isn’t as impressive or as high paying as another option. It can be choosing to cut off contact with someone who is no-longer a positive person for you.
Last Saturday, when I was my most emotional, sleep-deprived, teary-eyed self that I had been in a very, very long time, I had to make a choice to do what was in my best interest. I actually made two choice (a smaller one and a bigger one). First, I set aside time to rearrange my kitchen and buy a new, exciting piece of furniture for my dinning room. This gave me room to declutter and better organize myself, in addition to creating an exciting new work space for my food photography that is out of the way from roommates using the kitchen. It was an investment in my mental well being (as I now have place to keep my nice things away from those I do not want to share it with) as well as my creative well being. Not to mention, it was an investment in the happiness of our house as a whole. When we aren’t all on top of each other in the kitchen, we can all live a bit more cohesively. I also made the heart-wrenching decision to delete a long-time friend out of my phone because staying in contact was something that now hurt more than anything else. It’s an odd combo of decision making but on Saturday I finally slept and woke up feeling the most happy I had in weeks.
Self care doesn’t need to be a thing in your life only when you are facing stress or hardship. It’s something you should practice at all times: be that checking in with yourself that you are making the decisions that are right for you or just setting aside an evening to paint your nails, wear a silly Korean face mask, or take a bubble bath. What every floats your boat and makes you feel you and cared for.
GRETCHEN IS A WRITER-BASED IN PORTLAND, ORE. SHE GOT HER START AS A JOURNALIST WORKING ON THE SUSTAINABLE FASHION AND RESTAURANT BEAT BEFORE MOVING INTO COPYWRITING AND ADVERTISING WORK. SHE CURRENTLY BLOGS AND WORKS AS A FREELANCE WRITER.