I’m not a fan of the term self-care. I feel a bit sneery about it. I think it’s one of those terms that’s been so overused that I’m just bored of hearing the words. But, increasingly, I’m considering its meaning and importance:
‘The practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress.’ Oxford English Dictionary
I’ve been feeling quite anxious and worried. I think most of us have in recent months. I still haven’t been able to visit my family and friends in the UK, and I’m really feeling it. Currently living in Spain, up until February this year I’d been returning to the UK every 1-3 months. Six months feels like a long time, and I mean that literally, I feel the longing, the homesickness. And it’s bringing up all sorts of worries and concerns.
So I like the idea of actively trying to protect your own well-being during periods of stress and anxiety. Consciously figuring out things you can do which you know will make you feel better. And for me, it comes down to a few usual suspects.
I’ve been doing around 10 minutes of yoga every morning for quite a few years now. I’ve always enjoyed it as a way to wake up and stretch and ease into the day. Recently, I feel as though I’m appreciating it even more. I’ve really noticed how good it feels to do it by an open window, the cool breeze coming in, morning light reflecting on the wall outside. Me, following the moves, stretching up, breathing deep. It’s a peaceful moment.
I’ve also realised that it’s great to do right before bed, to release tension from the neck and shoulders, to stretch, breath slower, calm down. It just feels like your being nice to yourself, giving yourself a quiet moment.
Also something I’ve done for a while now, probably a good 3-4 years. I started doing meditation when I was going through a stressful time, planning to leave my then job. I started with 10 minutes in the morning using the Headspace app.
But recently, I’ve discovered the joy of a short meditation session in the afternoon. When I’m feeling tired, or my eyes can’t take looking at the computer screen or any other screen any more, I take myself off to lie on my bed, and close my eyes, and listen. It feels so good.
Even just closing your eyes for a period during or towards the end of a busy working day does wonders. Your eyes get so tired. And listening to the meditation just forces you to slow down, breathe deep, stop the whirring mind for a bit, or at least slow it down.
When I feel anxious I know my breathing becomes short, so anything that makes me slow down my breathing, such as yoga and meditation, feels good.
Walking & podcasts
I’ve known for a long time that walking and listening to podcasts is one of my favourite pastimes. It always makes me feel better. Always. I had a renewed love and appreciation for it when we were finally let out of our strict quarantine to walk for an hour a day. It’s almost indescribable how good it felt, to get the blood pumping, energy flowing, to see the city, to listen to clever, entertaining, inspiring people. To hear about other people’s experience of lockdown.
However I’m feeling, I know that I am guaranteed going to feel better if I get my trainers on and go for a walk, whatever time of day.
I’ve also realised just how much exercise and going to gym classes helps me mentally. I’ve found classes I love, pilates and weights classes. I have my routines, they’re built into my day. And I find comfort in the routine, I know what I’m doing, I know that even if the class pushes me, I feel so good afterwards.
The music, being around other people. It’s like meditating, you’re focusing on what you need to do, the music, the voice of the instructor. Even if your mind starts spinning off into a to-do list – you can’t focus on that for too long, you’ll get lost in what you’re supposed to be doing.
I have a feeling that my mood is better on days when I’ve done a class.
Writing things down
I also find journaling beneficial, that fancy term for keeping a sort of diary. It’s basically getting everything out of my head, onto paper, or the computer. In the mornings I do a one hour online writing class, which is when I write these blog posts. But some mornings I just write whatever’s on my mind, worries, to-do list for the day, for my life, what I’m scared of, what I’m grateful for. Things that happened yesterday. Things I want to do, plans. Pondering. Comments. Realisations.
And I do the same in the evening in a notebook, for however long I need to. Sometimes I have nothing to say, I just write down a few things that made me smile that day or that I enjoyed. Other times there’s a lot to let out. It helps put my mind to rest.
And the last one – which I haven’t experienced for a good 5 months now but I’m excited to have one booked in, a massage. I love massages. I get a lot of tension and tightness in my neck and shoulders, from stress, anxiety, from sitting at a laptop all day. To have someone work away at the knots is so amazing, such a release. And it feels so intimate, and caring. That’s what self-care is right?
I hope you’re looking after yourself.
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Written during Writers’ Hour. Join me on the next one.