Day 171: Self care is so important to every one of us and the great thing about self care is that it can be anything you want it to be. We get told too many prescriptive things by health care professions and mental health ‘gurus’ such as CBT, Yoga and therapy. Oh, and exercise. I have no problem with any of those things and in fact I have done / do them all but it is also important to remember that not everybody likes exercising or talking to strangers about their feelings. There are so many ways we can help our inner self feel better and you should never have to explain yourself to anybody else. If going to a Library is your thing, great. If you enjoy binge watching box-sets on Netflix, crack on! In fact, if going ten pin bowling on your own and smashing skittles works – do it regularly! It sounds awesome.
I spent too much of my life trying to please others and to fit in. I went on many nights out or weekends away with groups of others even though it made me anxious and I was never able to relax unless I was heavily intoxicated. Trains give me social anxiety, busy bars do the same – and I’m somebody who enjoys the peace and quiet of my surroundings so sitting with a large group of people, all shouting, talking over each other and ‘bantering’ is not actually my preferred place. I’m certainly not on my own in that respect. I’d hazard a guess that most of us strive for acceptance and approval from others. We have a desire to be liked by others and respected. The natural thing in society is to socialise with a drink in our hands to get to know each other. It relaxes us and it allows us to lower our boundaries. It isn’t the real us though is it?!
Now that I’m sober that doesn’t mean I will never socialise again – in fact I look forward to the challenge of heading back into social circles with a healthy level of anxiety to keep me on my toes. I have no doubt I will bore more easily as people get drunk and I’m still with it. I have the control though. I can spend time with friends and family but leave when I want. Nobody will care that the ‘sober’ one is going home.
So back to my own self care. What works for me? What has helped me so far on my journey? Here are five things that help me massively. Would these work for you? Maybe. maybe not. But you know what? It doesn’t matter. Find what works for you and find time to do it. Self care can be as extreme as booking a holiday on your own and going travelling solo in a foreign Country through to spending 10 mins each day doing a Sudoku with a coffee. I suck at Sudoku so I’ll scratch that off my self care list. Anyways, here is my go-to ‘mental toolkit’…
- Walking with a podcast
Since the first Coronavirus lock-down I like many others found myself walking a lot more. We were prisoners in our own homes with the strict rule of one trip outdoors to exercise. Once the novelty wore off of walking with my family, and lock down rules eased I decided to continue walking daily whether that be 15 mins around the estate or 3-4 mile walks into neighbouring villages. It is so easy when working from home, in an empty house to forget to take breaks. It is now in my work outlook calendar daily as a placeholder to go for a walk. This has seen me listening to podcasts regularly for the first time too. Previously my delve into podcasts was nothing more than a football preview show each week before my team played at the weekend and I normally listened to it in the car on my work commute. I think I’m addicted to podcasts now though and my go-to shows will be shared in an upcoming post so look out for that one if you are after some new podcast recommendations!
2. Reading on my bed
I definitely haven’t read enough since I had kids. I blame the constant desire to sleep when you get some time to yourself or once the children are in bed on an evening. All that said I found myself reading a lot whilst I was in hospital for those 10 days in February and I have continued to read consistently ever since. Similar to the podcasts mentioned before, I want to share some of the books which have helped me this year but will keep that for it’s own post. What I will say is that no matter what genre it is and whether the book is about the human psychology, self-help books or a delve into fantasy, rime and sport – reading has become an important part of my self care. I like to dedicate some time each day to reading so I now go to bed earlier most nights and replace playing on my phone with a few pages of a book. I factor in time on a weekend where I can go and lie on my bed away from the monsters and read for an hour. My wife does the same. I haven’t mastered reading in public yet – I get too distracted if I’m in a coffee shop or on a train but for me, chilling on my bed with my phone out of reach works a treat. If I really want to switch off I use the Calm App on my iPad to play some background white noise so I can block out everything else!
I’ve mentioned numerous times that this blog has helped me massively since I wrote that first post in February whilst an inpatient at a Mental Health Hospital. Whilst I’m now in a much better place I find it so rewarding every time I write a new post whether it be my in the moment ramblings or something I’ve prepared to share (like today). I have always written in some way whether that was writing short stories whilst in junior school to my journals as a young adult. This online space allows me the freedom to write on the move via my iPhone, iPad or from my desk. For people to read this blog is a bonus. I really appreciate every view, comment and follow I really do. In reality though, if I was the only one reading it I’d continue posting because for me it is largely about moving the words from out of my head to somewhere else. And typing is quicker than writing it down in my journal!
Running is my go to form of exercise. Always has been and always will be so long as my body allows it. I have been a keen and competent runner since my school days so it comes pretty natural to me. The issue I’ve had previously is that once my mental health dips running is the first thing to get axed. As many of you will know, anxiety and depression sucks the energy out of you so it takes a hell of a lot to be able to lace up and go out running when feeling so low. I’ve made it my aim this year to treat running as a release and enjoyment rather than an obsession with distance and times. I sicken myself off running at times by striving to go harder, faster and longer. It ends up with me resenting the activity and often ending up with injuries. I have been gradually increasing my distance again and I’m currently either aiming for 6 miles on my longer runs or enjoying short high tempo runs over 1.5 miles (which is what my army entry requirement run was back in the day). It means I can either go out and run a longer distance and get into a rhythm or I can do something more high intensity, running faster but over within 10-15 mins. Running isn’t for everybody but I like the fact I run on my terms and don’t rely on anybody else. I choose the time, route and tempo.
I’m a homeowner, Dad and Husband. I don’t have the natural skills to be a handyman and when I was younger I would ask my Dad to help me with pretty much anything involving a tool. As I’ve become more independent and the ‘man of my house’ (stereotyping) I not only have a fully operational tool box but I even own a drill! Haha. I do enjoy the small to medium sized tasks of continually improving our home and I’m proud that in recent years I am doing more and more DIY without any help from the father or father in law. The never ending list of things to do around our home is a good thing in a way as it means I’ll never run out of tasks to do. Time is a problem of course because I work full time and have two little girls to parent but I’ve started telling myself that jobs don’t need to be done in one go. Make little progress, work on something for 30 mins one day and pick it up again next week if need be. My OCD would have got the better of me taking that mindset in the past but self care is about little wins so if that means painting only one door frame today so be it. If that means only putting up one shelf instead of all three it is still progress. I’ll never make a living out of DIY but if I can take pleasure out of assembling a rattan garden seating set or painting the bathroom (both done recently) I will continue to do so.
So those are some of the things I do to take the edge off. They are what I would class as self-care methods and they generally cost me very little and can be done on my own any day of the week for as a little or as long as I like. So next time somebody tells you to meditate or go to see a therapist because you are feeling unwell mentally ask yourself if that is something you want to actually do. Trying new things is fine but it is also important to remember the things that make you tick. Managing our mental health is not all about pills, therapy and eating well. Although they help!