It’s Stress Awareness Month and I’ve been averaging one to two mental breakdowns a week so I figured there might be a thing or two I can add to the conversation.
Now of course, stress, anxiety, and any form of mental strain are nothing to joke about, but firstly, I can joke about my own emotions and secondly, although it is great to see the taboo being lifted, I found that conversations around stress can often be quite intense, serious, and sometimes more triggering than anything, even when the topic at hand is self-care.
To deal with my own stress levels (and the anxiety that comes from those, I’ve trialled my fair share of ‘self-care’ tips and tricks, and today, I thought, why not review some of them in a little listicle for the two people that will care. So, let’s get into the good, the bad, and the ugly of my ✨self-care journey✨.
- Practicing gratitude 3.5/5
For a long time, I rolled my eyes at every attractive, able-bodied, and wealthy influencer and TikTok about a morning routine that mentioned gratitude journals, meditation, and daily journaling as an easily maintainable quick fix.
Well, I have to admit that when it comes to practising gratitude, I was proved wrong. Now, I still don’t think it’s the magic fix we all need to feel great all the time, but I’ve realised it’s more about the mindset change behind it. I keep a guided daily-gratitude journal and now that it’s been almost 8 weeks, I can say I am starting to feel a difference. I tend to easily get in my own head, and a simple negative can ruin an entire day. A trip to the shops can bring me close to tears if I forgot to bring a shopping list with me.
So, keeping a gratitude journal has helped me train my brain to think about the positive and also look for those more. An example of this would be, I’m super lucky that I am going away to Greece with my family and boyfriend for 10 days this summer. On days when work is draining, or global news is bad, this trip will randomly come into my mind without me meaning for it to, and I suddenly feel a sense of relief, something to look forward to and be happy about. Learning to look at the positives in my life for 5 minutes every day has helped me not let negativity take over at points where it does not need to.
2. Arts & crafts 3/5
I wish I could give this a higher rating because I want nothing more than a wardrobe filled with clothes I’ve sewed, knitted, and crocheted, cupboards filled with jewelry and dishes I made, and walls filled with my own art. But I just, never do it. I have a sewing machine, crochet and embroidery kits, pearls, canvas, paint, brushes, and more but I just cannot commit to hobbies. I am a master procrastinator so find it hard to start or finish any project, I’ll do it once every few months for a couple of evenings, and then not touch my projects for up to a year.
I would love for it to work for me because when I do take the time to focus on those hobbies, I find it helps clear my brain, soothe me, and is so satisfying once I finish, but I just have not managed to commit. I am hoping this changes with time, but I can still definitely see why it is usually a staple on most self-care lists.
3. Skincare 4/5
Now, I want to preface anything I am about to say by clarifying, I am absolutely clueless when it comes to skincare. I have no idea what products or ingredients do what, have a very vague understanding of the like 2–3 things to avoid putting on my skin, and could not actually tell you for sure that I see or feel any results from the products I do use, and yet have had the same 3 to 5 step routine for about 3 years now — and I love it.
A perfect way to describe how I feel about skincare would be this TikTok.
Again though, I’ve found it’s about the bigger picture behind those silly little behaviours. My skincare routine is time I’m investing in myself, in taking care of myself. I do it for myself and no one else, just because it makes me feel good. My skincare is a time when I am actively taking care of myself, and I think it is an invaluable habit to pick up. It is so much deeper than what a product does to my skin. It’s a simple habit that once again, trains my brain to remember that I too matter, am important, and have worth. I had a first bad depressive episode about 4 years ago, and developing a skincare routine was one of the first things I did when I started healing. It was the first step I took to stop hating myself and start valuing who I was.
4. Cooking 5/5
I love eating, I love anything that will distract me from the constant chaos that is my mind and I love showing the people around me that I love them through gestures. This can all be achieved with cooking. And I’ll be honest, I’m a remarkable cook, which probably (definitely) helps with this one.
I absolutely love food and love discovering new flavours, cuisines, recipes… The satisfaction I get after spending hours cooking a meal I have never attempted before when I sit down, take that first bite and it’s delicious… it’s a feeling like no other. Again, the added bonus here is that cooking is one of the rare activities that has me so hyper-focused that I switch off for a bit, which is honestly a luxury I will take at any opportunity that presents itself.
5. Exercise 2/5
Now I’m not trying to make anyone feel sorry for me by saying this, especially as I fit most conventional beauty standards, but I find exercising hard to enjoy fully without putting pressure on myself to look a certain way. I also as I said, procrastinate a lot, so when it’s easy to find excuses to not do things I need or want to do, finding excuses to not do things I don’t have as much interest in doing has become second nature. Exercising I think can be 50/50 for a lot of people, due to the pressure associated with it, and the very saturated online and physical spaces and conversations around the topic. It’s another one that makes me twitch a little when I see it everywhere on Pinterest or social media pages as the top self-care habit.
Having said all this, there are aspects I do love about it. One thing the fitness girlies have been saying that is true is that exercise is just as good for the body, as it is for the mind and soul and I feel that every time I do find the motivation to get moving. We know that scientifically, exercise is healthy both for physical and mental well-being and I can see how. But, just like it works for a lot of people, it doesn’t for many others. I just think with the societal pressure that is exacerbated by the increasingly unrealistic beauty standards set and the toxic social media culture, that it is, although a proven way to increase well-being, maybe one of the riskier self-care practices to implement, at least in my life at the moment.
6. Walks 1.5/5
I feel like walks are the new avocado toast or matcha, everyone goes on them, everybody talks about them, and they’ve officially become an aesthetic. Well, walks do absolutely nothing for me. If I’m stressed or anxious, that stress does not really go away as I still struggle to switch my brain off. If I’m angry or frustrated, yes, I’ll calm down, but spending time doing anything would have allowed that. I don’t know if laziness also plays a part but whether I’m well or not, doing something or getting out of the space I am in does not necessarily help.
I like to walk with purpose, whether it is to get somewhere, as a set activity (eg. Planning to go on a walk with someone), or because there is something for me to see. And even then, I am never overly keen on the idea. I’m in no way questioning the fact that fresh air and sunshine are good for you, or that getting out and moving is beneficial, I just find that it’s not a hack or habit that works for me at all.
7. Reading 3.5/5
I have a very love-hate relationship with reading. I love books, I love learning new things and as we’ve all gathered now, I love things that allow me to mentally escape. But I HATE the action of reading. I find storytelling fascinating and captivating, but the action of reading is top three on my list of the most boring things to do. And to make matters worse, I just don’t have the attention span to follow an audiobook. Just like with other hobbies, it is something I wish I did more, and enjoy so much when I do it, but have not yet managed to really incorporate it to my every day.
I am trying to read more and have read more books in the past 4 months than I had in several years in the past. Special mention to reading before bed because again, it turns out Pinterest and the wellbeing girlies (as well as specialists, we’ll give it to them), were right, screens are terrible for you, especially first thing in the morning and last thing before bed.
8. Doing absolutely nothing 1000/5
Sometimes the solution is to actually do nothing, and do it guilt-free! Self-care, and again, societal expectations and social media have not helped, can be extremely pressuring when we add accountability to it. Sometimes to counter stress, relaxing and doing nothing is the solution, rather than setting more expectations and pressure on ourselves. That can be resting with music playing in the background, laying in on some mornings, going to bed early, napping, or binge-watching a show/ movie. No pressure, no real activity, just rest.
I find it hard to do nothing per se, I always think of something to do, from a grocery list to a podcast plan or even reading a book or watching a documentary, but sometimes, all we need is to do nothing physically, mentally, or intellectually stimulating in any way, shape or form, without feeling bad or thinking about what we could be doing instead.
And before we close off, I just have a couple of honourable mentions including:
- Podcasts & music which are my favorite forms of media and art. I could listen to podcasts and/ or music all day long without ever getting bored. But, with such intense emotions comes overwhelmingness. Both can be too overstimulating at times, podcasts just from the nature of some topics and content discussed and music for the emotions it can ignite in me. However, I am rarely happier than one a podcast or music is on in the background.
- The second one is quality time with loved ones which will always be unmatched in my eyes. I am lucky that I have a supportive and loving network of people including my family, partner, and close friends. My top remedy is often a phone call, coffee, or drink with one of them, and they never fail to make me feel better. Being surrounded by people I love, value, trust, and am inspired by is the one thing I am most grateful for.
As we said in the opening, conversations around stress and self-care can be just as healing as they are triggering or sometimes completely empty. Although we can joke about it, and make cute TikToks and Pinterest boards, those are conversations that matter and habits that can and do make a change. So, to close this off, I just want to get soppy and remind anyone reading this that they deserve to be happy. Different self-care practices can help, getting professional help can help, and surrounding ourselves with as much positivity (through habits, people, places etc) as possible, also helps. For me, it’s also by making light of darker issues in my life, and creating content around those, and I hope doing this brings a little bit more positivity around me while I’m at it.