It’s a natural reaction to any bad day: Canceling your plans to watch Sex and The City for the 8th time, slapping on a face mask, and debating the risk/reward of running the bath in your apartment. It’s an Instagram-worthy and totally valid form of self-care but is also, quite literally, only skin deep if that’s where it begins and ends.
The root of self-care goes well beyond our pores and into a less pretty, complicated, but ultimately, ~rewarding~ journey with our mental health. As Carrie Bradshaw once said amid a sea of more questionable quotes, “The most exciting, challenging and significant relationship of all is the one you have with yourself.”
Since we rarely see beyond the superficial surface of self-care, with the help of some of the sharpest minds in psychology, we’ve compiled a skimmable list of strategies. Feel free to read in the tub if you ended up making the bold decision to go for it.
Setting boundaries is one of the primary ways to maintain your peace and serve your authentic self. Happiness comes when we live aligned with our values from saying no to things we don’t want to do, limiting our time with people who don’t lift us up, or replying, “thank you, but no” with an upside smiley when asked to work late for the fourth night in a row. For many of us, particularly women, learning to set boundaries is daunting because we’re conditioned to people-please and not disappoint others. But like with any new skill, it just takes practice. Remember that your boundaries are valid and you never have to apologize for them.
Like setting boundaries, expressing our needs is easier said than done. This leads to sometimes just indirectly subtweeting to the world—but this solves...absolutely nothing. Instead of trying to fit your feelings into a 280-word character count, start unapologetically asking for what you need. To begin, turn off autopilot and pause to check in with what this actually is. Knowing what we need is often the toughest hurdle, so if you’ve figured it out while reading this, congrats! You’re doing amazing. Once we start asking for what we need anxiety may kick in telling us we’re asking for too much or being selfish. That’s natural, but trust us, you’re not. Start small if it helps then move on to bigger asks once you get more comfortable.
Talking Things Out
Verbalizing our emotions has powerful psychological benefits that ~science~ can back up. Even if talking about our problems doesn’t result in a solution, studies have shown that the simple act of opening up to someone we trust reduces stress, strengthens our immune systems, and lessens physical and emotional distress. Here’s a quick neuroscience lesson to sound smart at your next cocktail parties now that those are a thing again: Naming our feelings reduces activation in the amygdala, our brain’s alarm system that triggers the fight-or-flight response. That means we become less reactive and more grounded in the logical side of our brains vs the emotional. So text a friend, call your mom or schedule an appointment with a therapist. We love therapy.
Getting Enough (Quality) Sleep
It happens. You fall down a #Kony2012 or Area 51 rabbit hole on YouTube until sunrise and then try to rebound the next day with 3(+) cups of coffee. Safe to say, it’s almost always a horrible idea, and *spoiler alert* the videos would have still been there tomorrow. We’ve been told since begging our parents to stay up past our bedtime that sleep is important, but so many people don’t know how important it really is. There are so many benefits to sleep that if someone tried to quickly read off the side effects in a commercial, it would need its own show. Some notable ones include the fact that sleep reduces stress, improves your mood, manages weight, allows you to think more clearly, and get sick less often. Among many others.
Asking Instead Of Pretending To Know
Anyone, anywhere, and at any age can always learn something. You should never be ashamed of not knowing a piece of information or how to perform a certain task. You may have learned not to ask if you grew up in a certain type of home (hi, we feel you) but it’s time to unlearn that. Our knowledge is not fixed, and there’s always room for more information. Asking questions can ease our anxiety, help solve problems and lead to personal growth. There’s rarely a reason to “tough it out” on your own when you have someone willing to help.
As a surprise to no one, there’s a massive burnout epidemic. Even before the coronavirus outbreak became The Pandemic™ grind culture and the “rise and grinders” of the world left us feeling like if we’re not productive 24/7, we’re somehow failing ourselves. Not to quote you know who, but 👏fake news👏. Nonstop hustling is an unsustainable way to live life. Being successful in your career is great and important but finding balance to spend time with friends, do hobbies you enjoy, have quality time with your partner, exercise, and—for those of you who weren’t paying attention—sleep is so important for our mental health.
Offering Yourself Compassion
SELF LOVE. You’ve definitely heard this phrase more times than a GEICO insurance ad but it bears repeating. That said, self-love is more than getting your nails done or hair blown out if either of those is your jam. It requires being compassionate with ourselves if we make a bad decision, experience self-doubt, or previously put our past selves in a dangerous situation. Forgive yourself and be gentle. Adding self-flagellation to an already tough situation doesn’t help and is a lot less pleasant than giving yourself a break. Talk to yourself the way you might with a friend, you deserve it!
Being Okay With Not Being Okay
Even the most well-meaning parent or friend who ever tried to console you with a “don’t cry” or “stay strong” was—plot twist—misguided. Though you may have been fortunate enough to grow up in a home that left you only lightly scathed (congrats!), very few of us were taught how to deal with our emotions in a healthy way. Here’s a quick breakdown: Emotions are fleeting. They don’t last forever. They’re meant to come up to the surface then go on their way. Often, people fear if they feel their feelings they’ll “get stuck” on a so-called negative emotion, but it’s actually the opposite. Emotions ebb and flow. So cry into a pillow, stomp your feet it’s all okay. Experiencing emotions isn’t the problem. Our unhealthy attempts to escape or get rid of uncomfortable emotions lead us to trouble
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