My grandmother always wore lipstick. A bluish-red shade that instantly changed her face. It was one of the first things she did when she woke up in the morning, and she would keep it in her right pocket to reapply it throughout the day. She still wore it when she was old and frail and knew the end was near.
Although she passed a long time ago, I still remember everything about it. The shiny, black tube it swirled out of, its sweet smell, a mixture of plastic and perfume. I hated when she would kiss my cheek and stamp it on me. I cringed whenever I saw the smeared, semi-circle on cups and the red traces on forks, spoons, or my grandfather.
She was one of the most pivotal people in my life, a key player in the design and construction of my blueprint as a woman. Not a day goes by that I don’t miss her. And even though I rarely wear lipstick, that was my earliest lesson on the value of self-care.
Deborah Serani, Psy.D. explains in an article for Psychology Today what self-care means and why it is often a struggle for those suffering from depression.
‘In short, self-care is care provided for you, by you. But when you live with depression, self-care can sometimes feel unattainable. You’re tired, listless, with feelings of despair and corrosive thoughts that push and shove in an endless tug-of-war within you. Often, depression leaves you feeling like your physical and emotional reactivity has been siphoned off, draining you of the ability to look after yourself.’
Essential Self-Care Ideas for Anyone Struggling with a Mental Illness
When depression begins to suffocate you, self-care is the last thing on your mind and something you rarely have energy even to attempt. However, we all must try to take care of ourselves if we’re going to overcome whatever we’re facing. To help you get started, here are ten tips you can use today that drive you toward a healthy self-care regimen.
Keep Things Small
Obviously, planning to go from not wanting to get out of bed to dressing for the Academy Awards will likely fail. Set small, achievable goals that you can accomplish every day. Basic things like taking a shower, brushing your teeth twice a day, and changing out of pajamas. If you do just these three things, you’ll already leap ahead of many.
Build Momentum (Slowly and Patiently)
Take those three basics from above and then add two new ones every week. These tasks should be small. After the first week, they will become part of the easy routine you have become accustomed to doing.
So, incorporate, say flossing when you brush your teeth and put lotion on after your shower (one that has a smell that soothes and appeals to you, which adds aromatherapy benefits). Then, after the first month, you are now miles ahead of where you started, and it was a gradual climb without any drastic expectations.
Add Physical Movement
When mental illness hits, it’s easy to be inactive, numbingly waiting for things to get better. Naturally, no one should expect to run a marathon immediately. Again, the key to success is keeping it bite sized.
On Day-1, decide that you will get up and stretch for 3-5 minutes. Pick a music video you enjoy and do it just for the time you watch it.
Then, add a minute each day. If stretching isn’t your thing, try walking, or weight reps. You don’t need to get to the point where you are ready for the Olympics, but after only a month, you created an achievable and maintainable workout routine for yourself. (And caught up on some of your favorite old-school music videos I’m sure.)
Amy Marlow’s article on Healthline spotlights how important deep breathing is to any self-care routine.
‘Deep breathing increases circulation, releases endorphins and relaxes muscles. I do my breath work throughout the day, not just when I start to feel anxious or depressed. What I love about deep breathing is that I can do it anywhere — in the shower, in the car, at my desk, and even while having a conversation. I can give myself a 10-second break, no matter what I am doing.’
Like with everything listed, just start with some brief periods of focussed breathing. You don’t have to spend an hour to get the benefits. Try breathing deeply right now for 10-seconds before continuing.
Change the Dialogue
Commonly referred to as a ‘negative tape,’ people who battle mental illness experience a morphed and inaccurate reflection staring back at them in the mirror. Often, there is a constant inner monologue that tells you that you are unlovable, lazy, a failure, unattractive, etc. Turn off these unhelpful and, more importantly, inaccurate messages you tell yourself. Replace them by reinforcing the things you admire about yourself.
On the first day, find one thing you like. Write it down. Even if it is something silly, for example, a freckle that is perfectly shaped or placed. Alternate by adding something physical and something internal. Keep adding one to the list every day. By Day-4 your list could be ‘I like the freckle on my cheek, my voice when I sing Karaoke, my strong fingernails, my patience in long lines and traffic.’
The next time your depression lies to you and tells you how awful you are, go back to that list and read it out loud. It’ll be inspiring to see all your qualities gathered together en masse. And it’ll be harder for your depression to spread those lies with such a logical and positive inventory.
Celebrate Every Win
Reward yourself with something special when you have completed a streak. No one is perfect and some days will be worse than others. Instead of wallowing in the loss, give yourself a clean slate and start fresh the following day. Losses don’t carry-over, wins do.
Commit that, when you complete your newly cultivated ‘routine’ for a set amount of days, you celebrate and reward yourself.
Make your reward something related to positive self-care and keep it tailored to your budget. Choose anything from a nail polish color you’ve wanted to try, or a fancy work out shirt, to a new dress or a designer watch. You can even escalate the value so the longer the streak, the bigger the reward.
Set Appointments for the Big Things
Why do you think that the receptionist at your Dentist’s office is always trying to book your next appointment before you walk out of your last? Simple, you are more likely to come back if you already booked the appointment. It is a small piece of accountability that increases your odds of showing up. Use this hack to your advantage and make appointments for all the necessary self-care appointments in your routine.
Schedule your haircuts, Doctor’s check ups, dental cleanings, manicures, whatever. Write them on a calendar that you can see, so they are not a surprise.
Use these appointments as victories, the first when you show up, the second when it’s over, and the third is when you book your next one before leaving.
Depression lies and tells you that you should be alone, and you think that others are better off without you. That couldn’t be further from the truth. People loved you and enjoyed being around you before, and they will continue to love you through your recovery. Unless you are a circus clown, your depression doesn’t diminish the ‘big picture’ joy that you bring. The charming, pre-depression you will seep through, even in the darkest of times. By sharing your feelings, struggles, and needs, the people you love can better assimilate and accommodate.
Mawiyah Patten writes in an interview for The Mighty about how brutal honesty is key to successful relationships, for both sides.
‘Recovery means hard, honest conversations with your loved ones about what you need, and what you don’t need. It also means doing your best to love and support the people who are loving and supporting you, at the very least on your good days.’
Do you like baseball games? Go to one. How about Gelato in the park? Midweek matinees? Do it. It’s much easier to feel better when you are doing activities that you like. And doing these activities will make you feel better. Even if it takes your mind off of the fight for just a minute, that little bit of relief can spread into momentum.
Surround Yourself with Beauty
Nothing kills motivation more than waking up surrounded by darkness, dirt, and clutter. You don’t need a mansion on a hill. Just make sure your environment is aesthetically pleasing. Try and have a lot of light (natural sunlight is of course best). Keep things tidy and organized when you can. A few key pieces can change a room. A colorful pillow, paint in your favorite color, an exotic plant.
Put pictures up of happy moments and people you love in frames or on your fridge. Have music you like on a playlist in the background.
That calendar with all of your upcoming appointments? Make sure it’s a pretty one. (Definitely, choose cats if cats are your thing.) Infuse the room with your favorite scent. Create the sanctuary you would want for someone you love.
By making these small but powerful changes, you will slowly alter your perception, which inevitably will encourage more improvements in your mental health.
If nothing else, you will start to feel better about the external you and rebuild some vital self-worth.
Ross Bonander in an article for Fox News Health shares how looking your best will directly increase your self-esteem.
‘No one disputes the incredible effect self-confidence can have on a guy. People are drawn to confident people, and when they find it in others, they buy into it. Now, there are several ways to gain self-confidence, and one of them is in presenting yourself in the most attractive manner, in part because it’ll make you feel good but also because, according to published estimates, we have the occasion to see our reflections in windows, mirrors and other surfaces as many as 50 times a day.’
Red lipstick. That was my grandmother’s non-negotiable. She demanded that it was in every reflection. Even when her face wrinkled, her health wavered, and her spirit faded, it was on her lips and in her right pocket. Like a lucky charm, a safety net, a superhero’s potion.
And without fail it did the trick, staining cheeks fortunate enough to cross its path.
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