May is Mental Health Awareness month. I am thrilled to see a positivity about mental health this year, a renewed value of compassion. Self-care suggestions are everywhere, which serves as a great reminder for mental wellness. But what about self-care when you don’t care? What appears to be missing from the current conversation are the absolute essentials. It is difficult to practice self-care when everything feels like an effort. Apathy and low energy are symptoms of mental illness and need treatment. This post is a return to the basics of self-care.
I love everything about the phrase “it’s okay to not be okay.” There may be times when the world is a bit too overstimulating, and overwhelming. When you are “not okay” there are grounding self-care basics that can soothe you into better mental health. Whether you are taking a mini mental health day, a weekend retreat, or an extended time to re-coup your mental health, bring some basics with you. They may seem simple, but sometimes simple is best.
7 essential self-care basics
(When you don’t care much about anything)
1. Brush your teeth
Surprise! The foundational habits of hygiene that you developed in childhood still matter. It is humanizing to make yourself aware of the routine of brushing your teeth, washing your face, and taking a regular shower or bath. When you have a physical sickness, these things sometimes go by the wayside with little impact. But when you are emotionally unwell, they are incredibly important to bring you back to yourself. It may feel like “going through the motions” at first, but trust the process.
2. sleep at night
Disruptions in sleep are typical when you are experiencing a flare up of depression or anxiety. It is tempting to sleep during the day to make up for time lost at night. Avoid this trap. Extended napping deprives you of quality sleep and will ultimately get you on what I call a “skunk schedule.” Skunks are awake and active at night, which works well for them in foraging for food and hanging out with other skunks who are also awake at night. For people, being awake when the world is asleep is, well, depressing. The uninterrupted time of night wakefulness gives your anxious thoughts too much attention. Pick an early bedtime and stick to it. Return to or initiate a sleep hygiene routine.
3. Change your clothes
It is cozy to be in your pajamas, but there are limits. Staying in your pajamas sends a message to yourself that you are not functioning, and that is discouraging. Thankfully, leisure wear is here to stay and you have comfortable options. You have more possibility for movement and activity, if you choose, when you are already dressed. Yes, it takes energy to change your clothes, but it also ignites energy. If you remain in your night clothes you are one step closer to returning to bed, staying in bed, and then the effort to get out of bed becomes too much. Depression is sneaky like that.
4. Plate your food
Loss of appetite is not uncommon when you are struggling emotionally. Nothing feels good, nothing tastes good, and the effort it takes to hunt and gather healthy food can seem unattainable. Feeding yourself nutritious food helps you to heal. If you are on medication, it supports metabolizing the medication which improves efficiency and effectiveness. Consider alternatives to shopping in the grocery store temporarily. Examples of possible options are: Order food through meal planning services , or order groceries for pick up online. Prepare simple meals (think protein, veggies, fruit) and sit at the table to eat. When you eat better, you feel better.
5. Phone a friend
Mental health symptoms are isolating. The more time you spend alone with your thoughts, the more tightly you will cling to possibly false conclusions. Dark thoughts dig in deep when they are unchallenged. Phoning a friend and talking about nothing in particular eases the loneliness and breaks up the day. Consider the positive friend or family member that is joyful to be around most of the time. Even if you do not share that you are having a stressful or low mood day, it will be good to hear their voice and be reminded that you are cared about in this world.
6. Brighten your space
When the laundry and mail are piling up unsorted, and the trash could use to be emptied, and the sink is overflowing … Too many “to dos” in your range of sight can weigh you down. Refresh your spirit by moving to a less cluttered space or tidying just enough to uplift your mood. Think low visual stimulation but high sensory appeal. For example: sitting by a window, diffusing a fragrant oil, playing a favorite playlist, or cuddling up to an inspiring book. Enlisting your senses is grounding technique that can soothe your frazzled nerves.
7. Open the window
Breathe in some fresh air, listen to the birds, and take in some green space. If you are feeling comfortable, maybe take a few steps outside. Nature is good for you. There is a growing body of research on the positive physical and mental health perks of making time to be with nature. Two hours (a week!) of outdoor time decreases mental distress and increases feelings of happiness. Maybe it is in part the counter balance to the amount of screen time we are accumulating, or possibly the natural rhythm of nature restores our sense of belonging and meaning. We don’t know why, but we know for sure it matters. And you matter. So let’s bring the two of you together.
Bonus self-care basic!
8. tame your media
Our cell phones provide easy access to continuous news feeds and social comparisons. When you are feeling anxious or depressed it may seem like a helpful distraction, but actually it can worsen your symptoms. Take a media break or tune into healthy websites like Wondermind or Gratefulness.org. I have subscribed to their newsletters and there is always something heartwarming for reading and reflection. Break the habit of doomscrolling and start a new habit of screen-free time. Your mood will thank you.
I am celebrating mental health awareness month this year by participating in NAMI Walk 2022. As a proud member of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) I am always excited to spread the great news of their excellent and FREE support, education and advocacy to our community. The NAMI Walk is their only official fundraising event. This year I am privileged to speak at the NAMI memorial service to honor those who have died from mental illness. There will be music, personal testimonies, an inspirational speech (that’s my part!), and a butterfly release. Following the memorial the 5K walk will begin. It is a positive and encouraging event–I hope to see you there!
Health & Happiness,
Dr. Lisa Marotta