On self-care

‘I’ve realised that self-love is an action, not a belief. Sure, it starts with the belief, but it only works when put into action. It’s a verb. And it’s exactly like loving other people. Because love is just a word until you have the power to make yourself or someone else feel truly, deeply loved.’

I came across these words by Jamie Varon last week. They seemed like a fitting start to this post, which was then just a few thoughts I’d collected in a note on my phone early one morning. They reminded me that looking after myself requires effort and intention. When I feel tired, unwell, stressed, anxious, low or a combination of these, I know I need to dedicate more time to self-care.

This means slowing down, doing things that make me happy and giving myself space to think about what I want and need. It also means not looking up my symptoms on the internet, as tempting as the search bar is. During very busy / uncertain periods or coeliac flare-ups, focusing on how I’m doing is especially important. I can’t predict every problem or event outside of my control, but proactively managing my wellbeing helps me to deal with them better when they do show up.

I appreciate that right now, without a partner, children or mortgage to consider, I probably have the most time I’ll ever have for self-care. Even so, I’ll continue to include it when other areas of my life need more attention. Managing my outlook and energy is vital for my wellbeing and a responsible thing to do. Recognising this has led me to build a list of ‘go to’ self-care practices. In no particular order, here they are:

1. Breathe and move. Fresh air and exercise can work like magic on a low mood or bad day, so take a walk, go for a run, do some yoga or find whatever suits you. Long walks by the sea or in the countryside are my favourite, but wandering through cities can be just as good.

2. Write in a journal. Although I like sharing some thoughts publicly, my journal is where the processing really happens. I tend to fill it whilst sitting (cross-legged, hair up, glasses on) in bed, but I also take it with me on walks or to coffee shops. I note down interesting and meaningful phrases I find, come up with lists, create mind maps and write for a few pages at a time.

3. Read. Find books and articles you enjoy and make time to read them – Netflix can wait. I’m currently finishing up The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. I really recommend it if you’re interested in developing more positive behaviours.

4. Have a bath. Add bubbles, a playlist of your favourite songs and candles if you’re feeling fancy.

5. Take a nap or get an early night. Although you probably can’t nap at work (not everywhere has Google’s sleep pods yet), allowing yourself to rest for a while can help you to regain energy for the rest of your day or the week ahead. I’m also an advocate for going to sleep at 10pm on weeknights.

6. Eat when you’re hungry and, even when you lose your appetite, make sure to give yourself enough energy. If you can, take the time to buy ingredients, cook your favourite meal and enjoy it with friends, family or happily in your own company.

7. Watch your favourite films and TV shows. Parks & Rec highlights on YouTube never fail to make me feel better.

8. Listen to music. For best results, sing and dance along – in the shower, kitchen, car or wherever it’s appropriate. If you play an instrument or want to try one out, do that too.

9. Spend time with people you love. Self-care doesn’t necessarily mean being by yourself – social time matters too. This is particularly important if you tend to isolate yourself when feeling low.

10. Volunteer for a cause or do something for another person. As Dolly Alderton points out in this article, ‘stay connected to other people and you’ll stay connected to yourself’. I’m a firm believer in the value of social action. In the past few years, volunteering with Southampton Hub and the Ashmolean Museum has given me a sense of community as I’ve settled into new places. It’s also great for developing skills.

These aren’t groundbreaking suggestions, but I hope they’re helpful. Thanks for reading!