As a woman with bipolar disorder I and PTSD, I can pretty safely say that no two days are the same. There are days when the world is sunshine and roses; life is grand! Then there are days when the inside of my brain is trying to run the show without me, and it’s leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. There are floundering relationships, self-harm incidents, and half-hatched big plans laying strewn about, and I stand in the middle of it all, trying very hard not to let the illness win.
When I can really stand back and take stock of things, I find that self-care is paramount to my feeling better, or simply not getting worse. The following are some of my “go-to” self-care strategies.
1. Coloring. I know, I know. You’re already rolling your eyes at the screen, wondering what the heck I’m even talking about. But coloring has turned out to be a Zen activity in my life. My manias are not euphoric, but angry and aggressive, and I have found the act of coloring to bring me down in the moment.
It’s also extremely helpful with my anxiety and PTSD symptoms. We’re lucky that the adult coloring movement is upon us, so you can go anywhere and find books and pencils and markers for very little money.
2. Singing. This strategy is actually backed by science. More and more studies show that the act of singing (in the shower, in the car, on a stage) helps to bring a person calm and joy. Non-judgment is the key: find an album or song list you like (vinyl or online), throw it on, and start singing. It can be of any genre of music, any artist, any arrangement. All that matters is that you sing with abandon!
3. Massage. This is a once-in-awhile self-care treat for me. If I had the money, I’d get a massage every week. But I don’t, so I try to do this for myself once every few months. Massage has been used as a relaxation and health treatment for thousands of years, and there are myriad reasons why — but the bottom line is, it makes you feel good! I know many people with chronic illness of all kinds who make sure they put time aside for massage on a regular basis.
4. Journaling… outside. Anyone who’s been treated for a chronic illness for a while probably wants to scream every time someone says “Have you tried journaling?” No, I’ve never heard of this. What is it? Ugh.
All sarcasm aside, though, journaling in the outdoors when I can, or if I’m really not feeling well, has been incredibly helpful for me. The outdoors make you feel like you’re a part of something more, if you want to, or that you’re the only person in the world, if you want to. It’s really all about how you want to take the best care of yourself at that time.
Also, just like in coloring, the actual physical act of writing can help to bring calm and focus. Write a journal entry, write a thank you note to a friend, or write your grocery list for next week. Content matters less than the fact that you’re writing for yourself in the great outdoors. Put a lawn chair out in the backyard, find a nice park with lovely-smelling flowers, or float in your pool with a trusty notebook and pen! (If you’re from the Boston area like me, I’d suggest this activity be taken indoors December-March, unless you really like snow.)
5. An ingestible treat. Self-care is really about utilizing the five senses in an attempt to make you feel better, or at least to bring you to a more manageable spot until you can talk with a doctor or therapist. I have a short list of things that smell and taste good that I make myself (or ask for). Really good coffee or a chai latte are at the top of the list. Being able to hold a warm cup, smell something wonderful, and then take time to taste that wonderful thing involves three senses in a matter of seconds.
These are just a few tools that anyone can use to help make things a little better in the moment, or to be consistently good to oneself. Sometimes one tool on its own is enough, sometimes a few need to be combined. I have a little list on my refrigerator so that when things get bad, I have it in front of me and can start caring for myself.
What’s on your list? How might you practice self-care today?
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