Today we’re going to talk about self care.
Self care is incredibly difficult when one is suffering from mental illness. If there is a person in your life who has mental illness, this is one of the biggest ways that you can help them, other than simply providing an ear when they need it.
Self care means a lot of different things and that meaning can change depending on who you talk to . Lately the emphasis has been on the “treat yourself” angle, the little things we do to help ourselves relax and feel better after a conflict or stressful incident. But it goes deeper than that–at it’s heart, self care can help prevent the break downs, melt downs, and shut downs that accompany many psychological and physical disorders. Below, I’m going to outline a few key areas to focus on, with suggestions on how you can manage them yourself if you are struggling, as well as how you can support someone else unable to care for themselves. Please keep in mind that these are just suggestions, and might not work for every person in every situation. Mental illness and disabilities fall on a spectrum, and sometimes the levels of support we need vary.
Food and Water
This is something I’ve struggled with my entire life. Even as a kid, I never drank enough water, mainly because I didn’t like the way it tasted. While I do love food, I tend to get caught up in activities and will forget to eat. This is called executive dysfunction, and it impacts all of the activities I talk about in this post. Basically it means that because of my mental illness, certain parts of my brain down work properly, or I’m unable to process some of the signals they send, making it hard for me to care for myself.
For yourself: If the taste of water is your problem, try switching to something else that is low in sugar and sodium, like tea, juice, or some sports drinks. Steer clear of soda or drinks high in caffeine, as it is a diuretic and will dehydrate you. I started out drinking flavored water, but anymore I stick to just plain water with some juice or tea on occasion. Keep a large glass or bottle with you at all times. If you’re working on a project, set up benchmarks for yourself so you remember to drink it. For example, after every round on a sweater I’m knitting, I’ll take a sip. Make sure to refill your glass often.
For food, I switched from eating three large meals to snacking throughout the day. I start my day with a smoothie since I have difficulty eating first thing in the morning. I follow a pretty strict routine during the week, so I know that around 9:30 it’s time for a snack. I usually keep something in my desk drawer at work–crackers, oatmeal, poptarts–something of that nature.
In the afternoon after work, I usually have chips and salsa while I’m at the computer. Try to keep your snacks healthy. Try to include protein if you can, and avoid as much sugar as possible.
For someone else: Don’t nag, and don’t push. Gentle reminders only. If you notice their glass is empty, offer to get them a refill. If you’re getting a snack for yourself, offer to get one for them. Ask when they last ate or drank. Sometimes just setting something in front of me is the best reminder and garauntee to get me to eat.
I’m also not the one who does the cooking in our house, just because I never know what to make, so I end up eating nothing. If at least one meal is prepared, or easily accessible (i.e. doesn’t require much more than a minute or two in the microwave) it can go a long way.
Medication is key to self care.
Medication is key to recovery.
Every medication is not right for every person, BUT if you are struggling please talk to your doctor to see if there is something that can help. Finding the right meds in the right dosage can be a challenge, but it is well worth it. If you are concerned about your ability to take it consistently, address those concerns with your doctor.
For yourself: Keep all your pills in one place, preferably the place you usually take them (mine live in my night stand because I take them right before bed). If you take a variety of medications at different times of day, invest in a pill holder that includes slots for every day as well as multiple times. Set reminders on your phone for the times you need to take them. When that alarm goes off, stop what you are doing and go take your pills. Make sure your phone is set so that even if it is on mute, the alarm will still go off. If you need more intensive management, check online–there are lots of apps available for helping manage both medication and mental health symptoms, which can also be helpful when talking to your doctor.
For someone else: Managing someone else’s medication can be difficult, especially they do not want to take it. If they refuse, there is nothing you can do. It is between them and their medical care provider. Though it is difficult, the best thing you can do is keep an eye on them and be prepared to call for help if necessary.
If the problem is simply reminding them to take the medication, then your best bet is simply to ask, or if they can’t remember to check the pill organizer mentioned above. Don’t force it. You are here in a support position, not a care position. Help them find organizational solutions that work for them, and offer gentle reminders as necessary.
For yourself: Showering, brushing your teeth, etc can be an insurmountable task when you are so depressed you can’t get out of bed. Try to find a way of making it more enjoyable. Run a nice warm bath, toss in some bubbles or a bath bomb, put on a face mask, and settle in for 30 minutes with a good book.
If that doesn’t work for you, try to find a way to make it more efficient–there are a lot of body washes that double as shampoo and/or conditioner, which can make time spent bathing much faster. If you find a scent you like and a way to make it faster or more relaxing, it isn’t such a chore.
I’m not great at brushing and flossing when I’m depressed, and I don’t have a good solution for that. My mom likes to hang pictures of tooth decay on her bathroom mirror, but that doesn’t really work for me. I’m afraid I don’t have a suggestion for this one, but if you do leave a comment below.
For someone else: The best thing to do here is again a few gentle reminders. Maybe that means just asking, “hey, did you brush your teeth this morning?” or maybe it means putting basket with some bath supplies in the bathroom to entice them.
For yourself: Whether it’s laundry or paying the bills or remembering to feed the cat, organization is key. Make a schedule for yourself. Give yourself a different task each day. Maybe Monday is laundry day, and on Wednesday you vacuum the living room while on Thursdays you take out the trash.
If a task seems overwhelming, break it down into something smaller. When I notice things starting to get out of hand, I make a rule that more has to go out than in. That means that if I take a bowl of ice cream up to my room, I have to take down any old water glasses first. If I go into the living room to knit, I need to take the shoes piling up by the couch upstairs.
You can also make use of downtime. While I’m waiting for the kettle to boil, I empty the dishwasher. While my dinner is in the microwave, I take out the trash. Little things add up.
For someone else: Sometimes we need a hand to get the ball rolling. Once we have momentum, it’s easier to get going. One thing I struggle with is doing the dishes. I’m really bad about doing them right after a meal, so they pile up until they become completely overwhelming. If I have someone to help me get started or to work with, it’s a lot easier. Don’t criticize, just be there to offer a helping hand, and maybe a little direction when things feel out of hand.
This is still at the heart of self care, at least for me. I’m bad about beating myself up for things that are not in my control. It’s important to remind yourself and those you love that they are worthy and deserve to relax, to recoup, and to exist as they are.
For yourself: Take. Your. Time.
Recovery is not a race. Neither is treatment. Neither is life.
Slow down. Take a breath. Do at least one thing you enjoy every day. When you’re stressed, go snuggle a pet or spend some time with a friend, even if it’s just online. If you find yourself getting sucked in and spending all your time reading or watching television or playing video games, set a time for thirty minutes or an hour, and then go do something else when it goes off.
Step away from social media. Spend time with something or someone you enjoy. Snuggle your cat, walk the dog, watch a movie. Read a book. Knit something.
For someone else: Make sure that they feel they have the right to relax and enjoy themselves. Give them an evening where they don’t need to worry–make them dinner, allow them to relax.
I hope you guys find some of that helpful. If you have any additional suggestions, leave a comment below!
Like what you see? Check out 7 Things to Never Say to Someone with Mental Illness