The blues have a funny way of creeping up on us, don’t they?
Waking up with a knot in your stomach after so many days of feeling all energised and amazed. It’s the worst.
October is mental health awareness month here in South Africa and over the past 30 days I’ve really loved reading people’s thoughts on various aspects of this too-often neglected subject.
It’s been empowering to see friends, acquaintances and strangers opening up about their battles – everything from commonplace insecurities to crippling burnouts – and finding strength in that vulnerability.
More encouraging, even, has been the opportunity to learn about ways in which people choose to take care of themselves during dark days and how these (mostly) simple rituals speak of hope beyond measure.
In the light of this, I recently decided to take a closer look at the things I choose to do when I hit a low, trying to differentiate those that drag me into a downward spiral from the ones that eventually help to send me soaring again.
And so, with the simple act of paying attention to my body, I’ve started discovering self-care methods of my own that form the building blocks of feeling better.
Here are just a few basics to start off with:
Spend time outdoors
This is reasonably self-explanatory. The ocean and the mountains are their own sort of medicine.
Finish one thing… and then another
As someone who gets distracted far too easily, it’s uncanny how affirming a single tick on a to-do list can be. Not to mention two or three.
Do them slowly
This is some advice my mom shared with me while we were walking the Camino recently: when you start feeling stressed or anxious, don’t make it worse by going into a spin of ‘doing’, without getting anything done. Instead, do things slowly and systematically.
Eventually this will seep into every aspect of your life, helping you savour the little moments, simple meals and unassuming joys more deeply.
Drink lots of water
I know we have a drought in Cape Town. But seriously. Your mother told you this already – staying adequately hydrated does wonders for your mood. As an extra booster, I’ve been popping strawberries/oranges/cucumber into sparkling water lately. Trust me, it works.
When I get stressed or anxious or upset, I just stop eating. Which obviously is not a good idea. At all. So for me, eating well starts with eating something, at least. And if that something looks a little like this, all the better:
- Have a healthy breakfast (muesli & yoghurt, a smoothie, maybe a boiled egg)
- Eat some protein at lunch time
- Have lots of fresh veggies for dinner
- Snack on nuts, seeds and berries
- Sink your teeth into some fruit
- Make hot beverages with benefits just before bed (Golden milk cocoa is my favourite right now!)
While I’m definitely not an emotional eater (see above), I like treating myself to something sweet in the late afternoon. However, this makes me less inclined to do some exercise, which makes me less inclined to fall asleep. Sucks.
This is a biggie for me and something that’s taken the longest time to sink in. Alcohol is a depressant, which means – when I’m feeling down already, that glass of wine I’ve been craving all day is just going to make me feel worse. Super sucks.
Go for a walk
First thing in the morning or late afternoon – there’s nothing to kickstart or seal your day off quite like a long and soothing walk. It gets the blood pumping, the brain thinking (instead of spinning), gives you the opportunity to observe and interact with other people (and more importantly, their dogs) and allows you some sort of immersion in your surroundings.
Do some yoga
Okay, well, there is one other thing, actually – yoga. I’ve always enjoyed doing morning sessions, but struggled to get into a home practice after my membership at Yoga Life expired. In the meantime, I’ve discovered the wonderful Yoga with Adriene and am currently getting into a fun routine of doing a little flow first thing after waking up.
Reach out/tap into community
When I start delving into the depths of my own head, it’s extremely difficult to get out again. Which is why – the moment I feel myself switching on that headlamp and shouldering my pickaxe – I need to reach out.
Whether that means chatting to the neighbour or messaging a friend I haven’t spoken to in a while to find out how they are, that act of breaching my own walls is a little victory in itself.
Buy myself some flowers
Why wait for someone else to do it? After all, I know exactly which colours, scents and shapes will bring delight into my life. (But this doesn’t mean my boyfriend’s off the hook)
Don’t skimp on the beauty routine
Usually, when I hit a rough patch, I feel tempted to just stop making any effort with my appearance. However, time and again I’ve found how clean hair, a dash of mascara and a favourite outfit can make a huge difference in how I feel about myself.
Listen to podcasts
If you follow the blog, you’ll know I love a good podcast. The stories I enjoy the most always get right to the very heart of the human condition, which I guess, makes sense. It’s like what C.S. Lewis said about reading: we listen to know we are not alone.
Recent episodes that have touched my heart include:
- The Perils of Intimacy – This American Life
- In the Shadow of the City – This American Life
- Doing the Work: Adventure Photographer Kylie Flynn – SheExplores
- What to do with your ambition – The RobCast
- We are the committee – The RobCast
Observe other creatures
I mention this in my point about walking, but just spending time observing other creatures is surprisingly therapeutic. While people watching is great, I do believe animals, birds and insects are even more intriguing in the way they go about their business so earnestly and without motive. They simply are what they are and do what they do.
When I’m around my pets (meet Jasper and Sandokan), I’m endlessly amused by the magnificent ways in which they are so fully dog and so fully cat, without even trying. Yet, so completely relatable – almost human – too.
Similarly, while hiking the other day, I couldn’t tear my eyes away from a soaring hawk – wings outstretched, circling upward on rising air. No purpose, just the pure embodiment of its very hawkness.
Isn’t that the ultimate?
Cut down on social media
Jealousy and envy are my Achilles heels. No matter how well things are going in my life, I often feel that I am simply not good enough. Especially in comparison to everyone else. Of course, this is hugely damaging and completely unnecessary, but you can rest assured – I’m working very hard to manage it.
One of the best ways to do this has proven to be cutting down on social media activities during the times I’m particularly susceptible to being triggered.
Finally, as a writer, I need to write. It’s that easy and that hard, as Neil Gaiman so eloquently said.
How do you take care of yourself when you feel down?