You can care about social justice and care about your own happiness, too.

It feels strange to write a headline like this.

On the one hand, maybe it should be obvious — we all deserve to have joy, pursue meaningful connections and experiences, and invest in our own mental health. But somewhere along the way, I think I forgot what it meant to be happy just for the sake of it. And based on the burnout I’ve seen, I don’t think I’m the only one.

I was talking to my online therapist recently about how (yet again) a post about sexual assault on my Facebook feed had triggered my obsessive-compulsive disorder. When he gently suggested I take a deeper look at my social media usage, the conversation that ensued drudged up a lot of intense realizations about how I view happiness and self-care.

Namely, that I wasn’t giving myself permission to unplug, because I viewed that as betraying my values.

I realized through this process that very rarely do I do much of anything just for my own happiness. Blogging was an opportunity to support folks in my community. Self-care was a chance to “fix” my mental health so I could do more work. Most of my correspondences online had become me trying to support folks through crises or trauma. My social media was an endless stream of injustice and calls to action.

Every single thing that I did — what I read, what I watched, what I said, what I wrote — became an endless pursuit of doing better, doing more. 

If it wasn’t in service of other people, it simply didn’t have much value, and I didn’t prioritize it.

Last year, I noticed a number of things about myself. For one, I was lonely and burnt out. When I wasn’t working my day job at Everyday Feminism (which involved deep dives into the trauma of marginalized folks), I was either consumed by the news cycle, writing about social issues, opening my own wounds to educate others, or working really f*cking hard to support other folks in the community who were burning out for all the same reasons.

For a while, it was a running joke that I didn’t know how to have fun. “What’s fun?” I used to laugh.

Because when you understand the full extent of injustice in a system like this, fun can feel selfish, trivial, useless. It never seemed important enough. Meanwhile, I bounced in and out of intensive psychiatric programs, with my clinicians shouting after me, “Wait! Slow down? Maybe take more time?”

Even as I write this, I’m riddled with guilt. How many folks get the privilege of uplifting folks in their community on this kind of scale? How many folks get the chance to devote themselves to world-changing work? And most importantly, as an editor, I’ve had the privilege of holding space for so many experiences, stories, traumas… how could I take that for granted?

To be clear, I’ve found so much joy, meaning, and fulfillment in the work. But I have to wonder: When did I decide that my own happiness and wholeness — just for the sake of it, and just for myself — was too self-involved? When did I decide that taking care of myself was not just selfish, but unnecessary?

I’ve shared the “self-care isn’t selfish” memes countless times, and yet here I am, struggling to give myself permission to be happy.

After my second psychiatric hospitalization in the beginning of 2017, it became clear that my time working at Everyday Feminism was done. Walking away from that work was gut-wrenching. I had a lot of late night conversations with my partner, wondering how I could’ve “ruined” an opportunity like that.

Rather than listening to my body — which had been telling me for months, unequivocally, that the work wasn’t sustainable — I spiraled. I began questioning my dedication, questioning my investment, questioning my values. What kind of person has an opportunity to do such important work and, instead, loses their mind, drinks to excess, winds up institutionalized, and then walks away?

For a long time, I thought that my breakdown was my own fault, some kind of indication that I was ungrateful or selfish or incompetent, or that I wasn’t committed enough to my activism.

Here I had an opportunity to make an impact and I’d come undone. It was a dedication issue, I thought, I’m just not trying hard enough.

There’s a larger conversation to be had about the ways in which we fail to support folks doing this work. Structurally, so much social justice activism in underfunded, underpaid. And things like call-out culture can skirt the line, at times, between being necessary vehicles for accountability and being outright dehumanizing. This is all made worse with harassment and doxxing for those of us who primarily do this work online.

All of that makes it challenging to do this work and remain whole, to say the least.

But it also comes down to a very prevalent idea: that we must dedicate ourselves to this work at all times, and that joy is an afterthought, certainly not a priority.

There’s a level of perfectionism in the work that can be toxic. The reality is, there will always be more to do. There will always be more to read. There will always be more pain, more work, more need. And caring deeply about everything and everyone, you can get caught up in this unhealthy cycle of prioritizing everyone else at the expense of yourself.

This year it finally reached a point where I felt like digital activism was the only thing I really knew how to do. It eclipsed my entire identity, my entire self.

And when you determine that your only value is in what you can provide other people, you lose yourself.

After my hospitalization, I had to begin rebuilding my life. I started to wonder who I was in the absence of the work. What did I like? What did I enjoy? What interested me, excited me, energized me?

I have to wonder, how many of us working towards social justice don’t actually have answers to those questions outside of activism? Because my answers before would’ve all circled back to one thing: helping people. But if everything I do is for someone else, it can only be sustained for so long.

So I changed careers and found an unexpected joy in telling a different kind of story. I blogged when I felt called to, about what felt meaningful in the moment, instead of repeatedly opening my own wounds every week. I let myself blog about things that made me happy, too. I enlisted some help in managing my growing Facebook community, and gave myself permission to unplug.

And I started doing a heck of a lot of therapy. Because when we confuse total self-sacrifice for social justice, that’s a wound we immediately need to tend to.

I’ve started going outside. Drinking coffee. Laughing. Reading books. Letting myself get lost in articles about interior design and street style. I got a cat (he’s perfect). I meditate sometimes. I’ve started picking up the phone and calling friends. I completely overhauled my social media (I’ll write about how next week, if you’re wondering) to be a lot less triggering.

Through this process, I’ve realized that by abandoning my own happiness, I had also destroyed my capacity to meaningfully support others.

The reality is, social justice isn’t an all-or-nothing equation of either being committed or complicit, informed or uninformed. It’s all a process, and one that we can invest in while also investing in ourselves.

And if there’s no room for joy? It simply isn’t just. We all deserve to be well, to be whole. And if we don’t protect our own heart when we do this work, we deny ourselves the very thing we’re fighting for.

There are very good reasons to be angry. There are very good reasons to be furious, devastated, even unhinged in light of the world that we live in. But that makes it all the more pertinent, I think, to take care of ourselves, and to ensure that we’re prioritizing joy.

We can’t let injustice consume us to the point where we’ve lost everything that makes life meaningful and worth living.

Being joyful in the face of injustice is not a betrayal to the movement or to those who are struggling. It’s a loyalty to yourself, affirming your right — and by extension, everyone’s right — to wholeness.

Human beings need connection, fulfillment, and joy. So I ask you very sincerely: When’s the last time you gave that to yourself?

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5 Awesome, Immediate Self-Care Resources For When You Feel Like Actual Garbage

This week at LQTU, I’m dialing things back a little and sharing some things that I’m a fan of.

I’m not sure if the internet is tapped out on self-care articles (I mean, how many times are we going to be told to take a bubble bath? Apparently at least a hundred times). But as someone who relies on these tools to keep my depression and OCD at bay, I personally think the world can still benefit from conversations like these.

Especially if some of those resources are cute, queer, and/or created with neuroatypical folks in mind. In my opinion, we can never get enough of those.

Lately, I’ve got some favorite self-care resources that I’ve relied on to keep myself sane. They’re sweet and simple, but more importantly, they’re effective and they’re accessible. I’m compiling them in one place, hopefully to make them easy to find and share for folks that need them.

If you’re struggling to get through this moment, this won’t magically solve all of your problems. However, it can certainly help you cope. At those moments when I’m not sure where to start, and I feel stuck and unmotivated, I like having these options available to me. Maybe you will, too.

So here are five immediate self-care resources. I’ve made sure that they’re free to use (we can’t all shell out money for a face mask, fair enough), and they don’t require a whole lot of energy to do (because when you’re depressed or anxious, it can be hard to find the spoons to do much of anything).

And, since this is a community and all, if you’ve got resources that you think are worth knowing about, drop them in the comments! That way, folks who are following along can benefit from your wisdom. I’m sure we’d all be grateful.

1. Watch these calming videos of a person cooking and dining with their cats.

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Cover art for CreamHeroes Cats channel, adorable as frick.

CreamHeroes Cats (don’t ask me about the channel name, heck if I know) is one of my favorite things on the internet. That’s not hyperbole, either. It’s everything that’s good and pure about the worldwide web.

The YouTube channel is based on ASMR, so imagine really quiet and pleasant sounds, combined with adorable footage of someone assembling an aesthetically pleasing meal for both themselves and their many precious cats.

Screenshot 2017-11-04 at 7.46.41 PMAs I shared on my instagram, not only do I find these videos ridiculously calming, but my cat, Pancake, is obsessed with them, too. We cuddle and watch them together.

Whether you have it on in the background for the soothing sounds, or you’re wrapped up in a blanket and watching attentively for that oh-so-satisfying moment when seven precious kitties finally get to chow down on perfectly cut salmon… I’m pretty sure this is one of the best things the internet has given us. Bless.

2. Get a virtual animal companion designed by really smart people that know about mental health.

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The free app BoosterBuddy might be one of the best self-care gifts you give yourself. Designed by mental health professionals in partnership with neuroatypical youth, this is an app that helps you create better self-care habits and routines, as well as tracking your mood and substance use, with a coping strategies library for a variety of mental health challenges.

It’s also gamified, so you earn coins as you take care of yourself, which then, in turn, allows you to buy things like berets or fanny packs to dress up your animal friend. It sounds silly, but it’s weirdly motivating?

There is an abundance of positive reviews online, many of which come from folks with all sorts of different mental illnesses and traumas. And the team behind the app is very receptive to feedback, and with each update there are new features and improvements coming directly from recommendations made by folks using the app.

While the app is designed for young adults, I actually think it’s great for anyone. And since it’s free, if you’ve got a smartphone, there’s no harm in trying it out.

3. Dive into a queer web series when you’re looking for a distraction that doesn’t require Netflix or Hulu.

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From the web series Brown Girls, which you should definitely watch here.

INTO Magazine came up with a fabulous list of queer web series that I’ve kept bookmarked since it was first published. While we’ve made some significant progress in getting queer media on major networks, the web series in this list are much more diverse, and in many ways, more true to life.

Sometimes my favorite self-care is getting wrapped up in a new show, maybe falling in love with a character or a story, and eating Nutella from the jar. If that sounds like you, keep this link in your self-care toolbox (literally — make a bookmark folder with resources, it’s extremely helpful). You’ll be glad you did.

4. Walk through this step-by-step guide that’ll remind you how to take care of yourself when you’ve forgotten.

screenshot-2017-11-04-at-7-47-58-pm.pngThe “You Feel Like Shit: Interactive Self-Care Guide” is something I repeatedly plug on this blog. Sometimes, when we’re really freaking overwhelmed, our brains seem to shut down and we conveniently forget… I don’t know, literally everything there is to know about how to be a human?

Or at least, I do.

Sometimes we just need someone to nudge us along, offer gentle reminders to eat (and even giving us suggestions on what to eat), suggest some grounding exercises, or give us permission to take a nap.

The guide helps you assess what you need and makes practical suggestions on how to feel better, keeping in mind what you’re able to do in that moment and what you’re not.

I often challenge folks to keep this in their bookmark bar, and use it frequently. Self-care is a skill, and like any other skill on the planet, requires a lot of practice. So think of this guide as a simple way to practice.

5. Listen to these comedians laugh about mental illness because sometimes you have to laugh in order not to cry.

hilarous-world-depression_tile@2I’ve gotten pretty into this podcast recently, fittingly called The Hilarious World of Depression, where comedians and artists share their mental health journeys in a funny, sometimes painful, and super engaging way.

When I’m dealing with my own shit, I often find it validating to hear about what other folks have been through, reminding me that (1) I’m absolutely not alone, and (2) many folks, some quite brilliant actually, have lived through the same or similar struggles.

That affirmation can be so powerful, and for me, it’s a necessary part of taking care of myself.

One thing I like to do is to have this podcast going while I take a long, warm shower (this wouldn’t be a real self-care article if there weren’t some mention of a bath or shower, right?). If I have enough energy, sometimes it’s also nice to take a walk while I’m listening, to grab a latte or just sit in the park.

The nice thing about finding a podcast like this is that you don’t actually have to do anything other than turn it on. So if you’re just a pile of sad on your apartment floor, barely keeping it together (been there, done that), this can still be an option for you.

One last thing, friends…

As always, every single human is different! Our needs, our wants, our triggers — none of us are exactly alike. Which means that the resources here may not be applicable or helpful to you.

The only way to know for sure that something here will be helpful is to use your best judgment, and try things out!

I’ve got some additional articles about self-care, if this is a topic that you like:

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention that, if you find yourself needing a lot of support or struggling to find what works, you might want to connect with a therapist. I started using Talkspace recently (I wrote all about it, and online therapy generally, a couple of weeks back in this article), and having that support has made a huge difference in my day-to-day life.

If you’re thinking about online therapy in particular, I asked the folks at Talkspace if there was something I could offer readers. Long story short, signing up with Talkspace using this link gets you fifty dollars off, which is an A+ deal for folks who are on the fence. And I also get a referral bonus, which is nice, because if you’ve followed this blog for any amount of time, you know that I need a lot of therapy, haha.

More importantly, though, I want you to get the care that you need — there’s a whole list of free crisis resources available at this link. There are so many options out there! Don’t hesitate to reach out if you need to.

Happy self-caring! Whether it’s dining with cats or an interactive guide, I hope you’re able to find what works best for you.

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Self-Care Tips For Folks Who Struggle With Codependency

Please note that I am not a mental health professional – just someone with a hell of a lot of lived experience – and this advice should never act as a substitute for professional medical advice.

codependency

I put every egg I had into one basket: My tumultuous relationship.

My Struggles With Codependency

I’ve never talked about this publicly before – maybe because it’s just so highly stigmatized in our society – but I have struggled throughout my life with entering into codependent relationships.

Codependency has been defined a lot of different ways (and often in ways that further stigmatize people with mental health struggles).

I prefer to define it as a relationship in which a partner becomes a substitute for healthier coping strategies. By being an individual’s sole source of support and caregiving, they interfere with their partner’s ability to be self-reliant and adaptive in the face of stress.

It creates a dysfunctional dynamic in which one partner is seen as “rescuing” the other partner. Love between those partners ultimately becomes defined on the basis of either providing or receiving assistance/support. Psychology Today has a great article about it if you want more information.

My therapist once described it very simply as “putting all your eggs in one basket.” 

When I was sixteen and struggling with bipolar disorder and anxiety, I put every egg I had into one basket – a tumultuous relationship with a boy I went to high school with.

My (untreated, undiagnosed) mental illness was running rampant in my life. I was experiencing extreme highs and lows, dissociation, panic attacks, self-harm, and suicidality.

And descending from the heavens, in my mind, was this guy who loved me despite it all and carried me through.

I not only perceived him as being the one who saved me from myself, but I saw him as loving me when I was inherently unlovable. This created a dysfunctional dynamic in which I relied on him to help me adapt to my illness, rather than seeking out adequate treatment, expanding my support networks, developing new coping strategies, and creating a practice of self-care.

If I was depressed, anxious, upset, you name it – I was calling him with the expectation that, no matter where he was or what he was doing, he would talk me through it. I became so dependent on him that I didn’t know how to survive without him.

Similarly, he also struggled with depression, and sometimes these roles would shift. I would become his one and only support. I would drop everything to be there for him. I would sacrifice my own sanity just to give him something or someone to lean on.

At some point or another, I realized that I had lost touch with nearly every friend I had because I was so invested in this one relationship. And worse yet – when I realized this, it hardly seemed to matter.

And thus our unsustainable, chaotic relationship became both our saving grace and the very thing that drove us mad. Because without adequate coping strategies and resilience, the burden was placed on our relationship.

Towards the end of our relationship – an end that we both could see coming from a mile away – he told me that he had considered, many times, breaking up with me, but felt that he couldn’t.

When asked why, he simply said, “I couldn’t break up with you. You would go off the deep end.”

That was my wake up call. I ended the relationship immediately, never looking back, and I made a promise to myself: Never again did I want to be in a relationship in which my partner felt manipulated, unintentionally or otherwise, into staying with me out of fear that I could not survive without them.

I’m not ashamed to say that codependency is something that I struggled with and, at times, still do. It makes perfect sense that, in the face of trauma and difficulty, I adapted the only way I knew how. It’s completely understandable; I have a lot of compassion for myself in this way.

But now that I know better, I work diligently to ensure that my relationships are healthy, and that I’m able to take care of myself instead of using my relationships to avoid confronting my mental illnesses.

By no means should we shame ourselves for the coping strategies we created when we didn’t know better – every one of us, especially those of us with trauma, has created maladaptive ways of dealing with stress.

But we owe it to ourselves and the folks that we love to work on it, especially because codependency can do real harm to both ourselves and our partners (and some of these relationships can become abusive – a real risk that we must be honest with ourselves about and be accountable for).

For me, my healing process began with self-care.

 

How Self-Care Helped Me Shift Away From Codependency

A practice of self-care can be absolutely radical for folks who struggle with codependency as their coping strategy. The idea that we can rely on ourselves to deal with stress and trauma runs completely counter to everything we’ve learned to do over the years.

In my community, we talk about a “radical practice of self-care.” It’s the idea that an intentional effort to nurture and affirm ourselves can be immensely helpful for our mental health, transformative in a world that tells us that putting ourselves first is a selfish act, and psychologically necessary as we endure the injustices of this world.

It’s pretty fucking awesome if you ask me.

But too often, we don’t acknowledge that for some of us, self-care is not only radical – it’s actually tremendously difficult and even painful if our only coping strategy involves, quite literally, the opposite of self-care.

For folks who struggle with codependency, I want to acknowledge and validate that this shit is hard for us. Self-care goes against everything we know.

So let me say it loud and clear: I get it. Codependency comes from a place of hurt and fear. Carrying that around day in and day out is not easy. And so I validate that, completely.

It’s not just about learning to take care of ourselves. It’s not just about reading a good book when we’re sad, or taking a walk to clear our heads. For us, dealing with stress is never that simple.

Self-care for people with codependent patterns is also about unlearning these maladaptive behaviors that, for many of us, have developed over the course of years and even decades.

These coping mechanisms can be so ingrained that it makes us behave and react in ways that we find difficult and even impossible to control. For us, the stakes with self-care are much, much higher.

If this is your struggle, I’m here to say that I totally know those feelings. And I want this conversation to be a safe space in which I can encourage you to take baby steps towards shifting away from codependency and, instead, developing a practice of self-care that can work for you.

Self-care has helped to empower me to take control over my own mental health, my own happiness, and begin to find new tools to call upon when I’m encountering a stressor in my life. It’s helped to bring more balance into both my own life and into my relationships.

And best of all, it’s helped me to feel confident that I can survive on my own. My well-being no longer depends on whether or not someone is there to support me or rescue me. I have been able to let go of the fear that everything will fall apart if my partner isn’t there.

That peace of mind – the assurance that I will be okay – is the reason why I believe that we need conversations like this. No one should have to live with the absolute terror that their world will fall apart unless that certain someone is there to take care of them.

You can take care of you. And while friends, partners, family, and community can be a part of that care, they aren’t the only tool that you have. It’s empowering to know that you are in the driver’s seat of your own healing.

 

My Self-Care Tips For Folks Struggling With Codependency

This is, of course, just the beginning of a larger conversation. But I want to offer some quick tips that you can walk away with, right now, to begin your practice of self-care.

 

1. Seek out a therapist.

I realize that this isn’t accessible to everyone, but if it’s possible, a counselor or therapist can be absolutely invaluable in helping you to cultivate resilience as you unlearn codependency.

 

2. Bookmark this self-care guide and USE IT.

If you get nothing else from the article but this link, I’ll still be happy.

I love this guide because it feels conversational. It’s exactly like having a friend or partner there to walk you through what you need to do to be well, except it requires no one but yourself to actually use.

It’s basically an interactive quiz that gives you advice on how to react to stress. By using it often, you gradually learn healthy ways to respond when you are struggling with a trigger or episode.

As far as I know, the only time it involves another person is if you indicate that you are lonely, in which it encourages you to reach out. All the other advice can be put into motion on your own. This is great for those of us who are working towards being more self-reliant.

I keep it in my bookmark tabs so I see it every time I open my browser. And I use it. Often. Like, literally every time I’m upset.

 

3. Create a Self-Care First Aid Kit

I encourage anyone, codependent or otherwise, to get an old box or container of some kind and put together a “feel good” kit for those inevitable shit days.

Some suggestions on what you could include: A bottle of your favorite scented lotion or bath product to lather up with, a favorite upbeat album to dance to, a favorite movie with a bag of microwavable popcorn, a stuffed animal to cuddle with when it gets rough, a book that makes you laugh when you read it, a box of tissues for when you’re crying, a super soft pair of socks that make you feel cozy, a candle or incense you could light, a crisis hotline number if you feel you might hurt yourself (even if you don’t think you’ll need it, please include it), and a list of phone numbers for three friends or family members that you can call (not including the partner or individual you have a dependent relationship with).

You don’t have to go out and buy these things – they can be items you already have on hand or you can ask if any friends have items they might donate. The idea is that if you keep these things in one place, they’ll be easy to access and you’ll be more likely to use them.

 

4. Seek Out More Resources On Self-Care

I personally believe that you can never have too many articles, print-offs, and videos on self-care. The more ideas and suggestions, the better!

I wrote another guide that talks about self-care for folks with anxiety, which included my favorite video on self-care by my lovely friend Melissa Fabello (seriously, watch the video, it’s required). Everyday Feminism has another great self-care guide if you’re looking for more general guidance.

If you struggle with mental illness or with your mental health in general, print off this list of affirmations. I wrote them just for you and I want you to read them. Often.

Lastly, there are entire communities online dedicated to radical self-care. Some are specific to fat folks, queer folks, people of color (fun fact: radical self-care originated from women activists of color), etc etc.

My favorite place to find these communities happens to be on Tumblr, but you can find them on many of your favorite platforms. Don’t be afraid to investigate and find a community that works for you!

 

5. Realize That Unlearning This Takes Time

Be gentle with yourself. For many, codependency emerged as a survival strategy in the face of neglect, trauma, or illness. It is important to be compassionate with yourself and honor the journey you are on, however slow the pace may be.

It is a tremendous thing to be self-aware in the face of codependent behaviors, and to choose another path. That is an incredibly brave thing to do.

I believe in you and I’m proud of you. Please know that healing from the trauma that comes with codependency is not only possible – but it’s something that you are absolutely worthy and deserving of.

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A Guide to Self-Care for People with Anxiety

The image features a metal case, presumably a first aid kit, with the words "SELF CARE" on top.

Illustration by Jessica Krcmarik.

[The image features a metal case, presumably a first aid kit, with the words “SELF CARE” on top.]

 

Holy anxiety, batman. If there’s one thing readers want to hear more about, it’s my experiences with anxiety — namely, how I cope with it. It seems like a lot of us are still trying to navigate this tricky condition.

Therapy and medication can help, but a lot of how I manage my anxiety is based on a regular, consistent practice of self-care.

I think that self-care — defined as intentional actions taken to improve one’s sense of well-being — has made a significant difference in my overall mood, and has been especially helpful in dealing with my anxiety.

While the ups and downs that come with anxiety are not always within our control, there are a lot of things we can do to impact our mood and make the wave a little easier to ride. It’s not about getting rid of anxiety altogether — it’s about changing the way we respond to anxiety to lessen the impact.

So when I start to feel anxious, here’s what I do, step by step:

 

 

Step 1: ENGAGE with what’s making you anxious.

Okay, so your gut is probably telling you to run for the hills. Engaging with what’s making you anxious is probably the LAST thing you want to do. I know that my personal tendency is to avoid what makes me anxious.

But often times, we need to engage with our anxiety, because avoidance can make it worse.

A great way to do this is to write down what’s making you anxious in one column, and on the other column, write one thing you could do to make this situation less stressful or more manageable.

Here’s an example:

I’m anxious about writing my annotations paper.

– I could read over the handouts to get a better idea of how to complete the assignment.

I’m anxious about taking the train to Walnut Creek.

– I could listen to music on the train or ask a friend to go with me.

Most of the time, the steps I come up with are reasonable and helpful. Part of what makes me freak out is feeling that I have no control or ability to impact the situation — but when I write down steps that I can take, I feel as though I have a little more agency.

But if there’s a problem and I can’t figure out any steps to take, I know that it’s probably time to seek out a therapist, counselor, healer, or trusted friend to brainstorm some solutions.

Once I’ve written out what’s making me anxious and I’ve come up with one idea that could, at the very least, make things a little easier, I take my notebook and I put it aside. I then move onto the next step.

 

 

Step 2: DISTRACT yourself and give yourself a break.

For me, I know that once I’ve engaged with my anxiety, I need a break so I can steady myself. Once I’ve put the notebook on my bookshelf, I start looking for some healthy distractions to stabilize my mood.

What works for me may be different than what works for you. I like to watch something that will make me laugh on Netflix. I also like to play Nintendo, particularly games that are less action-based and aren’t particularly demanding (in case you’re wondering, this includes Mario Party, Animal Crossing, and a variety of puzzle games). I like to read a fantasy novel, or color in a coloring book, or bake a new recipe.

My favorite distractions will transport me to a new reality (television, video games, books), particularly if it involves roleplaying (which is why I pick up the Nintendo most often). I especially like distractions that utilize my imagination because they seem to distract me the most.

The key is to find things that are distracting without any triggers. I find that the internet is full of triggers for me, so I tend to avoid it when I’m taking care of myself. We should always be looking for healthy distractions — activities that bring you down a notch — instead of unhealthy distractions, which may numb you for a moment but create more stress or consequences down the line.

Once I’m distracted and feeling less frazzled, I go onto the next step…

 

 

Step 3: RELAX in a calming environment.

Hold on. What’s the difference between a distraction and something that relaxes? Distractions are things that take me out of my head, out of my body, and neutralize my mood. Relaxing, on the other hand, will place me back in my body, and help me to feel good again.

After I’ve distracted myself enough, I seek out a relaxing activity that engages my body. For some folks, it’s a guided meditation while they’re laying in bed, and for others, it’s a stroll through their favorite bookstore or park.

Visualize a place that makes you feel safe, and imagine something soothing that you could do in that space. Find something that makes your body feel less heavy — something that involves good smells, good tastes, good feelings.

Decide if that place is indoors or outdoors, at home or away. Decide if it involves people or if it’s something you do by yourself.

I’ve learned overtime that my safe space is a hot shower, maybe with cinnamon incense burning or my favorite soap from LUSH.

Why distract before relaxing? If I’m too anxious and I just jump in the shower, I spend more time thinking about what I’m anxious about than actually relaxing in the space. I need to bring the stakes down a little bit before I can actually relax. Distractions get me to a more neutral place so I can actually relax when it’s time to do so.

Your self-care regimen will probably look different from mine. But once you figure out what distracts you and what relaxes you, be sure to write it down to remember later on.

 

 

Step 4: If needed, REACH OUT for support.

If you haven’t already, it might be a good idea to seek out support from a friend, a loved one, a therapist, a healer. Simply going it alone is not always an effective way of caring for ourselves, and we often need the support of others to manage our anxiety.

When you’re asking for someone’s support or help, I recommend being upfront and using an “I feel and I need” statement to directly communicate your needs.

For example:

I felt so anxious earlier, and I need someone to listen. Can we talk?

I feel so paranoid right now, and I might need a new dose on this medication. Can we make an appointment?

I feel really stressed about this assignment and need some clarity. Can you help me understand it better?

I feel depressed, and I might need a therapist. Can you recommend one?

Articulating what you’re feeling, what you need, and a concrete step that you can take together can help make the conversation a productive one. Remember that people are not mind-readers, and the best way to getting what you need is to ask for it.

By asking the person if they can help, you also ensure that they are not taking on a stress that they can’t handle. You’re giving them permission to opt in, or opt out.

If you aren’t sure what you’re feeling or what you need, you can also say so. “I’m not sure what I’m feeling right now and I’m not sure what I need right now, but I thought that we could talk.” We can’t always articulate our anxiety, but talking through it with someone can still be helpful.

After I’ve gotten some support, I move onto the last step.

 

 

Step 5: REVISIT your list.

Remember the list of stressful stuff that we created at Step 1? When you’re able to, it’s a good idea to return to that list.

Sometimes anxiety comes from feeling overwhelmed, so commit to doing just one, maybe two things on that list. I recommend starting with the easiest thing on the list to get you going. Sometimes starting is the hardest part.

It’s important to take things one step at a time. Commit to just a few steps, and see what happens. You may find that after you get going, you feel motivated to take on more. That’s great! But if not, doing just one or two things at a time will hopefully lessen the anxiety that you felt in the beginning.

 

*   *   *

A lot of folks think of self-care as a way of dealing with stress after we’ve reached our limit. However, I disagree. It should not be exclusively a crisis resource, but something that we practice regularly. I do a little distracting and relaxing every single day. I set aside an hour or so to make sure that I’m taking care of myself.

If you’re interested in more about self-care, check out this fantastic video by my good friend Melissa Fabello:

If you don’t have the time, make the time. You wouldn’t wait until your house is flooded before fixing a simple leak, right?

Our bodies and our minds undergo a lot of wear and tear, because life, my friends, can be very stressful. So do the maintenance instead of waiting for life to blow up in your face; nurture yourself and care for yourself each and every day.

Why? Because you, without a doubt, are worth it.

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