Hello there. How are you? I mean, how are you really?
I’ve been away from this space for a while. Ostensibly, I was taking a break to work on the second book of the Call of the Crow Quartet. But the reality of it has been messier: for most of that time, I couldn’t write at all. Many things crashed down all at once and… I kind of fell apart.
It wasn’t pretty. So I really needed that time to regroup and figure out how to deal with these exhausting oscillations between out-of-control anxiety and soul-deadening depression. Yup, it’s been a real summer of fun over here!!
There are no magic solutions, and I’m still taking everything day by day. But I know I’m far from alone. Everyone is dealing with challenges right now. So no matter where you find yourself at this moment, whether today is good, bad, meh, or all of the above, it’s never been more important to ask yourself the question: what can I do today to take better care of myself?
I’ll admit that I find the term “self-care” kind of cringey. To me, it conjures up images of picturesque spa days, expensive candles, bubble baths. There’s nothing wrong with any of that, of course, but I think we need to get away from this limited view of self-care, one that may seem like it’s only accessible to the privileged.
In reality, truly caring for yourself isn’t about endless pampering. It’s more about nurturing. Extending compassion to yourself and others. Eating your vegetables and getting enough sleep. There’s not really anything glamorous about it, but it is some of the most important work you can possibly do.
I know there are thousands of listicles on this topic. I’ve read many of them myself. While just taking in the information might help a bit, it’s really important to carve out space to actually DO some of these things.
If you’re wondering where you’ll find the time, if you have a zillion items on your to-do list and other people in your household who need your attention, I’m with you! I know it’s hard. But I’ll just ask: how much time do you spend unproductively doomscrolling every day? Reading / watching / listening to the news? Staring into the existential abyss of despair and dread? Maybe some of this time can be shifted to activities that will serve you better. (Besides, some of the things on the list below literally take 5 minutes or less!)
It’s an interesting paradox, but taking time for yourself, even when you feel like you’re way too busy to do so, can work wonders. It makes life more tolerable and can help you care for others better. And while I don’t want you to feel bad if you’ve so far found yourself unable put advice like this into practice, I’m hoping this post will give you another nudge. Because I care about you! And because not taking it can lead to serious overwhelm and burnout… which, in my experience at least, often happens at the worst possible time, when you feel least able to deal with it.
So don’t let it get that far! Here are a few of the things that have helped me most these past few months. Which one will you do today? How about tomorrow?
1. Slow down. WAY down.
Accept that it’s going to take longer to finish things. Maybe even let go of a few commitments that are stretching you thin. Give yourself some grace: this is a highly unusual time with an extraordinary amount of external stresses, and no one is functioning at optimal capacity.
I’ve extended many deadlines I had for myself, and delegated tasks that were stressing me out. I probably won’t be blogging regularly for a while. Still, I’m often tempted to berate myself for not being productive enough. For not doing more. For not being more.
But this is a good time to unlearn the idea that your self-worth is tied to your accomplishments. Your existence is enough. No matter who or what tries to convince you otherwise, this is the truth. Remind yourself of this often.
2. Try a refreshing reset.
Sometimes, life is just overwhelming. Sometimes you’re so full of anxiety or despair that you can’t imagine feeling anything else. Been there? Give this simple trick a try. (And bear with me here, because this one may seem a little strange.)
Fill a bowl with ice water. Grab yourself a towel. Set a timer for 15 seconds. Take a deep breath and plunge in. Try to stay underwater until the timer goes off.
I was skeptical about this idea at first. There is a sciencey explanation about how it works, but all I know is that, while those 15 seconds underwater seemed very long and somewhat uncomfortable, there was such a profound relief in coming up for air that I was flooded with newfound energy. It was very invigorating!
I asked my daughter if she wanted to try it, too. She enjoyed it so much that she immediately ran downstairs to find her brother so he could try. My husband also took the plunge, though he didn’t find the experience quite as pleasant. So maybe it’s not for everyone. All I know is that, overall, it helped lift our moods significantly.
3. Give your thinking mind a break.
Sometimes my thoughts drive me crazy! I’ve found it so important lately to do activities that give my mind a break and let me focus on two other important aspects of my self: my body and my breath.
For me, yoga has become like medicine. I need my daily dose in order to function well, and have come to look forward to my time on the mat each day. I personally love Yoga With Adriene – her 30-day cycles are an excellent way to get started building a daily yoga practice, and she also has a great playlist called “Yoga for Healing the Mind.”
There are plenty of other options, of course! If yoga isn’t your thing, run, walk, dance, stretch – the aim is to get your body moving in whatever way you are able.
Meditation is also useful for quieting a busy mind. I’m admittedly not very good about doing this on a regular basis, but have been enjoying the huge range of free meditations on Insight Timer. Another great option is an app made by and for BIPOC communities, Liberate Meditation.
And don’t forget other simple methods of getting swept away. Listen to music that lifts you up. Watch a life-affirming TV show. Read a book that takes you away from your worries. Go outside and dig in the dirt. Take intentional time away from screens and make art or music or play a board game. There are so many options once you start looking!
4. Work on loving yourself.
Self-love is not easy for me. I’d hazard a guess that it’s not easy for a lot of people. Even though I know I should love myself, I’ve always gotten a bit stuck in frustration, because I just haven’t had a clue how to get there.
A helpful stepping stone on the journey to loving yourself is working on self-compassion. Try one of the exercises or guided meditations on self-compassion.org (a good place to start is Exercise 2, the self-compassion break, which only takes five minutes).
There’s a lot of power in turning to face something you’ve been running from, looking it in the eye, and acknowledging it. It may be an extremely difficult thing to do, but working through that discomfort can bring you closer to healing your relationship with your self, which can then ripple out into your relationships with others.
5. Reach out.
Is there someone you’ve been thinking about lately? Reach out to them! Start up an email conversation, make plans to video chat or meet up (safely), or just send a text to check in on how they’ve been doing. It’s so easy to get isolated in our current world, and maintaining relationships can be more challenging than usual, but having social support is critical for our mental health.
It’s also important to get support from multiple angles, especially these days, when everyone’s under a lot of strain and may not have a whole lot to give. So, work on building relationships with friends, family, therapists, neighbors. Every person in your life can provide you with something unique, and by building a strongly-woven net of relationships, you can ensure that someone will always be there to catch you when you fall.
Importantly, too, be sure to give back when you can. Even though this may take a lot of energy that you may not feel like you have, helping someone else out (or doing volunteer work!) can give you a big lift. And relationships always involve back-and-forth, give-and-take. Be generous when you are able, but don’t think you have to be some “perfect,” “fun” person to be lovable. Remember? You are enough, exactly how you are.
6. Become a love detective.
OK, maybe that sounds a bit cheesy. But try this: instead of focusing on endless negatives, whether they are external or internal, turn your attention throughout the day to the little bits of love that punctuate your life.
Love is strange, and doesn’t always show up in the ways we’re conditioned to expect. It may not be someone throwing their arms around you and declaring their undying admiration. It may be a text conversation full of gifs that make you laugh. A jar of homemade jam showing up on your doorstep. A playlist, an article, a video, something someone sends your way because it reminded them of you.
And it shows up in many other places too. It shows up in the things you love, may they be material or natural. The glide of a pen on paper. The sight of a crow flying across a full moon. The sound of wind in the trees. Be on the lookout for every little thing that inspires love within you.
For extra credit, write them down! And read your list whenever your mind starts, inevitably, drifting back into the negative.
7. Make an invigorating & healthy drink.
Figures that my last tip would be food-related! I whipped this up after reading an article about dawa, the Kenyan drink, the other day, and now my family and I are obsessed. There is something about the heat of fresh ginger that feels so cleansing, and turmeric is a well-known anti-inflammatory, so see if having a little shot of this drink gives you just the pick-me-up you need!
In a blender, add some water, lime and/or lemon juice, a generous dash of turmeric, a knob of fresh ginger, sweetener to taste, and some fresh mint if you can get your hands on it. Blend it up, strain it (or just drink it as is if you don’t mind a little bit of gingery stringiness), and have a little shot here and there whenever you feel like you need a boost.
If you fall in love like with it like we have, you can make a turmeric syrup by heating 1 cup of sugar with 1 cup of water and 1 tsp of ground turmeric in a saucepan, then storing the syrup in the fridge. That makes it easy to add a few tablespoons of syrup to a little lime, ginger, water, and/or mint and whip up a batch whenever you want. Yum!
How are you doing? What are some of your favorite ways of taking care of yourself? Or, if you can’t seem to put tips like these into practice, what’s holding you back? I’m here for you in the comments!