I think for a lot of people, particularly those with mental health disorders (myself included!), taking care of oneself is a lot more difficult than it sounds. It seems like an easy enough concept; however, the stressors of everyday life combined with living with a mental illness can make self-care feel like just another overwhelming, mundane task rather than a valuable reprieve our bodies and minds need to prevent burnout.
But self-care doesn’t have to be so challenging! You don’t have to book a costly spa day or a week-long meditation retreat to take care of yourself. Self-care should never be something you dread or put off doing.
Unfortunately, it’s common for people with depression and anxiety to feel as though they don’t deserve a break, and fighting that cruel little voice in your head that’s constantly telling you you aren’t worthy of happiness or relief can be an exhausting ordeal on its own.
I’m here to tell you that A., you do, in fact, deserve and NEED to take care of yourself, and B., self-care does not have to be as complicated as you think it is. Here are three extremely simple ways to practice self-care, even when your inner saboteur is trying to bring you down.
1. Eat breakfast.
Even if it’s a bowl of cereal or a couple of pieces of toast, try to eat something a little while after waking up in the morning (or afternoon if you’re having one of those days). Your parents and PE teachers weren’t kidding when they told you breakfast is the most important meal of the day!
Eating breakfast will not only kickstart your metabolism, helping your body burn calories all throughout the day, but it also gives you an important energy boost to get through those early morning hours without dozing off or feeling exhausted.
I understand that some people reading this will think, “Really? Eating breakfast? How is this self-care?” But for those of us living with mental illnesses, even eating regularly can be a challenge. I find that the days where I force myself to eat something in the morning always end up being more productive and positive than the days where I end up skipping breakfast only to binge eat something unhealthy later.
It can help to have a friend or partner to hold each other accountable when it comes to eating regularly; my partner and I make an effort every day to sit down and eat breakfast together whenever we can. Not only does it give us both more energy for the rest of the day, but it also gives us a little more time to bond in the morning and check in with each other even when we both have a busy schedule ahead.
2. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!
Yes, even something as simple as drinking water can be self-care. No, drinking water won’t cure your illnesses, magically clear up your skin in a week, or make other stressors in your life disappear, but it will give you more energy, help prevent headaches and migraines, and generally make you feel a lot better and more aware than you would if you were dehydrated.
Even mild dehydration has been shown to significantly impact mood and cognitive function. Ideally, the average adult should be drinking around 11 to 14 8-ounce cups of water per day, depending on their weight.
If you find yourself struggling to keep track of how much water you drink, it can help to get a water bottle and mark on it how much you need to drink by a certain time of day. You don’t even need to buy a fancy water bottle designed for this purpose; you can easily make your own with just a permanent marker and a large transparent pitcher of water.
3. Try breathing exercises.
Even breathing more mindfully can greatly impact your mental and physical health, too! I’ve mentioned the 4-7-8 method in some of my other blogs pertaining to anxiety, but I want to reiterate how helpful this simple breathing exercise is.
If you haven’t heard of this method before, it works like this:
Exhale through your mouth completely.
Inhale through your nose for four seconds
Hold your breath for seven seconds
Exhale through your mouth for eight seconds
Repeat for at least three cycles.
And that’s really it! There are plenty of other great breathing exercises you can try if this one isn’t your favorite; I personally like this one because counting the seconds helps me really focus on my breathing and temporarily shut out the rest of the world to take care of myself even when I’m really distracted or stressed.
Self-care doesn’t have to be scary or particularly time-consuming. You can start with these three simple techniques above to slowly introduce yourself to caring for yourself more consciously and work your way up to more elaborate methods. Setting aside even a tiny amount of time for self-care each day can make a huge difference in fighting burnout and relieving stress in general.