Practicing Self Care For Mental Illness

I often times find that practicing self care takes a lot of work, especially when battling mental health issues. My depression and anxiety usually speaks to me in negative ways, causing me to spiral down into a dark space with a lot of low self worth. The last thing I want to do when I’m in that place is practice self care but for me, it’s the most important thing to do.

I’ve been on a journey for many years fighting against my mental illness and in the last two years I have found that there are only a few things that work for me as far as self care goes. I think it’s a totally different process for everyone and finding what works for you is important. For me, I have to practice self care in some way, shape, or form every day in order for me to keep a healthy balance in my life. If I go several days without it, I get myself into trouble.

Meditation

I’ve been practicing meditation regularly for a little over two years. It has definitely been a long road for me with this because initially, the meditation made me uncomfortable. Today, it’s almost essential in my daily routine in order for me to lessen the anxious thoughts in my mind.

I know so many people who have tried meditation but did not continue it after one or two sessions because it made them uncomfortable or because it felt silly. I totally understand that, but given how much it has helped me, I just want to take a little bit of time to explain why I continue to do it.

In the beginning of my practice of meditation, I felt stupid. The guided meditation would tell me to focus on my breathing and go to a happy place and in my mind, I was like, “this is dumb and I have no idea why I’m doing this.” I decided to stick with it though because I had been given so many high recommendations for it. I told myself I would give it a month. Day after day, I sat and felt silly, but I was realizing that after the session was over, I felt calm. So, one day I sat down and I told myself that I wasn’t going to feel silly today and I was going to focus intently on what the guided meditation was saying to me. My perspective changed after that day.

The biggest take away from meditation for me is learning how to sit with uncomfortable feelings and let them pass through your mind. It’s a hard task to accomplish and some days I am unable to let the thoughts pass. Meditation can be extremely uncomfortable because you are inviting the anxious and depressive thoughts- or any thoughts for that matter- into your mind. You’re effectively sifting through your thoughts from the day, the week, the month and not putting any feelings with those thoughts. My guided meditation tells me to let the thoughts flow through without judgement, take the emotion out of them and then come back to focus on my breathing. These thoughts can make you feel so uncomfortable and you may think about things that you didn’t even realize your mind was focused on, but the end result is so worth it.

After my meditation sessions, I feel lighter. The anxiety and depression is still there but my mind is more clear and able to handle what’s going on. I’ve come to many conclusions and decisions about my life through meditation and I’m even starting to get really serious about the practice and learning its origins. I swear by it, but again, it’s not for everyone.

Therapy

I’ve been in and out of therapy for over ten years. I spoke about my experiences briefly in my post about mental health professionals. I swear by this practice too. If you can find someone who you can trust to talk to on a regular basis, it’s totally worth it.

I go to therapy once every two weeks, sometimes once every week. Even if nothing particularly bad is going on with me, I still go because I always find something new about myself when I do. The fact that you can go to someone who doesn’t know the people in your life and can totally be on your side about whatever is going on is refreshing. My therapist hardly gives me advice, instead she listens and throughout our discussions, she guides me in a certain direction, but leaves the choices about what to do up to me. It often makes me feel empowered and in control.

There are so many benefits to therapy, it would be hard to name them all here. I have known people who try it once or twice and hate it. Again, self care is a personal subject that looks completely different person to person. This works for me because it’s a safe space to tell my darkest thoughts and to not be judged in the process. It’s a place that doesn’t discourage me, but encourages me to talk about my issues. It’s a place of understanding, something that the world needs more of.

Reading

This is totally a self care practice for me. I usually average about 2–3 books a week and I’m so thankful that my fiance doesn’t think I’m crazy when I come home with 20 books from the discount book store or from Goodwill. In fact, he enjoys books as much as I do :).

Reading a book for me is a total escape. I can drown myself in a different world, a different life and temporarily forget about what’s going on in my mind. Every page brings about new adventures, experiences, feelings, thoughts and keeps my mind stimulated in the best way. My love of books goes way back to my childhood. I learned to read at age 4 and have been reading at a high level ever since. It doubles as a self care and guilty pleasure type of thing. Taking time to read each night before bed allows me to focus on something other than my anxiety and helps me fall asleep faster than I would if I didn’t read.

Yoga/Exercise

Yoga is a new self care practice for me. I had done yoga several times in the past and really hated it. I never understood how people thought it was relaxing and I am not a very flexible person so I just thought it wasn’t for me.

I started to look for beginner videos on Youtube for yoga and found a few that I thought I would try. I really enjoyed the first few videos that I did, it doubled as exercise for me and the focus on breathing and balance has a lot of similarities to meditation.

Disclaimer: I am totally bad at doing yoga.

I fall a lot when I do yoga and I feel like I look stupid and to be brutally honest, a certain bodily function occurs a lot- haha! But now I absolutely love it. It’s challenging for me and I like to rise to that challenge every day.

Exercise is a key component in my battle against mental illness. I go through long periods of time where I don’t exercise and I’ve realized how much that throws me into a depressive episode. I’m an athlete, so my body is pretty much programmed to need exercise and when I deprive my body of it, things tend to go wrong.

I follow a half marathon training schedule, even if I’m not running a half marathon. I’ve run two half marathons in the last two years and it’s my favorite training schedule to be on. If you would have told me those sentences would come out of my mouth 3 years ago, I would have told you you were crazy. It’s surprising to me too.

The benefits of exercise for me are paramount and I’ve accepted that it just has to be part of my daily life in order for me to be healthy, whether it be a session of yoga, a nice run, core strengthening or even just having a day of stretching and walking. Being active is a huge self care component for me.

Resources

There are so many ways to practice self care. These are just the ones that really work for me and all of those combined keep me going every day. It’s difficult to find what works for you, it took me a long time to get there but I encourage anyone out there who’s wondering what they can do to try different things! I’m on a journey to get back to loving myself and this is part of what will get me there.

If you have any more recommendations about self care please share in the comments! I would love to hear what works for you and I welcome any and all questions!

If you want some additional resources for some self care practices I talked about here’s what I use:

Meditation Apps: Stop, Breathe and Think; Headspace; Calm- I light candles or incense during my meditation and I’ll post more about my meditation practices as I get deeper into it!

Youtube Yoga: Yoga with Adrienne is the best that I have found, please comment if you have other suggestions?

Training: Hal Higdon’s mini marathon training schedule for novice- I also like to use Pinterest or Google to find beginner work out schedules.

Books: When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron, The Places That Scare You by Pema Chodron- These books have helped me tremendously through tough times. I’m currently reading the Alex Cross series by James Patterson- I’m totally into crime novels.